A Saints Week
I am lucky enough to have a wife who is a huge Saints fan and few mates around London as well that are Saints fans. Actually, fan isn’t the right word, nuts is probably more accurate. One friend of mine Justin, who is the MD of a company my company partners with is a huge Saints fan and we were having a pint one night about 3 months ago when he mentioned that he was taking 5 of his work colleagues to New Orleans for the ‘2 in 5’ week, that is, the eagles and falcons games.
Then another mate Elliot told me that he had already decided he was going to do the 2 in 5 too, so I popped the question to the wife about going on a lads trip and got a yes (I must have done something right – mind you I did invite her but she didn’t fancy the short duration jet lag)! Luckily for me I travel for work quite a lot and had enough frequent flyer points for an almost free flight with United (they still ask for cash for taxes). Oh, and a good boss to let me take the time off (well most of it).
Next it was figuring out a place to stay with Elliot, and we decided that we would try an AirBnB. We booked a house outside of the Quarter in an area known as the Faubourg Marigny. Next was sorting out tickets, so a few messages to some local New Orleans mates and tickets were sorted for both matches. What you will find with the Saints is that season tickets are so rare, that families don’t give them up. So often a couple might actually own 4 season tickets, sometimes split. They will bring their friends and family along and sometimes sell them on the secondary market. So luck was in for me that tickets were available for both matches. Elliot was arriving the day before me on the Friday and was going to visit his Uncle on the Northshore for a couple of days, so he rented a car. So we were sorted.
Of course, it takes ages for the big day of travel to come around – but it finally did. Elliot headed off and then I did too, catching a 10:05am, flight from Heathrow Terminal 2 with United. I got there ok, had some breakfast, the flight left and arrived on time without any hiccups into Houston all ok. I arrived in Houston about 3:00pm my time and had 3 hours to kill before my next flight. I had a look around the newsagents (Hudson News), bought Sports Illustrated and settled into the United Lounge to wait. One thing I know, the food in US lounges sucks compared to European ones. Some soup, cheese, celery is about what you get. But I shouldn’t complain as I am lucky to be able to sit in them away from the crowd. So after my soup, I noticed on the board that my flight was delayed for what became an hour and a half. This was due to snow in Denver – which was where the plane was coming from. Now I was starting to get peeved. I was hoping to land in New Orleans at about 7:30pm – now it was looking like I wouldn’t land till about 9:00pm at least. Boredom had set in and I spend about an hour trying to see how many chocolate chip cookies I could eat – it turns out not as many as I had hoped, 6 as it turned out before I started to feel like a chocolate chip. I even considered doing some work until I saw some dude that looked totally stressed working on spreadsheet when I thought better of it. The flight kept getting delayed and delayed, so facebook and Sports Illustrated passed the time for me.
Elliot was at the Pelicans game (which they won nicely) and had told me that he would pick me up when I arrived as the game would be finished and he would have time to come get me now that I was delayed – which was a bonus.
Finally, it was time to board and we were on our way for the short 1 hour flight, landing around 9:45pm. The New Orleans airport is a breeze really, well it was at that time. It’s not the busiest airport sometimes, all the shops were closed down already! It’s not usually too long a walk to the baggage hall, certainly not by Heathrow standards – but you do usually have to wait for baggage for at least 15 minutes. Finally the carousel started rumbling and eventually I had my bag. I walked out to the taxi rank and Elliot was about 20 yards away parked up – sorted!
So we were off. It was great to catch up with Elliot. We have only known each other for just over a year. My wife and I met Elliot at the Times-Picayune live broadcast organised for the Saints week in London last year. It was held on a Thursday and Jeff Duncan, Jim Henderson and a number of other sports journalists did a live to air broadcast from Belushi’s in London Bridge on the Thursday before the game. What a night that was. Not only did we meet new life long friends to be such as Elliot and Mike and Jessica, we got to sit with and chat to some of the Saints most famous media personalities. Jim Henderson will go down in folklore as a Saints legend – a great and beloved radio commentator for many years. What a privilege it was to meet him. Jeff Duncan – what an awesome, friendly guy. Not only a senior sports writer for the Times-Picayune / nola.com, but a published Saints author and podcast host. And we met Elliot. Not just a Saints fan, but a lover of the Pels and cricket too!
