The Today Show returned to New Orleans for the third time in a month, and I had the chance to visit the set. As the show provided an early tailgating opportunity, I asked for Vikings - Saints season opener predictions because someone will eventually predict the win and I will have the scoop.
Matt Lauer was too diplomatic to call the game and answered, "We're standing here in Jackson Square surrounded by black and gold, I think the Saints are going to do really well tonight, and if we were standing in Minnesota I would say go Brett Farvre." He noted that I was hardly unbiased in a black and gold fleur de lis cap, but I told him it's okay - I blog.
Al Roker pointed out that, "The statistics support the Saints, the last 10 Superbowl champs have won their home opener for the next season." With no game predictions, how about ratings predictions? "Huge, it doesn't get much better than this."
"If you think about what the Saints did ratings wise for the Superbowl and the NFC Championship game, you have to give them a lot of credit," Lauer added. "At the season opener they're going to draw a lot of people. We just had the 5th anniversary of Katrina, there's still an enormous amount of interest in the city."
"It's one of the things that this helps, keeping the focus on improvements and what's going on here," Roker said.
Between the Saints storybook season and Brett Farvre's return, departure and return it's "ratings gumbo," Today Show producer Jim Bell said. Bell, the longest-running Today Show Executive Producer since Jeffrey Zucker, kept the remote running smoothly in a city that feels like it's running on pure Who Dat adrenaline. Despite all the challenges a traveling set presents, "When you get the word we're going to New Orleans, it puts a smile on your face," Bell said.
The tourists, the game, the parade - all of it is a much needed shot in the arm to kick off tourist season in New Orleans after a summer of oil spill coverage.
"I think our show this morning is more about that shot in the arm, and our show a couple of weeks ago was much more an unjaded look at what's happened here after Katrina," Lauer said. "There are a lot of good things happening here, but there's still a long way to go so we tried to handle it in that way. But today we're kind of a pep rally."
"It's a celebration, this is fun," Roker agreed. "We're happy to be here, we love this city."
Roker then interviewed Deuce McAlester and I let loose with "Deeuuuuuuuuuucce" along with the rest of the crowd. It's more of a reflex at this point. I also yell at the Lombardi Trophy whenever the opportunity arises. Saints Executive Vice President Rita Benson LeBlanc talked with Lauer about the emerging role of women in sports, including an ever increasing fan base.
Longtime Superdome public address announcer Jerry Romig, when asked about announcing the Superbowl win after how far the city has come in five years, was moved to tears. He apologized off camera for tearing up, but by then anyone who heard him was tearing up as well. It's been a delicate dance, covering both what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. NBC in particular has done a stellar job. Brian Williams' Nightly News series about the 5-year anniversary of the flood was a gift to New Orleans and a reminder to the rest of the world.
Winding up the Today Show remote, Chef John Besh provided tailgating goodness with a spread that included jambalaya, pickled shrimp, short ribs and spicy chicken. When the bacon scent wafted across Jackson Square, he had the production team's full attention.
He also made a bloody mary pitcher that was gone by the time I got to it. That was fate intervening to tell me it's going to be a long, long day.
*Update: After enjoying Dave Matthews and Taylor Swift playing to the pregame crowd in Jackson Square, we watched the Saints win 14 - 9.
Photos by Jeff Beninato