"Can you take a picture of us?"
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that while I was in New Orleans this past week, I'd quite possibly be a millionaire. As hundreds of thousands of people converged on the Big Easy for the incredible back-to-back combination that is the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras, everyone wanted to document their trip. With good reason, too: the Super Bowl is a spectacle that must be seen to be believed.
From the hectic Media Day to the cavernous NFL Fan Experience to the always-raucous Bourbon Street scene, New Orleans really is a city like no other. I went down for this year's game, plus a few days before, to see just what really goes into the event that every year breaks its own record as the most-watched event in the history of television.
Super Bowl XLVII was the first in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and in some ways felt like the city's re-introduction to the world. As much as the festivities and events centered on football, they were also distinctly about New Orleans: instead of Kiss and the Black Keys playing at the various concert venues around town, it was Trombone Shorty and a string of local jazz bands. There was crawfish and alligator being served everywhere you looked, including at the game itself. Tostito's, whose ads you couldn't avoid if you tried, made terrible jokes like "We kneaux how to party." There were more Drew Brees jerseys and "Who Dat?" chants than you could count.
The most striking thing about the Super Bowl is just how big it is. Not the game crowd — though 71,024 people made a lot of noise in the stadium — but the size of the festivities, and the sheer number of people who made their way to New Orleans to take part. The NFL Fan Experience, basically a convention center-sized theme park devoted to football games, funny simulations, and autograph seeking, somehow managed to hide a full-sized football field in the back so well that I didn't find it when I first tried. It's like Disney World for football: exciting characters everywhere for you to take pictures with, lots of food and rides and attractions, and you spend pretty much the whole day waiting in line. But also like Disney World, it's very much a magical place.
It's Disney World for football fans
Then there's the game itself. The game watched by more than a hundred million people, and streamed to millions more. When we watch the game on Sunday, it's designed to be seamless and perfect – though this year had a bit of a bumpy ride — and there have been thousands of people here, from CBS and its competitors, making sure for weeks and months that everything went just right. It was CBS's year to broadcast the game, and the network went all out: it took over Jackson Square, in downtown New Orleans, and turned it into a five-set venue for shows from The Talk and Craig Ferguson to Rome and the CBS Evening News. It was designed as something of a re-launch for the CBS Sports Network, and the company promoted it hard, even going so far as to pay people to go into bars and say "hey, can you change the channel to CBS Sports?" You have to pull out all the stops when ESPN, Fox Sports, and the NFL Network were all right down the road.
Over four days leading up to the Super Bowl, I toured New Orleans to see how the Super Bowl is made, and what happens when hundreds of thousands of loud, proud football fans get together to party. And somewhere in there, I'm pretty sure they played a football game.