NEW ORLEANS – It's hard to believe, but I've never covered a football game in this city before. The Bills were scheduled to play here once since I became the lead columnist. That was in 2005, when the game had to be moved to San Antonio because of Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, the only sporting event I've covered here was the 1993 Final Four. It was the first time I set foot in the place. The results were predictable. The night before the NCAA title game, I discovered hurricanes, which seemed like harmless fruity concoctions to me.
I wound up walking home from some bar called The Dungeon at around 5:30 a.m. As I recall, you actually had to crawl on all fours to enter one particularly dank and dubious region of the establishment.
Things were still a little fuzzy at game time the next night. It was the NCAA final when Chris Webber called a timeout that he didn't have. I felt bad for the kid. From my perspective, New Orleans was a place that inspired bad judgment. Hey, we were young. We moved on.
There have been nine Super Bowls played here. Evidently, I didn't miss much. Looking back over those nine big games, it's remarkable how many bad, forgettable games there were. If you remember a really brutal Super Bowl, chances are it took place here — or involved the Bills.
Of those nine games, only one was decided by fewer than 10 points. Seven had a winning margin of at least 14 points. Some of the worst offensive performances in history occurred here. I'm guessing the New Orleans bowls inspired some of the NFL rules that now favor offense.
Maybe it's the wild nightlife. I'll never forget what it felt like for me, walking down Bourbon Street for the first time. I had a sense of relief, knowing that if I had been here as a very young man, I might not have survived it, or seen honest work as a worthy lifestyle.
We all know the Bills were a little overzealous about the party scene in Super Bowl XXV. Just think if that Super Bowl had been played in New Orleans, instead of Tampa. They might not have shown up for the game on time. It might have been the only Super Bowl forfeit.
As bad as the games were as a whole, though, it's still fun to reflect. Here's my ranking of the nine Super Bowls that have been played here. Let's hope the Niners and Ravens give us the best Super Bowl yet in New Orleans. The bar isn't very high:
1. SUPER BOWL XXXVI - Patriots 20, Rams 17: The only close one in the bunch, though it wasn't exactly a work of art. New England was a 14-point underdog against “The Greatest Show on Turf”, but held down Kurt Warner and won on Adam Vinatieri's last-second field goal. Young Tom Brady marched the Pats into field goal range in the final minute, despite John Madden encouraging them to run out the clock and go to overtime.
2. SUPER BOWL IV - Chiefs 23, Vikings 7: Kansas City was a 12- to 13-point underdog, but dominated the Joe Kapp-led offense in Tulane Stadium. People forget about that great K.C. defense, which forced five turnovers and held Minnesota to 67 yards rushing. Len Dawson thew for 142 yards and was MVP. A 30-second TV commercial went for $78,000. Those were the days.
3. SUPER BOWL XXXI - Packers 35, Patriots 21: The first time in eight New Orleans games that the loser topped 10 points. Drew Bledsoe was picked off four times. Desmond Howard returned a kickoff 99 yards and was named MVP. Brett Favre threw an 81-yard TD pass to Antonio Freeman and a 54-yard TD strike to Andre Rison — on Green Bay's second play. Bill Parcells already had one foot out the door to the Jets.
4. SUPER BOWL XII - Cowboys 27, Broncos 10: The first New Orleans Bowl played in the Superdome, and the first one indoors, period. Denver had eight completions and eight turnovers. Craig Morton started at QB and was mercifully pulled. Two Dallas defensive linemen, Randy White and Harvey Martin, shared MVP. The media wanted to vote the whole Dallas defense. I'm wondering if the entire Bronco offense was in The Dungeon until 6 in the morning.
5. SUPER BOWL XX - Bears 46, Patriots 10: More defense. Buddy Ryan's Chicago defense had seven sacks and gave up seven rushing yards. Tony Eason went 0-for-6 passing for the Pats and gave way to Steve Grogan. Refrigerator Perry scored a touchdown. Mike Ditka regrets not letting Walter Payton score in his only Super Bowl. Many sports fans regret having watched it.
6. SUPER BOWL XXIV - 49ers 55, Broncos 10: This one had the lowest rating since the merger, perhaps because San Fran led, 41-3, early in the third quarter. Joe Montana threw for five touchdowns and got MVP. Jerry Rice had 148 yards and three TDs and had a case. John Elway and the Broncos, not a memorable day. Again, I refer you to my Dungeon theory.
7. SUPER BOWL XV - Raiders 27, Eagles 10: I know, it's hard to distinguish one blowout from another. Oakland linebacker Rod Martin intercepted Ron Jaworski, the pride of Lackawanna, three times. That's still a record. Martin later said he got back to his room early from Bourbon Street during the week to study film. That's my strategy this week.
8. SUPER BOWL VI - Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3: Roger Staubach threw for 119 yards and was MVP in Tulane Stadium. I would have picked Duane Thomas, who rushed for 95 yards and a TD. Before the game, Thomas had one of the great quotes. Asked if the Super Bowl was the ultimate game, he said, “If it's the ultimate game, how come they're playing it again next year?”
9. SUPER BOWL IX - Steelers 16, Vikings 6: The third Bowl played at Tulane Stadium in a six-year period. MVP Franco Harris ran for 158 yards. The Steelers led at halftime, 2-0. The Vikings had just 17 yards rushing. They scored their only TD by recovering a blocked punt in the end zone. They missed the extra point. Man, is New Orleans due for a great game!