What’s it Like to Go to the Super Bowl As a Fan? One Writer’s Journey
The Super Bowl is the biggest of all the Big Games and New Orleans is the best city* to host such a big game.
*Disclaimer: New Orleans is my favorite city to visit in the United States. I’ve been to the Big Easy nine times since 1993, including two NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours (1993 and 2003), one New Year’s Eve (2006), one wedding (2008) and Jazz Fest (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival) every year since 2008 and now the Super Bowl. I might be a bit biased when I say that no city is better equipped to host a big game or event.
With the Super Bowl being played in my favorite city, I knew I had to be there. This was a bucket list item and who knows when I might be able to check it off? The game hadn’t been played there since 2002 (and after the blackout that caused a 34-minute delay during the third quarter of Sunday’s game, who knows when it will be back again?). I had never been to a Super Bowl, so I wanted to make this happen if at all possible (on a budget). I had a free place to stay for the weekend thanks to a friend. All I needed to do was get myself to New Orleans and figure out a way to get into the building for the game. Challenge accepted!
About ten days before the game, I looked into travel options. With flights to New Orleans starting at $1300, I had to get creative in order to keep within my budget. I narrowed my research down to airports within a five-hour drive of New Orleans and started searching for flights. My best option turned out to be a $300 round trip flight from New York to Montgomery, Alabama (with a stop in Charlotte) and renting a car for the five-hour drive through Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans. Some of my friends thought this was a little extreme, but some of my friends apparently don’t know me very well. Turns out that I wasn’t the only superfan making the trip from Montgomery. My flight from Charlotte to Montgomery looked like a Ravens plane, with purple everywhere.
I talked to Dave, a season ticket holder wearing a white Anquan Boldin jersey and purple Mardi Gras beads, as we waited to board the flight in Charlotte. He was traveling with a group who had all purchased tickets via the Ravens season ticket holder lottery. Dave wasn’t as lucky as his friends, but he vowed, “I will be in the building on Sunday.”
I asked him how much the trip would cost. “How much will this cost? It doesn’t matter. Five grand? I figure $1000 per day. But it doesn’t matter.”
Every fan I spoke to in New Orleans -- whether they had traveled from Baltimore, New York, California or any place in between -- shared this philosophy. Nobody cared how much it cost. Nobody cared how far they had to travel, how many flights they needed to take or how many hours they needed to drive. If it meant seeing their team play in the Super Bowl in New Orleans, it would be worth it, win or lose.
Dave Taylor, a season ticket holder since the team first moved to Baltimore, wasn’t going to miss seeing his beloved Ravens in the Super Bowl. Getting tickets proved easy -- he and three other members of his “Ravens Family” won the right to purchase tickets through the Ravens (at a cool $950/each for tickets behind the end zone in the 600 level). Getting to New Orleans proved to be more of a challenge and he and his group needed to consider some alternative routes.
Taylor packed his two Flacco jerseys, plenty of cash, his camera and his tickets and hit the road. The itinerary they eventually took went from Washington National to Atlanta to Pensacola, Florida. From there, they drove three hours to New Orleans. I spoke with many Ravens fans who had similar itineraries and according to reports from Taylor via Twitter, his flights to and from Pensacola were packed with purple. A small price to pay for the chance to see your team win an NFL championship.
“I can't even describe it in one or a thousand words,” Taylor said. “It was truly a lifetime experience that I wouldn't want to change in any way.”
I also met Melissa, a die-hard female Ravens fan who grew up in Baltimore and whose family has had season tickets since the team moved to Charm City. The third-grade teacher who lives and teaches in Long Beach, NY was wearing purple uggs, a Ravens t-shirt, had purple fingernail polish and basically would bleed purple if she could. Melissa had a pretty easy time with tickets (her dad purchased them through the season ticket holder lottery) and she went with her dad, brother and sister to the game. She was also able to get a flight to New Orleans through Charlotte, so her travel to the Super Bowl wasn’t particularly arduous. She does make up for it during the regular season. Though she lives in Long Beach, Melissa goes to every home Ravens game with her family. She’s also brought her Ravens fandom to her teaching at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach.