We arrived at the AirBNB and settled in pretty quickly. What a beautiful house. It was a shotgun house, but not like the one my Dad grew up in, in Carlton, Melbourne, Australia. These are just different. With the high ceilings built for air movement, there is just a feel to New Orleans houses that you cannot explain. So after a catch up it was off to bed for the big day.
Just getting up in the morning, switching on the TV and seeing Saints coverage on every local TV station is a buzz! Elliot had stocked the fridge with some food for us to have something to eat before we headed off. This is a really good tip. Eat before you hit a Saints game. Just a little bit, just enough to be a small sponge for the booze you will likely start to drink as soon as you get there! So today I was taking Elliot to our friends tailgate. The fore mentioned friends Mike and Jessica go to a big tailgate in a car park on Poydras Street right opposite the Dome. We were invited there so grabbed an Uber and headed off. Luckily for us, the game had been flexed to a 3:25 kick off, so we had been able to have a bit of a sleep in. Normally for a 12pm game, my friend Mike would be there by at least 9 and on it already, usually 8. We were heading off around 10:30 this time. We got to the tailgate which was already in full flow. This is one of the bigger ones. Every now and again WDSU will do a live pre-match broadcast with Juan Kincaid (who is an awesome bloke) and its always got some of the Saints Super Fans in attendance. Mike and Jessica where already there as were other friends, Who Dat Chef and his wife, Big Jim and many others.
We were handed our wristbands (to show we are part of the tailgate) and off we went. The first beer immediately shoved in our hands.
If you haven’t been to a US Tailgate, they are amazing. The people are very welcoming, there is food, booze, TV’s showing games, music pounding and generally just a bunch of like minded people having a party. And in New Orleans, they are parties. We once went to a Saints tailgate where they have an RV that opened up on both sides with a pole in the middle and the local strip club had girls there doing pole dancing (with a small amount of clothes on unfortunately for me – is it politically correct to say that?). But our tailgate is just a Saints Super Fans party. A number of them attend, not just Who Dat Chef and Sailor Saint, and they are always massively happy to meet traveller's from out of state, let alone from England. They think it is kind of kooky but cool that we are British Saints fans and that gets you an invite into most anything anyway!
The food is amazing as well, I am always going for the jambalaya, cooked up in 22 gallon drums, then dished out to you for as much as you can eat. Sometimes they get in Popeye's fried chicken too which we love (google Popeyes – its like a national favourite fast food dish here – and its good!). One of the organiser's runs a local brewery and they have an RV that has taps built into the side of it. There is always a light and dark beer available from these taps – just grab a cup and pour. And off you go. You kinda have to pace yourself about as you can drink during games as well.
Elliot has been going to see the Saints even longer than me and has been to heaps, too many to count. But I don’t think he has ever been to a Tailgate like ours! With about 50 people there, there are loads of people to talk to and the time fly's by. But we always know about when to start thinking of leaving, as the Fat City Drum Corp always rolls in to the tailgate to play and to take a break and have a quick beer. They are the Saints (almost) official Drum Corp. They play on the field during the game and a brilliant. So having a private gig is a great experience as well.
For us, it was time to leave the tailgate and go meet some more friends in Champions Square. For the first time visitor, Champions Square is the place to go. It’s a big pre-game party right next to the dome with a band playing, appearances from the Saintsations and food and booze. A great way to start the day. We were meeting our mate Kevin, his son and bother and sister in law for a catch up before the game. My wife and I met Kevin and his wife Andrea in the UK about 3 years ago. We were on our way to a local American Football game in Bristol with a mate. My wife Lisa and I were dressed in Saints gear. We stopped in a services and my wife Lisa and I were waiting for our friend when we were approach by a lady who asked whether we were from New Orleans. We said no but were huge Saints fans. She called her husband and son over and introduced us and from than moment we became great friends. Kevin was working as an expat in the UK for 3 years and they were from New Orleans, living in Reading. We arranged to meet up for dinner in London and became great friends – with Kevin and his son joining us at the UK NFL games (we also flew back for Christmas that year and went to Saints games together).
