2010 NFL Season Kicks Off Thursday in New Orleans

NFL Ground Zero in the French Quarter - Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street.

The Saints are coming! The Saints are coming!

The 91st National Football League season unfurls its ever-expanding tentacles upon the nation tonight, when Drew Brees and the World Champion New Orleans Saints stage a rematch of last year’s NFC title game against drama queen Brett Favre, and the Minnesota Vikings.

Since the 2004 season, the defending Super Bowl champion has hosted the NFL’s kickoff game the following season. Slated to be a celebration to honor the victorious New Orleans Saints, along with their home city and the new football season, the NFL is hosting a one hour kickoff special.

NBC and the NFL Network will broadcast the “NFL Opening Kickoff 2010 Presented by EA Sports,” beginning at 7:30 PM ET , prior to the actual game at the Louisiana Superdome, which follows an hour later.

The NFL's multi-tiered stage takes shape in the French Quarter.

As many of you already know, my wife Mïa is working with her Jazz Fest brethren at Festival Productions, to put on this extravaganza for the NFL. They have tirelessly worked 12 to 16-hour days out in the rain, heat and humidity, for the past two weeks to facilitate the stage construction and manage on-site details in Jackson Square, where the event will be held.

Venerable broadcaster Bob Costas is hosting the festivities, which include a Mardi Gras-styled victory parade through the French Quarter for the Saints, and performances by the Dave Matthews Band and Taylor Swift.

The “Krewe of NFL Kickoff” parade should start at 5:00 PM. New Orleans musical acts such as the Rebirth Brass Band and the Soul Rebels will be performing aboard floats. Joining them will be marching bands from Tulane University, McDonogh 35 High School, Warren Easton Charter High School, Eleanor McMain Secondary School, West Jefferson High School and Sophie B. Wright Charter Middle School, who will be blasting out numbers in between the floats.

Also expected on hand are several former NFL players, including Marcus Allen, Jerome Bettis, Floyd Little and Thurman Thomas, as well as former Saints favorites Morten Andersen, Joe Horn, Michael Lewis, Dalton Hilliard, Pat Swilling and Willie Roaf.

The concert is free to the public, and revelers who venture to Jackson Square should be able to view it from numerous spots, with the help of giant video screens. Only fans with passes will be able to access official viewing areas between the stage and the cathedral in Jackson Square. People who have registered at the Web site http://www.1iota.com have a chance at securing those passes.

Statue of General Andrew Jackson and the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square.

Keep in mind these festivities are not meant for those attending the game. It will be a sea of tourists and blocked streets from Decatur Street over to Poydras, where the Superdome is located. Aside from the NFL execs and VIPs, who will be escorted from the staging area to the game, those with tickets should think twice, or risk missing the beginning of the game, which promises to be quite an event in itself.

After the last song is played, NBC will cut away to inside the Superdome, where officials will unveil the division, conference and Super Bowl championship banners the Saints won last season to a capacity crowd of impassioned Who Dats.

NBC is describing its approach to this game as Olympics-level attention. Hopefully that doesn’t mean we’re going to be subjected to additional over-produced, melodramatic stories of Saints players and their families triumphing over some kind of contrived adversity. This is football for God’s sake, not figure skating.

What should be compelling all by itself is the emotion coming out of the Who Dat Nation from every bar and living room across the region, but especially inside the Superdome.

When they dim the lights and begin showing clips from the 31-28 overtime victory on the screens in the dome, everyone is going to immediately flash back to that moment when Favre threw the ill-advised pass across his body and the field, that wound up in the hands of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter.

That allowed the game to go into overtime, then Garrett Hartley iced it with his clutch 40-yard field goal, ending 42 years of struggle and frustration for the Saints organization and its fans.

A human statue mans his post by the horse and buggy stands across from the NFL stage being erected.

The emotion from that victory continues to resonate in New Orleans. With the Katrina anniversary having passed only last week, and the BP oil spill ongoing, it’s the Saints that have provided everyone some hope, and a momentary respite from the seriousness of reality.

After those clips play, and that Super Bowl banner drops, the noise inside the Superdome and around New Orleans will be deafening.

Mike Triplett’s story today in the Times-Picayune described it well.

The Saints have tried to prepare for the atmosphere. They snuck over to the Dome for a Tuesday practice and mimicked some of the theatrics so players would know what to expect. But it might prove futile to treat the moment like any other day at the office.

“When you lower the banner and drop that from the rafters, you get goose bumps just thinking about that moment happening,” said Saints linebacker Scott Shanle, adding that both the atmosphere and the memories of that specific playoff matchup will eliminate any notion of the Super Bowl champs coming out flat.

“When you look at that game, arguably it was probably the best played football game of last season,” Shanle said, referring to the intensity more than the actual preciseness of play. “And I think if you asked just an average football fan, ‘What rematch would you like to see?,’ I think it would probably be the Vikings and the Saints. It was a remarkable game, and there weren’t too many games I can remember playing where each team, one play here or there (could have made the difference). I mean, a lot of people say that a lot of times, but it was so close in every phase. We just happened to make a play at the right time.”

The NFL's version of wrought iron treatments for its balcony level on the Kickoff Special stage in the French Quarter.

That raw emotion could seal the deal for the Saints, along with the Vikings fate in this game. It’s going to be awfully hard for Minnesota to match the intensity level of the Saints.

Favre is a historic player, and one of the original tough guys, but I have a feeling some of those bruises from the NFC title game have yet to heal – at least mentally. Not sure how psyched Brett is going to be to face that defense again on the Saints’ home field, with all that raw energy surging through those defenders.

I’ve also heard the NFL is including some favorable Favre footage in the video montage to be featured before the game – as a tribute to this first ballot Hall of Famer. I can hear the boos already. Deafening and brutal.

Good luck Wrangler boy.

Enjoy the festivities and the game everyone.

“Who dat say they going to beat them Saints – who dat, who dat!”

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