If I could be NFL commissioner for a day, the first thing I'd do is make New Orleans the permanent and only host of the greatest show in sports.
My younger brother Jake, the former Capital High, Arizona State and NFL quarterback, was kind enough to invite me to not only my first Super Bowl, but also my first venture into the wonderful, wild craziness that is the Big Easy around Mardi Gras. My older brother Brett and longtime family friend Ty Hamilton were also along for the ride, as NOLA hosted the NFL championship game for a record 10th time. And for damn good reason.
You know how sometimes the expectations leading up to an event don't measure up to what actually happens? That was not the case at Super Bowl XLVII - in fact, the opposite was true.
AFTER THREE days of soaking up everything that makes New Orleans what it is - music, food, art and partying chief among them - the actual football game almost felt like an afterthought.
Looking back on the whole experience, great music is easily what sticks out most. It was like a four-day music festival, with hundreds upon hundreds of bands playing live music all over the city.
Bourbon Street was crazier than it's cracked up to be, and it's cracked up to be pretty crazy. Streets packed with people, performers, partygoers and police, and live music in nearly every one of the countless bars lining both sides of the iconic street.
Blues, funk and jazz were everywhere, with most bands featuring an assortment of horns, from trumpets to tubas to trombones.
Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg and Train were the NFL's Super Bowl headlining acts, but I wouldn't have attended one of those events if you paid me. That would have meant missing out on the wealth of local New Orleans music, which was seemingly everywhere and at least for me, far better.
A young group of about 10 horns and three drums played a lively set on Bourbon Street, with scores of people dancing along. It might have been the coolest thing I saw all weekend.
The first band we stumbled upon on Thursday also sticks out, as a three-person Dixieland jazz quartet sang a memorable rendition of the St. James Infirmary Blues.
Unlike in these parts, it’s not against the law to walk around city streets drinking the adult beverage of your choice, and few were the adults not exercising this option.
WE STAYED at the same hotel as the Ravens and the ESPN crews, among other notables, so just walking in and out of the lobby always proved entertaining.
I actually had to move out of the way to avoid Jerry Rice, who walked right by me as a fan behind him yelled, “you’re the G.O.A.T. Jerry,” as in greatest of all-time. I had too much respect for arguably the greatest player ever to act annoying.
Chris Berman walked right by in the hotel restaurant, and other celebrities that I happened upon were Ed Reed, John Harbaugh, Rick Reilly, Ray Rice, Earl Campbell, Mike Tirico, Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith. Former University of Idaho guard Mark Schlereth was on my plane back to Denver, with headphones on, no doubt wanting to be left alone after a busy weekend of TV work.
While walking back to the hotel after listening to the four stages of music that went on all day at the Riverwalk, a sort of epicenter which was right by the hotel, Haloti Ngata walked right by with his head down. I shuddered to think how a man that thick — 6-foot-4, 340 pounds — was capable of chasing down nimble quarterbacks. Scary thought, indeed.
While walking down Bourbon Street, in a procession of packed partygoers that my brother likened to the zombies on the AMC show The Walking Dead, we happened upon former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. He yelled at Jake, and we talked with him for a few minutes. Like us, he was there with a small group of friends and brothers. Unlike us, they were on hand for their 27th straight trip to the Super Bowl. We should all be so lucky.
My brother’s old quarterback coach at Arizona, Geep Chryst, is now the quarterback coach for the 49ers. He texted Jake to come over to the 49ers hotel and say hi on Saturday, where Jake ultimately got to meet Colin Kaepernick, Randy Moss and Jim Harbaugh. I was invited to tag along but declined, not wanting to feel like a fifth wheel or bothersome the day before the biggest game of their lives.
ALAS, I would be remiss to talk about New Orleans without mentioning the savory fare the city in known for. You know, gumbo, jambalaya, catfish, oysters and the famous po-boy sandwiches.
Harold Hew, a Daily Bee reader who relocated to Sandpoint from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, emailed to suggest I try his favorite sandwich — an oyster po-boy. I did, along with a few shrimp and catfish po-boys, and a wealth of other great tasting food.
There was once a bumper sticker that said “beer is food,” so I better come clean that I imbibed my fair share over the weekend. I certainly wasn’t alone. Being reunited with my brothers at arguably the universe’s party central, how could I not?
I bought a couple of rounds in the Superdome as well, not exactly chump change at $48 per. But hey, the beer came in a commemorative Super Bowl cup, and that counts for something.
FINALLY, THE game rolled around on Sunday night. For some odd reason, I found myself rooting for the Ravens, while the other three were pulling for the Niners. Unlike some of the diehards on hand, none of us sported any team colors or really cared who won, so long as it was a good game.
Sure, the power went out for a half hour, but at least the wave broke out for the first time in years. While the 49ers lost, after watching Kaepernick in person it’s hard not to think they’ll be back there a handful of times in the near future, which is sure to make my colleague and former Bee sports editor Mark Nelke very happy.
Like many of the more than 60,000 people expected to fly out of Louis Armstrong Airport on Monday, I probably resembled the aforementioned Walking Dead. The two flights back to Spokane went quick, what with me sleeping the whole time.
Monday afternoon it was back to reality in Sandpoint, putting the sports page out for the Daily Bee.
I was thankful for my brother, who used a card signing and fan interaction experience to fund the once-in-a-lifetime trip, for letting me ride his coattails.
Who knows, maybe we can try and catch Jim Kelly and his crew?
Eric Plummer is sports editor of the Bonner County Daily Bee in Sandpoint. For comments, suggestions or story ideas, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.