So we met Kevin and his crew and had a beer shoved in our hands and had a good catch up. We then headed into the Dome which is right there for the big game. It has to be said that there were a lot of eagles fans in attendance. I reckon they saw this as soon as the season was announced and booked it up. Fair play to them, they came in numbers to London and to New Orleans too. But the Saints fans were well up for this game. The atmosphere was buzzing as we headed in. I have been lucky to attend many different types of major sporting events – and watching a Saints game rivals the best of the best. I could tell the Eagles fans could feel it too. They were pretty quiet considering. We headed upstairs to sit with Mike and Jessica who have in the 600 sections, but with a great view. Its just an awesome feeling to get to your seat in the Dome if you haven’t been there for a while.
And the game started. I won’t talk much about it but to say that it was brilliant! The Saints were dominant and the Eagles fans had nothing to shout about which was great. The Saints fans were loud as hell and heading out of the stadium afterwards was brilliant, just brilliant. I hope you all get the chance to chant Who Dat out of the Dome after a big win one day. Its special.
We parted ways with Mike and Jessica and Kevin and his crew (who sit nearby) and Elliot and I headed to the Quarter. I knew another mate of mine Greg was going to probably head to Pat O’s for a drink. So we walked with a massively happy crowd down to the quarter and into Pat “s. Elliot and I grabbed a table as Greg wasn’t about and ordered some food. Pat O’s is as well known establishment but you wouldn’t know it as a Saints bar. There were quite a few in but we were sat next to a table of about 8 Eagles fans. One dude was the biggest dude I think I have ever seen, with a booming voice. I was hoping that he wasn’t to upset that we spanked his team. They had had a few so I was ready for something. But amazingly he turned around, took my tiny girly hand into his Wookie sized one, squeezed it and said we need to go on and win the Super Bowl now and we had a great team and congratulated us. I didn’t really know what to say except thanks and congratulate them on their win last season.
By this time I was pretty far gone, after the pre drinks and spending about $40 on booze inside the stadium, as usual I had surrendered to the Hurricane. Hurricanes at Pat O’s are dangerous. They are full of alcohol, don’t be fooled, they can mess you up. If you have been drinking all day, usually one or 2 will do it. And just as I was ready to go, Greg turned up with his cousins. Call me weak but after a good chat, it was time for us to go. I know what the consequences are. Lying on Bourbon St is not a good look.
So an Uber and we were home and done for the day. The next day, was awesome. Again, there is something brilliant about waking up with a TV in your room which has nothing but happy people celebrating a Saints win. The other thing you do is get up and try to find a Times-Picayune to read all about the Saints.
So a light breakfast was had as we were going to hit the road, as my brilliant mate had organised a tour of the Saints Hall of Fame! For $10, you can get a tour of the hall of Fame, just call up and arrange. The Hall is in the Dome and we headed there in Elliot’s rental (a Black n Gold Chevy of course. Note that if you drive to visit the Hall, there is a car park entrance you can use for free parking. Ask about it if you call the Saints.
The Hall is not that massive, but it is packed with Saints stuff as you would image. Our guide took us around with a particular focus on the early days. It was wonderful to hear the history and stories of the easy Saints. There are even some Bleachers from the old Tulane stadium (the older fans always go in, sit and stomp their feet like back in the day), as well as videos to watch. You could spend at least an hour here and maybe 2 if you read and watch everything. It can be a bit emotional there as well as you see the stories play out about Katrina and the part the Saints played in the recovery of the region.
Next up was to go spend our pounds in the Saints shop right next door and then off to the Pelicans show on the other side of the Stadium. This shop is on the street level of the Pels stadium. They have some nice gear there too and I bought a lovely polo – top notch.
We then jumped back in the car and headed over to Metairie. There are a number of go to places here. The Lakeside Mall is excellent and has TWO sports shops to buy Saints stuff. The Black and Gold Store on Veterans Boulevard is perhaps even better than the Saints shop for stuff and then there is Bobby Heberts restaurant which we headed to. We parked up and walked into a life sized cut out of Bobby and a menu that was spot on for what I needed after a day of boozing the previous day. The place is full of memorabilia and I highly recommend it if you can get out to Metairie.
