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Monday, January 28, 2013
Super Bowl returns to New Orleans, post-Katrina

By Kate Fagan

NEW ORLEANS -- The final question of the news conference was directed at James Carville, as a member of the media asked him to quantify what hosting this Super Bowl will mean to New Orleans, his hometown.

But before Carville could lean forward into his microphone -- the folksy political consultant had been slouching in his chair, arms laced behind his head -- his wife and favorite debating partner, Mary Matalin, leaned into hers.

"I just want to say, he might start crying," Matalin said, glancing to her right at her husband. "That is, if he doesn't spontaneously combust. You've been forewarned."

Matalin, the more conservative half of the famous political-consulting couple, couldn't help tweaking her husband, with whom she is co-chairing the Super Bowl host committee. But no one could blame Carville for getting a little emotional when talking about New Orleans and what it has endured since 2002, which is the last time this city hosted the big game. Back then, the headline story was the amped-up security -- tanks patrolled Poydras Street -- as a result of the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11. Today, the focus is on how New Orleans has rebuilt itself after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005.

"There is no better story than one about a city that was down and out and picked itself back up," Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, said during Monday afternoon's pre-Super Bowl news conference with the host committee. "This is a great American story of resurrection and redemption."

Carville, Matalin and Landrieu were joined on the podium by Jay Cicero, executive director of the host committee, and Rita Benson LeBlanc, vice chairman of the board of the New Orleans Saints. Landrieu was emphatic about New Orleans' ability to host big-time events, saying, "We will beat any other city, any day, putting on an event."

The committee also confirmed the city will toss its hat into the ring to host the 2018 Super Bowl, as New Orleans looks ahead to its 300th anniversary that year. "We have a superior knowledge about this event that other cities don't have," Cicero said, alluding to the fact that the Big Easy is hosting for the 10th time (tied for the most with Miami).

In fact, New Orleans is putting on this Super Bowl for only $13 million. By comparison, Super Bowl XLV, hosted by Dallas in 2011, cost $38 million.

"We're not putting on a cheap Super Bowl," said Benson LeBlanc. "It's just that we don't have the same bills other places might have." The big cost-saver, of course, is that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is located downtown, as opposed to miles away. Cicero estimated the event would generate $434 million in revenue for New Orleans, a figure based on what fans and businesses are likely to spend while they're here.

"But that's a static number," Matalin said. "That doesn't even address the legacy impact of hosting."

What she means is that New Orleans, already experiencing a bit of a renaissance since Katrina, is reintroducing itself to the world in a big way this week.

Which brings us back to Carville. When he finally did answer that last question, he offered a surprisingly restrained response. "I don't know what the effect is going to be," he said, his voice sounding hopeful. "We'll know Monday morning."