Melissa is known at the school for being a die-hard Ravens fan. When she started teaching five years ago, she told her students that they would not have homework the day after a Ravens win (Monday night if a Sunday win; Tuesday night if a Monday night win). Many of her students started watching football and paying attention to the Ravens because of this.
“I get emails from the fathers of the kids,” Melissa said. “They say, ‘Thank you for making my son who doesn’t like sports watch football with me on Sundays’ or ‘You’re making my New York kid a Ravens fan!’”
For years, the parents of her students have wanted to know what would happen if the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
“I always said to them, ‘Let's just get there and we'll see,’” Melissa said. “And now it’s happened.”
What will she do? The third grade boys at Hebrew Academy of Long Beach aren't going to have homework for the entire week. They’re also going to have a “purple party” with purple cupcakes and purple decorations all over the classroom.
Though Ravens fans did seem to outnumber 49er fans in New Orleans (perhaps the geographic disparity helped), I did meet San Francisco fans from all over the country who made the trip to New Orleans, including a pair of friends who live in Portland and Denver. They flew from their respective cities to Atlanta and then to Montgomery and then made the five-hour drive from there. This was the result of a pact between two good friends who wanted to be there to see their team in the big game.
“We’ve both been Niner fans since we were little kids,” the friend from Denver told me. “Last year when they made it so close, we said we have real jobs now, we can afford this, so the next time they go, we’re going to be in attendance. So within a half hour of NFC Championship, we got tickets.”
They paid $2400 each for tickets four rows from the top row of the Superdome (face value $850) and had no regrets, even after watching their team lose in heartbreaking fashion. The total cost ended up at around three to four thousand dollars for the trip including airfare, accommodations and game tickets.
“Totally worth it,” he said. “It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
But no fan went to more extreme lengths than Royce Osentowski of Livermore, California. I found the die-hard 49er fan on the corner of Poydras and Loyola, close to the main entrance to the Superdome about an hour before kickoff. He was holding a sign that read, “I drove 2230 miles, got stopped by border patrol and spent 48 hours in jail. I made it to Nawlins after 5 days but I need help with tix!! Please help 49er faithful." I had to find out more.
Osentowski and his younger brother Ryan began their odyssey in their friend’s “Niner Mobile” (a truck with 49er logos and decals everywhere) on Wednesday night from Northern California. They drove overnight and made it to Texas by Thursday afternoon. That afternoon, their car was stopped by Texas border patrol. During a search of the car, the officer found marijuana in the car. (They had procured the pot legally as medicinal marijuana in California and even had their cannabis cards with them. The officer didn’t care.)
After discussing their options, the two decided that older brother Royce would take the blame for everything, be detained in Texas and let Ryan take the car and drive to New Orleans. The two would meet up in New Orleans in time for the game, assuming he made bail.
Royce spent two nights in jail, posted $1000 bail and was released on Saturday night. With the game less than 24 hours away, he needed to get himself from middle of nowhere Texas to New Orleans before 5 p.m. CT on Sunday.
“I got out of jail on Saturday night at about 10 o’clock,” Royce said. “I had the bail bondsman drive me 300 miles to Midland, Texas from the border patrol so I could catch an 8 a.m. flight [Sunday] morning to Dallas. Then I had to fly from Dallas to New Orleans.
“At 1:15 I arrived in New Orleans and at 1:45 I was on the street, not even 24 hours out of jail.”
I wanted the Osentowski brothers to have a happy ending to their story like I did (I ended up getting a ticket through a friend who had an extra one turn up at the last minute). It turns out that Royce and Ryan ended up watching the game at a bar. Ticket prices were still “hella expensive” at over $1000 each even after the first quarter and because he had spent $1000 on bail, his ticket budget had been significantly decreased.
Even without being in the building and their team losing, Royce has no regrets.
“Still completely worth it. Story of a lifetime,” Osentowski said. “That’s how this is going to go down. Super Bowl or bust.”