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NEW ORLEANS — Who Dat Nation has plans for Super Bowl Sunday, but they won’t have anything to do with the matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots.
Fresh off one of the most controversial plays in U.S. sports history — a non-call of a penalty that would have set up the New Orleans Saints to beat the Rams in the NFC championship game — the city of New Orleans is preparing a near-total boycott of the Super Bowl. Bars are refusing to show the game, parades and protests have kicked off, and an outdoor party organized in less than two weeks sold out.
“We throw a party for every event,” said Lauren Braden, 36, a lifelong Saints fan who has also been selling voodoo dolls of NFL referees and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We throw parties in the streets for funerals, so we have a different mentality than most people.”
The blown call has already become part of New Orleans lore, costing the Saints and its fans — known as Who Dat Nation for its “Who Dat?” rallying cry — a chance at winning the Super Bowl on the home field of their hated rival, the Atlanta Falcons.
Erick Engelhardt, 43, the creator of the Big Easy Mafia, a Saints fan club, said he could feel the loss throughout the city on the day after the game.
“It was literally deflated,” Engelhardt said. “It was almost like the same feeling as somebody dying, the same kind of sulking. You just felt it. It was crazy, but you honestly felt it.”
Many NFL teams around the U.S. have rabid fan bases, but few are as inextricably linked to their cities as the Saints are to New Orleans. For decades, the Saints were the only major professional sports team in New Orleans, and fans endured years with little to no success, even earning the unfortunate nickname the “Aints,” and pioneering the use of paper bags over heads as a sign of their frustration.
But the Saints remained an important part of the city’s identity, a bond that was best illustrated by the team’s return to its home field, the Superdome, in the first game after Hurricane Katrina.
“We had devastation staring us in the face every single day and truthfully the Saints, be it through their games, their philanthropic endeavors, just picked us up,” Braden said. “It gave us something to look forward to every single Sunday.”
“They represent our hope. They gave us back our lives after Katrina.”
And so, with the fresh sting of defeat this year, New Orleans residents began to figure out how to mourn their team’s season. A boycott? Sure, but in the spirit of the city, it would be a celebratory boycott.
The day after the game, Kim Bergeron, 57, started planning a second-line parade, a New Orleans tradition that originated with jazz funerals, to mourn the Saints season but also look forward to the next one.
There are numerous second-line parades being planned, according to Nola.com, a local news website.
“This was put together as a catharsis for everyone trying to mend their broken hearts,” she said. “They represent our hope. They gave us back our lives after Katrina.”
The biggest event appears to be the “Boycott Bowl,” the brainchild of New Orleans residents Brando Rizzuto, Travis Laurendine and Walter “Kango Slimm” Williams Jr. The event, which will be held on a city street and features more than two dozen local music acts, sold out of its 3,000 tickets.
Laurendine, a local entrepreneur who sold tickets through his startup, ShowSparker, said the response to the event had been almost overwhelming, with many more thousands of people on Facebook expressing interest in attending — and Saints in other parts of the country asking for a livestream of the event.
He said he wanted to put the event on for Saints fans and to raise money for the New Orleans Recreation Department, where proceeds from the event will go.
“We took this opportunity to take a loss for the Saints and turn it into a win for the future athletes, the future champions of New Orleans,” Laurendine said.