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SmashMouth 09-03-2012 09:55 AM

New Orleans Saints expect to be in their home for Super Bowl XLVII
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Athletes are a notoriously superstitious and procedure-obsessed lot. The first is a quality that generally frowns on repeated mentions of a goal, lest the public utterances jinx it. The second is the father of the proverbial "one game at a time."
The New Orleans saints are trying to become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
So mum would be the expected default word for New Orleans Saints players and executives when the topic is the fact Super Bowl XLVII will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Feb. 3. After all, no home team has ever played in a Super Bowl, and, judging from the past three seasons, it certainly seems as if a hex is on the team that considers the Super Bowl venue home.

Last season, with the Super Bowl making its debut in Indianapolis and the Colts standing as one of the two most consistent AFC contenders over the past decade, there seemed a more than passing chance quarterback Peyton Manning would be running his offensive juggernaut in Super Bowl XLVI. Instead, Manning wound up undergoing a series of complicated neck surgeries, missed the entire season, and the Colts found themselves in the dumpster.

The year before, with the Vegas-like new Cowboys Stadium serving as the backdrop for the NFL's marquee event, there was money bet that what appeared to be a talented Dallas team would play host in Super Bowl XLV. Instead, quarterback Tony Romo broke a collarbone, the team collapsed, the head coach was sacked and the Cowboys watched the postseason on television.

Yet neither history nor athletic genetics appear to have silenced the Saints. Rather than run from the distant future or fear the past, the Saints -- from owner Tom Benson on down -- seem to have embraced the Super Bowl talk. Neither players nor executives have shied away from the Lombardi Trophy-shaped elephant in the Dome. Indeed, when Benson spoke at a Saints Hall of Fame ceremony this past summer, he opened with the unspeakable.

"We're going to make history," he predicted. "This is our goal, I'll tell you right now: to win the Super Bowl in our own stadium."

That statement isn't as brash as it seems, and doesn't really flirt with bad luck, according to the Saints. After all, there isn't any doubt playing in the Super Bowl, regardless of the venue, is the Saints' goal going into every season.

"Absolutely, regardless of where it is, we would be striving for it," quarterback Drew Brees said.

Falling into place

To date, the NFL has held the Super Bowl in 15 venues (counting more than one site around Phoenix, for instance, as one), and for most of those games many teams had no chance of playing host. It was not until 1982 that the league went to a so-called "cold weather" locale, when San Francisco beat Cincinnati in a terrific yet oddly forgotten Super Bowl XVI at the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit. Teams such as Pittsburgh, New England, the Giants or the Packers with multiple Super Bowl appearances simply had no chance to ever be a true host team.

The Saints, of course, never had a legitimate chance to play in a Super Bowl until recently, and consequently were never considered a possible host team during the previous nine championships held in New Orleans.

That meant the only teams with a legitimate shot would have been the Miami Dolphins (the Super Bowl has been in that city/area a record 10 times), with teams such as the Cowboys, the 49ers, or the Raiders perhaps getting a game close to home.

The Los Angeles Rams played in Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., but played their home games at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Miami Dolphins 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., but played their home games at Candlestick Park.

Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice came to the 49ers the next season, but he was an integral part of multiple championships and he said it was an idea that floated about.

"I can understand what you're saying about New Orleans, and if that team can have an exceptional year this year and be able to play at home," Rice said. "It's really hard to make it when the Super Bowl is in your city. I'm not saying there's a jinx going on or anything like that, but all the cards really have to fall in place. I remember playing Super Bowl XXIV there against the Denver Broncos, and it was just unbelievable, just a wonderful city. But all the cards have to fall in place, and if that can happen with all the destruction from the bounties and everything, well, they still have to win."

If history is a guide, the best way for the Saints to win Super Bowl XLVII would be to gain home-field advantage in the playoffs, the same route they followed en route to winning Super Bowl XLIV. Brees noted home-field advantage is another annual goal for the Saints, and any serious team.

"We've embraced it, but it's not like it's extra pressure," Brees said. "We've got so many other things going on, too. The craziest circumstances I think any team's ever had to play under. And when you incorporate the fact the Super Bowl is here in New Orleans as well as all the other stuff. ... I've read enough from other teams -- for example, the Dallas Cowboys two years ago, when they knew the Super Bowl was coming to Dallas and I remember reading a bunch of them saying when I think they started out 1-7 a lot of the quotes coming out of there were, 'I think we put too much pressure on ourselves coming into the season knowing the Super Bowl was here,' that kind of thing.

"You don't want to fall into that trap. I guess for us I just feel like there's so many other things we've got to worry about that are right in front of us that thinking about the Super Bowl, five months from now, it's not productive."

Michael DeMocker / The Times-Picayune
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the team isn't under more pressure because the Super Bowl is the Superdome this season.
The theme, however, is one good teams don't avoid. Hall of Fame coach Don Shula recalled Super Bowl V, which was played in Miami in 1971, the year before his great Dolphins teams went on a run that included three consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

"I'm sure I mentioned that the year we were going to be the host city," Shula chuckled. "I reminded them early we've got a chance to do something no one's ever done."

