Football Returns to the Superdome
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And emotions are running high in New Orleans. Fans are gathering for tonight's football game between the Saints and the Falcons at the Superdome. It will be the first home game for the Saints since last year, when Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans and the Superdome into a sea of human suffering.
Fans will file into a much-improved facility as they settle in to watch what is also the debut of Saints first-round draft pick Reggie Bush. Mitch Landrieu is lieutenant governor and head of tourism for Louisiana. He's also a life-long resident of New Orleans and a Saints fan. He joins us now from New Orleans. Welcome to the program, Lieutenant Governor.
Mr. MITCH LANDRIEU (Lieutenant Governor, Louisiana): Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Who are you rooting for tonight? Just kidding.
Mr. LANDRIEU: The Saints, big time. It's going to be a great night. Look, I love all my friends from Atlanta, but whenever the Saints and Atlanta hook it up, you've got to put your Saints jersey on.
MARTIN: How important is this for the city, to have the Saints back?
Mr. LANDRIEU: Oh, it's so incredibly important. You know, any major events that we have where people can come together and enjoy being with each other and rooting - take your mind off of the difficult, day-to-day things that we go through down here are critically important from one perspective.
The other perspective is that we've taken a building that is really as much a part of us as any building in Louisiana and resurrected it, and I think that it gives us a great sense of hope that we can resurrect our lives and our homes and the livelihoods that we had before Katrina and Rita devastated us.
MARTIN: Well, you know, many cities do tear down their stadiums. They decide that they no longer suit their purposes, and they want, you know, more skyboxes, you know, fancier big screens or something like that. Was it ever considered to tear down the Superdome?
Mr. LANDRIEU: Well, you know, it's a great question, because we've been going through that argument with ourselves and also with the Saints for many years about whether we want to build a new stadium. Katrina kind of hit in the middle of that discussion, and I don't think it was - everybody felt like it wasn't an appropriate time to continue, that we needed to get it back up and operating as quickly as possible so that it could be central to the rebuild, which is what we've done.
I would expect that, you know, some years down the road at some point in time we're going to need a new stadium, but this particular stadium is really part of our, you know, psyche, much like Fenway Park is or Lambeau Field. It really has a life of its own, and whether or not it's ever replaced is going to be, you know, a question mark. Having said that, you know, it's important if you want to compete in the National Football League to have the same kind of properties that other states have, and of course that's an issue that we're going to have to discuss later.
But everybody wanted to get this up and operating as quickly as possible, just to send a message to the rest of the country that major, you know, events like this can actually take place down here, because tourism is somewhat the life and blood of - you know, a fairly strong piece of our economy.
MARTIN: Forgive me for pushing on this question, Lieutenant Governor, but sometimes people don't want to return to a place of suffering, and it's undeniable that there was a very great deal of suffering at the Superdome.
Mr. LANDRIEU: Well, there's no question about that.
MARTIN: Was that ever a question, that perhaps, you know what, maybe this isn't the right place to play football anymore?
Mr. LANDRIEU: You know, I'm sure some people feel that way, but you know what's more important than that, is believing in rebirth and resurrection and taking pieces that, you know, at one time represented good and then turned bad, and then being victorious again. And I think that most of the people that walk into this building again are going to be extraordinarily thankful that it happened. You can't walk away or ignore the awful things in your life. You have to overcome them, and this is going to be a symbol of us really persevering and overcoming a very difficult time for all of us, and I think it's going to be very cathartic.
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Lieutenant Governor, have you been back in the Superdome since Katrina?
Mr. LANDRIEU: I have been. I was there just a couple of minutes ago.
MARTIN: What was it like?
Mr. LANDRIEU: It's gorgeous, and it's fun. The streets of the city outside of the Superdome are filled with really exciting folks who are just playing music and enjoying themselves and just having a great time.
MARTIN: There was some speculation last year that the Saints might leave New Orleans. Have those rumors been laid to rest now that the team is back in the Superdome?
Mr. LANDRIEU: Well, for the most part. I don't know if you've reported it or not, but the Saints season this year is sold out, and you know, we have a love affair with this team that really transcends sports. It's just been such a part of us for such a long time. We expect that they're going to be here for a very long time to come. We always are cognizant of the fact that NFL teams can move. But you know, we're hopeful that they're going to be with us forever.
MARTIN: When folks come to the game, and I understand that there are many fans traveling from Texas and other states, where they may have been living since the hurricane, what are they going to see around the Superdome?
Mr. LANDRIEU: Well, that's a good - there are a couple of different pieces to this. First of all, the immediate area around the Superdome that was flooded and full of water is, you know, back to the way it was pre-Katrina and Rita. And most of the infrastructure that stood up the tourism industry that brings in tremendous amount of dollars is back up and operating, and of course that's helping with the rebuild.
But they will also see another side of the city, where piece of the city are still struggling to stand back up, and we all know that that's going to be a very hard thing to do, and it's going to take time. But every day we get better. We have more schools that open up, more healthcare facilities open up, more doctors come back, more teachers come back, and the city eventually will rebuild itself and the rest of the parishes that got hurt.
And remember, we got hit by two storms. We got hit by Katrina, and we got hit by Rita. This past weekend was the anniversary of Rita. In the southwestern part of the state, where Calcasieu and Cameron and Vermilion Parishes are, got devastated by this second storm. And so we have 18 parishes that have been really trying to re-grow themselves, and all of this is going to be a great challenge for many years to come.
MARTIN: But you said that the Superdome is - gorgeous was the world that I thought you used. And I liked how you said it. In fact, can I get you to say it again, because you - say it again the way you said it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LANDRIEU: I have trouble - we have trouble with our R's down here.
MARTIN: Come on...
Mr. LANDRIEU: It was just - it's gorgeous and it's wonderful. When you walk into that building, if you grew up there, like most of us from here did, watching the Saints or watching any other major event that was there - it's the central meeting place for people who live in New Orleans and St. Tammany and Jefferson and all across Louisiana, and it just feels like you're home again. And it was just a wonderful feeling.
MARTIN: So you said you were just there. Are there tailgate parties going on already?
Mr. LANDRIEU: Yes, ma'am, there are.
MARTIN: Are you going to any?
Mr. LANDRIEU: Yes, ma'am, I am.
MARTIN: How many are you going to?
Mr. LANDRIEU: I'm going to have a great time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Whatcha gonna eat?
Mr. LANDRIEU: Whatever they give me. We've got jambalaya, we have the whole program going. I'm going to eat a hot dog while I'm at it. But at the end of the day...
MARTIN: Just to make us Yankees feel good about it?
Mr. LANDRIEU: ...because I don't want to start a fight with my friends from Georgia. I love them, and I think they're wonderful, and Morten Andersen is their field-goal kicker, but he belongs here.
Mr. LANDRIEU: We've just got to take it to them.
MARTIN: All right. Thank you, Lieutenant Governor.
Mr. LANDRIEU: All right, great.
MARTIN: And good luck tonight.
Mr. LANDRIEU: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: Mitch Landrieu is the lieutenant governor of Louisiana. He joined us from New Orleans, where the Superdome reopens tonight for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.