We then headed off to the Black and Gold store where I then bought a bunch more stuff. It’s hard to describe the feeling of walking into a Saints store. The butterflies, expectation, hope, all feelings that I guess all long distance sports fans have when they do this. It gets you to a point where you will buy almost anything just to buy something! I think Elliot was a bit stronger than I was. I even bought a big Saints clock to go on our lounge room wall (to be honest it was on the shopping list as the previous one bought from china worked as you might expect – perhaps it was good at keeping Chinese time – but it was no good at keeping UK time).
After what had been a long day already, we headed back for a bit of a break before we headed out again. We actually had a dilemma, the Pels were playing San Antonio that night, but we also had the opportunity to drive to Bay St. Louis to go hang out with Jeff Duncan and Josh Katzenstein who do a live podcast called Dat Chat at a bar there. We both do love seeing the Pels, but we agreed it was a great opportunity to catch up with 2 well known (some might say infamous) sports journalists, so we did. The ride to the bar was about 45 minutes. You pass Stennis Space Centre (if you are into NASA and space stuff – this is a not so well known to overseas tourists must) and got there about 20 minutes before the show started. Jeff noticed us straight away and came over to say hello and introduce us to Josh (whom we had briefly met before I am sure).
The podcast is one of the best. The guys got into it, we got into a beer and a great night was had by all. The lads gave Elliot and I a good mention and even a congrats on our questions being good questions. After the show, Jeff stayed with us and we watched the Monday night Rams – Chiefs game. What a great game to watch – and what a great evening spending time with a guy who gets to spend a lot of time with the players and the Saints front office. It was great to get some insight into the personalities and goings on. One good thing is Jeff says it’s a good, close locker room, boding well for the season!
We also met a guy called John, who is amazingly, one of the Saints fans who goes to almost every away game – a huge fan. It’s quite unusual to meet someone who does this as its so expensive to do so, so we were pretty chuffed. And he is an awesome dude as well.
So we all arranged to meet for dinner / drinks on the Wednesday night at a cool place for locals called Bacchanal. After watching the end of the mental MNF game, we headed off after a long day of Saints awesomeness!
The next two days were pretty quiet, I had to work (from home I guess you call it) and Elliot was going to stay with his family on the north shore for a night. So Elliot headed off and I stayed in and worked.
The following day Elliot got back about 4’ish, we chilled and then we headed off for Bacchanal. This was Jeff’s suggestion. I think I may have said that I wouldn’t say the name to keep this place secret, but I noticed that its now listed in the Lonely Planet so I guess the secret is out. Anyway, don’t tell anyone. So Elliot, myself, Who Dat Chef and his wife, Jeff and John all met up around 6. This place is on a corner and started out as a wine show. It got bigger and bigger and then people started going out to the backyard to drink and it morphed into kind of a restaurant wine bar. It is beautiful. Out the back is just as you could imagine a bayou backyard, a higgeldy piggeldy assortment of different tin tables and chairs, with lights strung through Louisiana moss ready trees, a small bandstand for Jazz, a smallish bar upstairs for us beer drinkers, fantastic food and a wine shop at the front. This place is differently awesome! We ordered wine and had a fine night of chatting. Jeff is an awesome conversationalist and is also really interested in England and listening. I got to catch up with Chef and his wife and Justin and his mates even made it.
I hadn’t caught up with Justin and his mates as yet. There were 6 of them, 5 from the same company and a mate. They turned up around 8 that night. It turns out that they have gone out the evening before to a place called the Maple Leaf to see the Rebirth Brass Band. This is something everyone should do at some stage. The problem is that the gig finishes about 1:30am – and as they were walking out someone hear their accents, started to talk to them and invited them to a bar just around the corner which the boys took up (luckily it wasn’t some geezer trying to roll them!). So 4 hours later they were rolling out themselves and didn’t get back to the hotel till about 6am, another New Orleans story made!
So they were a bit hungover you might say. But fair play, they were back on it straight away! So after Jeff etc left, we had a beer with the Justin Bunch then called it a day as we had a big one coming up the next day!
The next day was the day, the crest of Falcons hate (part) week. But also, it was Thanksgiving!! Luckily, we had been invited by Kevin’s brother Mike and his Tracey to spend Thanksgiving with them, then we would all drive over to the game as pretty much everyone there was going to the game.