Shula said he was "surprised" it has never happened -- or that no team has ever played a conference championship game and then the Super Bowl in the same venue. For some time, however, the NFL did not seed playoff teams. That meant even Shula's undefeated team didn't get to host the AFC championship that year, having to follow a rotation instead and play in Pittsburgh.

"But it was 51 and sunny that day," Shula laughed. "Miami weather."

The process is key

The unprecedented nature of the accomplishment simply adds to the Super Bowl allure, according to Brees.

"I'll say this, No. 1, it's exciting just because it doesn't happen that often," he said. "I mean, look at the last time the Super Bowl was here. No one on this team was here, don't think any coaches were here; it was just the ownership and (general manager) Mickey (Loomis). So I think for that reason this is something we've never experienced before and, in essence, it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. You never know when it's going to be back here, so, wouldn't that be something? Especially because it's never happened. When you look at those stats, you say, hey, we've done a lot of things around here and been the first to do it. This would be the pinnacle."

That sort of attitude has infected even the newer Saints.

"We look at it now as everybody against us," said linebacker Curtis Lofton, who left Atlanta and signed with the Saints as a free agent. "Everybody wants to see us do bad. That's just bringing us together as a unit. The Super Bowl is actually in New Orleans this season, so the goal for everyone is to go and win it for this team and this city. Let's go get it."

As unusual as it may seem for top brass and players to be outspoken on the topic, Rice said the Saints are simply giving voice to what is heard in every locker room and every player's head when the season begins.

"You're very well aware of where the Super Bowl is," he said. "And you say to yourself, 'look, all we have to do is take care of business. And if we do that, then think about playing the Super Bowl, being the host of the Super Bowl and also the team to play in the Super Bowl.' So, yeah, I'm sure those players are thinking about it right now, it's going through their minds, and hopefully they can pull it off."

The fact no team has ever accomplished that feat doesn't shock Rice.

"It's just so hard when you're the host city," he said. "The pressure that's on that, I don't think it's a jinx or anything like that, but it's so hard when you know the Super Bowl is in your city, and if you do all the right things you can be at home, sleeping in your own bed, looking forward to playing in the Super Bowl (laughs). You don't have to worry about all the hotels and airports, flying your family in, the rooms -- all that stuff you don't have to worry about. You just have to play that game at home and have fun doing it."

In fact, it is only the business community that may regret the Saints playing host to the Super Bowl. Organizers insist, however, any gloom only one team is traveling would be short lived. If anything, the madness that would likely grip New Orleans would generate more business than any of the previous nine Super Bowls played in the Big Easy. Brees hinted at that in a radio interview within hours of signing his long-term contract.

"I know our city could handle a lot of events, but they would go off their rocker if that happened," he laughed. "Listen, I hope that's the case, and that's the mindset that we take every day: that it's going to be a black-and-gold Super Bowl."

That mindset may be permanent, but the commentary on what's ahead and that ultimate goal is likely to peter out soon, those within the Saints' organization predicted. Opening day looms Sept. 9, and the only thing that matters then is the Washington Redskins.

"I can just share this with you: every year, we put our goals up, share those goals with the players and want our players to embrace those goals," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "Everybody in the organization, every person on our team knows what the goal is. Ever since we have been here, in 2006, the goal was and is to play in and win a Super Bowl. I don't care if the Super Bowl is in Anchorage, Alaska, personally, you want to play in that game. It is special, because we would be the only team ever to host one and be in it. Once we introduce that goal, it is over now.

"We take it one day at a time, one week at a time, one game at a time, and now you start to work. If you keep looking at the end result, you are not going to take care of what is at hand. Every practice is at hand, every meeting is at hand. When you come in (the facility) in the mornings you want to have great install meetings. When you get through the install meetings, you want to have a great walk-through. When you get through the great walk-through, you (want to) have a great practice. When you get through with the great practice, you want to review the film.

"You are going to do that for four days and then you are going to get to the game. You are going to play one snap at a time, one series at a time, one quarter at a time, one half at a time, and that is the process. If you do what you are supposed to do, you have a chance to be where you want to be. It was relayed to our team one time, what the goals and the aspirations are. You have to embrace it if you want to be a member of this team, but it really hasn't been talked about since."

Ah, the process again takes precedence. Brees said it wouldn't work any other way.

"It's one of those things where you put it up the first day and it's at the top of the list, 'Super Bowl champions, Super Bowl 47 champions,' and then it's like, put it away and let's worry about all the little things that will help us accomplish goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 until we can get to the top," he said.

Rice, for one, said he hopes it happens.

"Hey, I'll tell you, it will be awesome if they can do that," he said. "If they can host a Super Bowl and also play in the Super Bowl? It would be just spectacular."

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homerj07 09-03-2012 10:20 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints expect to be in their home for Super Bowl XLVII
WOW - it would be so totally awesome

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