Part Two of Three
This season the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be home to the New Orleans Saints and to Super Bowl XLVII. These two experiences would not necessarily be the same, even if the Saints make their way into the Super Bowl. The NFL makes great efforts to de-emphasize the host franchises influence during normal Super Bowl preparations, now imagine the Saints actually making the game this coming February.
All mentions of the New Orleans Saints in and around the Superdome (with the exception of the NFC end zone) will be removed and replaced with images of the Super Bowl XLVII logo, the NFL Shield, and the NFL's corporate partners. A sterilization of the Superdome and it's surrounding area will begin not long after the Saints play their final true home game (preferably the 2013 NFC Championship Game).
On the surface the Saints playing the Super Bowl in the Dome sounds like a can't lose proposal. Playing under their roof, near their homes, surrounded by their fans, friends, and family. Sounds almost too good to be true? In some ways, maybe it is.
In part one I chronicled the difficulty and unprecedented nature of a host franchise making the Super Bowl. Here allow me to hypothetically place the Saints in the game and look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of being placed in such a unique situation. The Saints playing in Super Bowl XLVII wouldn't be like them playing on Sunday Night Football mid-season. Not just for obvious reasons but the dome itself, inside and out, would be different.
The roaring pre-game Who Dat chant, Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk), Fats Domino's When The Saints Go Marching In, and other Saints homefield staples wouldn't be heard in the Dome on Super Sunday (unless Mike Ornstein breaks out of prison and works his shady magic again). Arguably the NFL's loudest stadium and most creative fan base wouldn't be the factor it usually is on gameday.
Outside of the dome, yeah, Who Dat Nation would have it all over the competition, but inside, where the game is played, the numbers begin to even out a bit. Instead of 70,000+ Saints faithful packing the Dome, the Saints would play in front of an unfamiliar impartial Superdome crowd. Super Bowl ticket allocation typically breaks down by these estimates:
25% - NFL (corporate sponsors and partners, media, TV networks, charities, fans lottery, VIPs, and the NFLPA )
17% - AFC Champion (season ticket holders can participate in a lottery to buy many of these tickets)
17% - NFC Champion (Saints)
5% - Host franchise (again Saints)
36% - All other NFL franchises
This equates to 22% of the capacity Superdome crowd actually being bonafide Saints fans at the Super Bowl, roughly 16,000 out of 76,000 seats. Even on days the Superdome is invaded by a well traveling fan base like Minnesota, Pittsburgh, or Dallas, Who Dat nation still usually accounts for about 90% of the crowd inside. Super Bowl crowds are notoriously flat compared to regular NFL crowds due to the inconsistent rooting interests of the people in attendance. The Who Dats in attendance would have their work cut out for them creating the noise needed to get the dome roaring the way the Saints are accustomed to.
Every season the home team designation for the Super Bowl is switched between the AFC and NFC. Fortunately for the Saints this season's home designation is NFC. This means the Saints would have their choice of uniform and they would have use of the home locker room. Although the Saints would just be moving back into the same locker room, they would likely be asked to remove all personal belongings and clear the locker room out. It would be surprising if the NFL left the contents of the Saints locker room unchanged. Of course it would get the Super Bowl treatment but for example, would Drew Brees and Jabari Greer get to use their lockers and would the team have access to their usual "comforts of home" inside the Dome?
The team, like all teams do, will stay in a hotel before the game, but for just how long before? It's not as though Drew will just drive to the Dome right before game time with the kids in the backseat. They may be at home but the Saints would have to keep distractions out of their minds. It's hard enough for most Super Bowl teams when the players' family and friends start asking for tickets for the Super Bowl, imagine if people start asking to stay at the players' homes before the game. "We can just stay on the couch, you won't be there anyway! Hey, we're family, right?!", it's conceivable that homefield could cause more unnecessary headaches than usual.
Would the Saints be allowed to use their practice facility at Airline Drive in Metarie during Super Bowl week? It's likely that the NFL would find that to be an unfair competitive advantage in the Saints favor. The AFC champion certainly couldn't be given access to the facility due to the fact that they would be in their opponents headquarters and well, that would be an advantage all its own. It would be most likely that the Airline Drive facility would be off limits to both sides.
In the end I'm not arguing that the Saints potentially playing Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans wouldn't be a big advantage. It just wouldn't be the outright, hands-down coronation many of us have believed it could be. Many of these little factors could lead to bigger distractions for the Saints. Focus is an important factor for the team as are rhythm and flow during a season, especially at home where you are most comfortable. Not having your head coach to steer things in the right direction at the most crucial time could be a factor here.
It could be potentially jarring for the Saints to find themselves in a familiar place that isn't quite so familiar. Imagine them fighting through a tight Super Bowl at home without the overwhelming crowd support to help lift them up or disrupt the opposing team. Ultimately the pressure that would be placed on the Saints in this situation couldn't be quantified. Playing at home for any championship is a huge deal that carries lofty expectations, but playing in America's biggest game, a national holiday with a worldwide audience, would be the most pressure filled any team has ever experienced.
Can it be done? Absolutely. Will it be done? We will explore that in the final part of this series of posts. Please leave your comments below!