The usual morning was turn on the telly, watch Saints stuff and have a bite to eat from Elliot’s food stocks. Kevin arrived about 10:30am to pick us up and we drove out to Mikes house. It is in a lovely suburb, fairly new, right near a high school. All the houses are more like what I am used to in Australia, single story with a garage, in fact they are very similar. You might call them bungalows in England but they are different to English bungalows.
We met the family and friends, who were all lovely – really, so friendly its’ amazing and then cracked our first beer. I was drinking Dixie beer which is finally back in local ownership thanks to the Saints late owner Tom Benson. And a fine beer it tasted on this wonderful day. For those who haven’t spent Thanksgiving with an American Family, it’s just like Christmas Day except there is football on TV. The meal is served up like you would at Christmas etc, I am sure you have seen it on the telly. But down in New Orleans, the food is a little different. For a starter, we had a seafood soup. Now I am not that partial to seafood and certainly don’t like fishy smelling fish. But I thought I wouldn’t be rude so just swallow it. But oh my lord, it was lovely. I can’t describe the taste except to say it was kind of sweet – absolutely brilliant. Everyone loves cooking here, so I think food is just great whatever it is!
We then had mains which was turkey etc, all fantastic. The afters were a cake I can’t recall and mini pecan pies!!! Lovely. It’s all the more amazing as usually everything is home made. Tracey is an awesome cook!
Next was the bit we all know, lazing in front of the tv watching football with at least 3 people dozing off. I have to admit, I was struggling to stay awake, and if there was no game to go to I could have easily borrowed a bed and had a wonderful sleep. But there was a game on! Everything was timed for us to be done and dusted and to get to the Dome about 4 ish.
One of the guests works in the Pels – Saints ticket office so he had to go and this was the trigger for us to rise from our slumber and activity to recommence. Everything was cleaned up, we jumped in the car and off we went.
Traffic wasn’t too bad and the guys know an awesome parking spot 2 blocks from Champions Square, so we parked up and got there pretty early. We went into the Club XLIV which is free and open to the public every game, but it was already pretty busy, no tables and chairs available. This is an area you can go in for free and is like a club lounge. It’s a good place to hang out, particularly if its wet or if its early in the season and its unreasonably hot (which is most of the time).
So we went out into the square, beers were bought and the party commenced. We were right near the stage where the bands were playing. There is a different band every week although the same bands play quite often. But it’s a great party atmosphere, it’s a very unique to the Saints to have such great party facilities basically at the stadium and have people in such numbers. It got time for Elliot and I to say goodbye for a while and go visit the guys at the tailgate, which we did. I wasn’t hungry as you can imagine but the beers were welcome and I even got introduced to a young lad from Melbourne whose dad lives in New Orleans.
The tailgate had been rocking for most of the day, so you could say that the Saints fans were pretty happy. It was great to catch up again with Chef and the crew, they are so friendly – beware that you will end up in heaps of peoples photos! After the drum corp played, it was time to head in. The crowd was pumped. The Saints fans are something special.
I had noticed that there were not that many falcons fans about. There were some, but I guess because it was Thanksgiving, there weren’t that many. Lucky for them as it turned out. I got my obligatory message from my Falcons mate in Atlanta wishing me anything but luck and it was time to head to the game. He still owed me a bottle of pappy van winkle from the previous game as well, although I didn’t offer to double or nothing with him this time.
Elliot and I were sitting in different seats this time, me with Kevin and the crew and Elliot was level 1 behind the end zone – second row – a great seat. The game as we all know was a blinder. We could not have asked for a better performance, especially on a short week. The crowd was going off, I was sitting with my mates, just awesome.
There had been 2 Falcons fans standing up at the start of the game in the front row, a couple of rows in front of us. I cannot even tell you when they snuck out, but I guess it was during one of our celebrations! The Choppa Style track by New Orleans rapper Choppa was played a bit as well, that is going down like a house on fire right now – it could be the song of the season. It’s the track the Kamara made famous dancing on the side-line. Speaking of Kamara, he loves airheads, a candy. He has become so famous for these, they have printed some special ones with his face on them. You can’t believe what people are doing to get these. And lucky for me, the wonderful Who Dat Chef snuck some my way – I have no idea how he got them!
