The 1,200-room Hyatt Hotel, with the signature giant Lombardi Trophy mural,, finally reopened a little more than a year ago after a $275 million renovation. During Katrina, hundreds of its windows blew out, leaving shredded curtains flapping in the wind. Now it is home to new restaurants and rebuilt convention space.
"The city looks great," said Jerry Romig, the Saints' 83-year-old public address announcer, a lifelong New Orleans resident who has been involved in some capacity in the previous nine Super Bowls. "It's never looked better."
He also takes issue with the idea that sympathy for New Orleans' suffering played a role in NFL owners awarding the city this Super Bowl.
"The New Orleanean's attitude is they would be very upset if the NFL was going to throw you a bone because you went through a hard time," Romig said. "The New Orleanean would think, 'We should get this game every year because we're the best place for it.' ... We've got everything that's necessary to make it a success and that's being shown better this year than past years."
Pockets of the city still bear obvious scars from Hurricane Katrina, most notably in eastern and low-lying portions of the city — like the lower Ninth Ward — were many homes were wiped out and many residents were too poor to rebuild.
So-called "Katrina tours" are still offered, with vans carting the curious to areas where they can see the remnants of the devastation — abandoned, crumbling homes and schools, and streets overgrown with weeds and brush.
When the city was bidding for the 2013 Super Bowl, it floated the idea of a Super Saturday of Service, whereby volunteers could undertake community projects to improve the city. This Saturday, restoration work will be done on five properties run by the New Orleans Recreational Department, including a high school football field where the Archie Manning's sons once played. After Sunday, the field will be the new home of the turf used in the Super Bowl.
Despite the community's ongoing needs, New Orleans has proved repeatedly in recent years that the heart of the city can successfully stage major national events. It hosted college football's BCS national championships in 2008 and 2012, an NBA All-Star game in 2008 and an NCAA men's Final Four in 2012.
Yet given how New Orleans was once a regular Super Bowl city, the return of the NFL's biggest game carries more symbolic weight than any single event since the storm.
"This is just another huge example of how the people of this city, who were 15 feet under water, are now on top of the world," Landrieu said.
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