We know the atmosphere in our city is gleeful leading up to tomorrow's Eagles-Saints matchup, but what about the mood in another city known for its raucus celebrations? NewsWorks Tonight producer Shai Ben-Yaacov spoke with Jason Saul, Saints beat reporter for WWNO in New Orleans, to get a feel for the vibe in the Big Easy.
Shai Ben-Yaacov: A little more than a day out from the Eagles-Saints playoff game in Philadelphia, what's the mood like in New Orleans?
Jason Saul: The mood in New Orleans in carnival-esque. People in New Orleans love their Saints. Actually, Carnival itself starts in three days. New Orleans Saints fans are super-excited every time there's a playoff game. Especially after the fiasco last year, people are just falling over themselves with glee, and I think that a lot of people have traveled up to Philadelphia, despite the inclement weather.
SB: The Saints have obviously had some success since Sean Payton and Drew Brees have started playing there, including the team's only Superbowl appearance and win in 2010. Could you just review the recent history of the team and their post-season appearances?
JS: The New Orleans Saints are really a completely different team than they were before Sean Payton and Drew Brees got there. Payton came in 2006 in an abbreviated season that saw the Saints play every game on the road because of the damage done to the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. Brought in Drew Brees, who was let go because of a dramatic shoulder injury. And they just completely turned it around. And for a team that had won only one playoff game their entire history to have become this perennial contender is something that's pretty amazing to New Orleanians.
SB: These are two teams, the Eagles and the Saints, with pretty high-powered offenses and so-so defenses. Can you talk about the New Orleans defense, particularly in the wake of the bounty scandal that sidelined Sean Payton for the 2012 season?
JS: The Saints defense in 2012 was the worst ever in the NFL, but they hired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who, as many of your listeners might know, was the son of the Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan. And they've improved to fourth in the league this year. New Orleans still struggles against a run, however, and LeSean McCoy and Chip Kelly's hurry-up offense will give them some serious trouble tomorrow.
SB: We just learned from WHYY's Tom MacDonald that there are going to be Philadelphia police officers dressed as Saints fans to guard against Eagles fans who might play a little too rough with visitors. What do people in New Orleans think about this?
JS: People think it's a little ridiculous. They've really been enjoying it. Saints fans tend to have a very good time and show people a good time. I know that Eagles fans tend to be a little more hard-edged in their fandom. I think the craziest thing Saints fans are going to be doing tomorrow is a Who Dat "Rocky" Run, planned for 11 o'clock in the morning up the steps of the Art Museum.
SB: I know this will sound a little bit like a cliche, but how important are the Saints in New Orleans? The story of the team seems so interwoven with the story of the city. How big a deal is this for people?
JS: There's really nothing bigger in New Orleans than Saints football. It's really not a sports game or a sports experience like it is in other cities. The story of the New Orleans Saints, especially post-Katrina, really parallels the rebuilding and recovery narrative.
The Saints were terrible. They brought in people who everybody kind of wrote off. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, they rebuilt the Superdome, they put together a fantastic team, and the Saints Superbowl win kind of paralleled the initial recovery effort after Hurricane Katrina.
And you've never seen anything like the Mardi Gras parade — because the Superbowl always tends to coincide with Mardi Gras — that happened after the Superbowl win. There was a million and a half people out there. It was the biggest Mardi Gras parade ever.