So we won! It was the same story heading out, chanting Who Dat out never gets old – especially against them dirty birds!
I met up with Elliot by Walks Ons, a pretty well know Drew Brees owned restaurant which was packed. By this time we were hungry and I stupidly suggested we walk down to Mannings restaurant to have something to eat. It might be explained by how much beer I had that it was shut for Thanksgiving when we got there. It looked like nothing was opened to we headed to the casino which was packed too! What few dirty bird fans seemed to have gone there – maybe to try their luck this time?
We ended up getting a casino Fudruckers burger and an Uber and calling it a day. But what a day!
The next day was different as Elliot was heading home. I was thinking about what I was going to do that day when Elliot suggested he could drop me off at the Pels store so I could but my wife a phone cover. Good call I thought. So we jumped in the car, I have a small Saints backpack and my phone which I put in the door holder and off we went. Elliot dropped me off, he headed to the airport and I tried walking to the Pels shop. However it was closed due to the Bayou Classic game being held at the dome the next day. So I thought I would walk around to the Saints shop, have another look and head to the river front. So I looked for my phone to take a pic and then had that horror realisation of leaving it someone else's car. Which just happens to be a car about to be returned to the car rental at the airport.
My phone was my only way to get an Uber, it had the door key code , photos, everything you can imagine would be on your phone. I knew I needed to call Elliot. As panic set in, I then realised I didn’t remember Elliot’s number. And how could I make a call anyway. I needed to find an internet café. But there was nothing around. So I ran to the Saints store which luckily was open. The only thing I could think of was to ask if I could use their phone to call my phone and hope Elliot would hear it buzz (I had it on silent – stupid me)! They sent me down to the shirt printing section, the young lad there understood my predicament and got the office phone. So I tried to call my phone and of course, international calls were blocked.. damn. So I asked him whether he had a cell phone and could I call international and I would give him $10. He gave me his phone and said don’t worry about the money, just make the call. So I called my phone and of course it went to voicemail after about 3 rings..! I waited a minute then called again and the fine tones of Elliot’s voice said “I’ve got your phone’! It turns out, Elliot had seen the phone in the car not long after dropping me off. He had then swung back to the Pels shop, had convinced a police officer to illegally park and have the office mind his car while he ran down to the Pels shop, only to find it locked. He then gave up as I was no where to be seen and thought he would just take it back to London.
So my only choice was to jump in a cab and head to the airport to meet Elliot which I did. Luckily, I got my phone back, thanks Elliot!
So it was another cab ride back into town, I got dropped off at the RiverWalk shopping centre and though I would just have a wander. The RiverWalk was severely damaged during Katrina and took some time to re-open. It used to have a fantastic Saints shop in there. I spent a fair bit of money in that shop! The mall has been back in business now for a long time, and it has a smaller sports store which does have a fair bit of Saints gear, as well as other teams and sports. Another tip, there is a Café Du Monde in there which hardly ever has a line and the Beignets are better as you have them as soon as they are made.
So I went to the store and spotted a beautiful Kamara jersey. I had to have it, ever after wasting all that money on cabs, I could leave the jersey. So I am now the proud owner of an Alvin Kamara Home Jersey! It was shopping for home time now, so I headed into the quarter (on the way being asked by someone where they could buy a ‘real’ Drew Brees jersey from like the one I had on!).
So I had a lovely walk around the Quarter, just chillin and checking things out. There is so much to see and do in the Quarter, even for free if you do your research.
I then stocked up on Zatarains products for home, finally ending up at Popeyes for my going home dinner. Justin and his crew had left that day as well, so a quiet Popeyes was perfect. It was a cab home and then finishing up watching High School football on TV. Actually, what I should have done is rented a car and gone to see a game – I could have also gone to the Bayou Classic battle of the bands in the Dome – I guess I sacrificed these for all the money I spent that day!).
The next day was breakfast, clean up, then a cab to the airport to head back on what would luckily be an uneventful return trip home. As a Saints fan and someone who loves the region, it’s always hard leaving. But knowing that somehow, in some way you are going to come back usually softens the blow. And I think I speak for all UK Saints fans when I say this – you must go back.