If history holds up, latest New Orleans Super Bowl won't be close
New Orleans is a survivor, a jazzy, diverse and resilient community that knows how to get up off the mat and keep the good times rolling.
Since its founding in 1718, the city has overcome the Great Fire of 1788, smallpox and malaria epidemics, Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the vice presidential nomination of an obscure Indiana senator named Dan Quayle at the 1988 Republican Convention.
The city even tolerated a mayor who told citizens during the wrath of Betsy: "Don't believe any false rumors unless you hear them from me."
Major sports events have been part of New Orleans since the 1892 heavyweight title fight that saw Gentleman Jim Corbett upset champion John L. Sullivan. Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers marks the 10th time the big game has been played in New Orleans, tying Miami for the most in one city.
Unfortunately, there's been a bit of a problem with these New Orleans Super Bowls. With one or two exceptions, the games have not been very good. In fact, they've been dreadful. New Orleans is where competitive Super Bowls go to die.
Of the nine previous games, only one was decided by fewer than 10 points. The average score has been 30-10. The games have ranged from beat-downs such as 23-7, 24-3 and 27-10 (twice) to the disaster-level routs of 46-10 and 55-10.
So forgettable were most of the contests that they are best remembered for off-the-field activities:
• A hot-air balloon representing the Minnesota Vikings tumbling into the seats at old Tulane Stadium during pregame festivities for Super Bowl IV in the final pre-merger season of 1969. The incident foreshadowed a gloomy day for the Vikes, as they were whipped by the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-7, accompanied by the energetic narration of K.C. coach Hank Stram, who cheered his players, mocked Minnesota and berated officials -- "How could all six of you miss that."
• Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, a man of large talents and few words, saying before Super Bowl VI: "If it's the ultimate game, how come they're playing it again next year." Thomas' 97 yards rushing helped Dallas steamroll the Miami Dolphins 24-3 to culminate the '71 season.
• The coldest Super Bowl on record, 39 degrees on Jan. 12, 1975, in New Orleans' last outdoor Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Iron Curtain defense held Minnesota to a Super Bowl-low 119 yards and kicked off their 1970s dynasty with a 16-6 victory, the second-lowest scoring Super Bowl ever.
• Oakland Raiders defensive lineman John Matuszak enjoying the city's nocturnal pleasures until 3 a.m. only days before Super Bowl XV ended the 1980 season. When coach Tom Flores hit him with a $1,000 fine, Matuszak noted, "Wednesday is 'Tooz's' night to cruise." Oh, yes, the Raiders thumped the early-to-bed Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.
• Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon showcasing his bare Bear bottom to a news helicopter prior to Chicago's 46-10 mauling of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
To be fair, a few of the New Orleans Super Bowls were profound mismatches. The 1985 Bears and 1989 San Francisco 49ers, who scored a Super Bowl record 55 points against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, were two of the most talented teams in NFL history. There was no way the 1971 Cowboys, a veteran-laden unit stacked with future Hall of Famers, were going to lose to the up-and-coming Dolphins.
Denver's statue-like quarterback Craig Morton was a sitting duck for the marauding defense of the 1977 Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. Morton threw as many interceptions as he did completions (four) in Dallas' 27-10 laugher.
The '69 Vikings, an undeserving 13-point favorite over the more experienced Chiefs, had only one week to prepare for Kansas City's multiple-set offense and stacked defense. It was the only Super Bowl among the first 16 without the usual two-week break.
Maybe New Orleans Super Bowls have been cursed by the backroom bargain that brought the National Football League to the Crescent City nearly a half-century ago.
When the NFL and American Football League announced their merger in 1966, the deal required congressional antitrust protection. U.S. Rep. Hale Boggs and Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana helped navigate the legislation through Congress with the understanding that, in return, Commissioner Pete Rozelle would award an NFL expansion franchise to New Orleans.
At the time, New Orleans was one of several expansion candidates. But the city had fumbled the 1964 AFL All-Star Game, which had to be moved to Houston after numerous New Orleans hotels and restaurants refused service to black players.
Among Southern cities, New Orleans did not enjoy the same sporting profile as its larger regional neighbors. Atlanta had the NFL, major league baseball and was about to attract the NBA's St. Louis Hawks. Houston offered major league baseball, AFL football and the futuristic Astrodome, scene of championship fights and big-time college basketball.
Miami, once derided by Vince Lombardi as a "hinky-dink city," was on the rise with the 1964 Ali-Liston fight, the prime-time Orange Bowl, a new AFL team and two of the first three Super Bowls.
The Louisiana lawmakers' deal with Rozelle, however, not only gave rise to the New Orleans Saints, who began play in 1967, but put the city in the regular rotation of Super Bowl hosts.
When the Louisiana Superdome opened in 1975, weather was no longer a problem for the NFL's premier game. The Superdome, much larger than the Astrodome, also has hosted five NCAA college basketball Final Fours.
The destruction wrought by Katrina and the many months required to resurrect the city -- including the Superdome -- temporarily removed New Orleans from the Super Bowl roster. But this week a tough, effervescent city returns to the national spotlight with its first NFL title game in 11 years.
And judging by the last two Super Bowls played in New Orleans, perhaps the "curse" has run its course. Super Bowl XXXI, which ended the '96 season, was a back-and-forth affair between the Green Bay Packers and the Patriots before Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return midway through the third quarter lifted the Pack to a 35-21 victory.
Even better was Super Bowl XXXVI, which culminated the 2001 season. After leading most of the game, New England needed a Tom Brady-led drive and a last-second 48-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri to edge the St. Louis Rams, 20-17.
Considering that six of the 10 Super Bowls since New England's win have been decided by a touchdown or less, perhaps the odds finally are in New Orleans' favor for another memorable game.