The alarm clock rings in the morning. It's time to go to the game, a professional football game. The two sentences together are strange for us. Professional sports in Portugal - especially soccer - are increasingly nightly based. But in New Orleans, more than seven thousand miles away from Lisbon, we had not had breakfast yet and we were already thinking we couldn't be late for the game that began at noon.
We would never get there late. Usually, we like to arrive a long time before the kickoff and this time, after all the stress from when we went to see the New England Patriots, that wasn't even a question. The doors of the arena, historically important for having housed thousands of people for several days during and after Katrina, opened two hours earlier and we were prepared for it.
The transportation was pretty much straight from home. There was a tram stop a block away from the arena and it was impossible to get lost with New Orleans Saints' sweaters and props everywhere. From the outside, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome looks like a work of futuristic architecture.
The atmosphere is great. There are bands playing, but the famous tailgating is much smaller than at the Gillette Stadium. After all, people tend to use public transportation, and car parks are no more than a small space reserved for those who have enough dollars to spare in exchange for parking 100 feet from the front door.
We got in very early indeed. It was simple: we learned our lesson and there were no unpleasant surprises like the famous and desperate episode of the Foxborough's backpack. There are dozens of staff members scattered around the arena that show all the world's willingness to make our experience even more enjoyable.
We went straight to our seats. As we always go for the cheapest tickets, we already knew that we were on a top, near the last rows. When we got there, there were small towels - a common offer in American sports - to encourage the team. We looked around, absorbed the space, took some photographs and... realized that we may have arrived too soon.
It was time to go see what the arena had to offer because we have not eaten yet and wanted to enjoy the absence of queues. There was plenty of offers and we walked all the way around the arena more than once as we were gathering preferences: there were the usual nachos and hot dogs, but also Smoothie King shakes (highly recommended) and sandwiches with... crocodile sausages. Yes, at ten-thirty in the morning.
By then, the buzz was growing. The stands got crowded and several players were already warming up on the pitch. On one of the electronic screens we watched the countdown to the kick-off, as we evolve from a "damn, what are we going to do for so long?" to a "nice, we're almost there!".
The game, between the New Orleans Saints and the Cleveland Browns, is a promising one. The Saints have Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, while the Cleveland Browns put an end to a 17-game losing streak (more than one season in the NFL) the previous weekend. The team is very young, there are many people with potential but they always seem to lose their grip in the important moments.
The first half was a disappointment. There were just a few points, a lack of inspiration and uncoordinated offensive teams. The environment only vibrated when the Saints were able to advance ten yards, prompting "Move dem chains!" chants or when they started screaming the traditional "Who dat!". The first time, early in the game, was overwhelming. The acoustics were good - it was no coincidence that Beyoncé gave a concert there the day before our arrival.
The Browns threatened an upset - Tyrod Taylor passed for a touchdown almost from the midfield in the final moments - but the Saints had one final drive that clinched the win with a field goal. Browns' kicker, who missed four kicks (two extra point attempts and two field goals), preventing the Cleveland team to win, was one of the men of the match, but not for good reasons. The result? He was waived the next day.
For us, the experience was what mattered most, but some thought we were... the enemy. By chance, Sarah was wearing orange shorts (they were red, but after many laundry days... there are no miracles) that could be confused with Browns's colors. In the bathroom, after the end of the game, a woman approached her exactly because that: "What kind of color is that?! We are black and gold here!".
She was just kidding, of course. The strangest part? When we left, we still had half the day to enjoy. Only in America...