NEW ORLEANS — Brass bands marching among spectators and a live alligator and trainer were among the sights on the grounds immediately surrounding the Superdome on Super Bowl Sunday.
New Orleans has long been a popular Super Bowl host, but with Sunday's NFL title game being the first in the city in 11 years — and the first since Hurricane Katrina — officials took numerous measures to showcase the local culture in hopes that fans, and the league, would want to come back.
The NFL and the host committee went to great lengths to give the Super Bowl a Louisiana and New Orleans flair, said Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation.
Tickets to the game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers were scanned at security tents set up around the stadium. It allowed much of a secure 52-acre area immediately around the Superdome to be set up like an outdoor festival — with fans wandering in and out of the stadium and enjoying temperatures in the high 60s.
Ravens and 49ers' fans danced in front of a stage set up in an expansive public plaza next to the stadium while the Grammy winning Rebirth Brass Band played. Next on stage was the New Orleans Super Bowl Gospel Choir, comprised of small choirs from area churches.
It's beautiful that we can represent more than one genre of music, so you get brass bands, you get jazz, all of these different things. So it just really gives the culture of New Orleans, choir leader George Young said.
The fans in the plaza included Niners fans Rick and Cheryl Brandon from Mill Valley, Calif., and their son, Eric. They wore red and gold Mardi Gras beads. Rick Brandon wore a red cape and carried a small red and gold horn called a pocket trumpet, which he noted was small enough to get through security and big enough to make a difference.
There couldn't be a more perfect city of for the Super Bowl, Eric Brandon said. It's the combination the music and the spirit, the fun, the meals, the weather and everything.
SUPER HANDOFF: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said it was only fitting that a Super Bowl in New Orleans, which has doubled as a celebration of how far southeast Louisiana has come since Hurricane Katrina, would be followed by one in the New York metro area, where communities are working to rebound from Superstorm Sandy.
The mayor spoke at a handoff ceremony involving officials connected to the 2013 and 2014 Super Bowls.
Joining Landrieu were New Orleans Super Bowl host committee chair people James Carville and Mary Matalin, along with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Saints executive Rita Benson Leblanc, granddaughter of Saints owner Tom Benson.
Standing in Mardi Gras parade grandstands set up along St. Charles Ave. at historic Gallier Hall, the old city hall, Super Bowl officials handed off to New York Giants co-owner Jonathan Tisch and Jets owner Woody Johnson, who chair the New York/New Jersey host committee. Joining them was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and host committee president Al Kelly.
THAT'S SOME SERIOUS ZIP: 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sure was letting the ball go during pregame warmups, zipping his throws right at roommate and reserve wideout Ricardo Lockette.
A couple of the balls landed on the Superdome turf. A couple of others nearly took Lockette's hands off.
Now, Lockette realizes just how coach Jim Harbaugh feels when he catches Kaepernick's hard throws before games. Harbaugh admits he has his share of drops, too.
Wideout Michael Crabtree needed a little bit of time to get used to Kaepernick's sharp passes.
He has the arm. Some guys are scared, but it is not like that, Crabtree said. We do with him what we are supposed to do. Back in the day, his first year here, I do not think he could control his arm and he was just throwing fast every play.