(NEW ORLEANS) — The people of New Orleans have hosted nine Super Bowls since 1970, but Super Bowl 2013 may be one of the most meaningful yet.
That, of course, is because it’s the first Super Bowl in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in 2005.
When the San Francisco 49ers compete against the Baltimore Ravens on Feb. 3, it may rank with the 2002 game, when New Orleans hosted Super Bowl XXXVI after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Our home was destroyed by water,” said Doug Thornton, 54, senior vice president of SMG, the management company of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “Like many in New Orleans, we struggled at times, but have been an active part of the city. For many of us who have gone through this, there is a tremendous sense of pride to showcase our city [for those who] who may have not been here since Katrina.”
The Superdome’s manager since 1997, Thornton was in the Superdome for five days when Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Back then, it was called the Louisiana Superdome. It later became a shelter for thousands of displaced residents who had lost their homes.
“It’s a fixture in the city,” Thornton said. “You can’t drive anywhere without seeing it. You can’t think about going to an event unless you’re coming here.”
Thornton said the connection between the 37-year-old building and the local residents is even stronger since Katrina.
“We commonly refer to it as the living room of New Orleans,” Thornton said.
German-based car company Mercedes-Benz purchased the naming rights to the stadium in 2011, and Thornton said people embraced the new name immediately, “because we kept the word Superdome in the title.”
On game day, Thornton said, he won’t be able to enjoy the game. He’ll show up to the Superdome around 7:30 a.m., make his rounds around the stadium, and his day will end well after midnight.
“I’ve come to learn after doing these events for many years [that] there’s no enjoyment,” Thornton said. “You learn quickly in this business you can no longer be a fan. We’re workers. This is a lifestyle, not a job. You’re committed to it. It’s 24-7.”
The same can be said for the 5,000-or-so workers who will be in the Superdome on game day.
“It’s no different than a football player getting ready for the game. You have to be ready mentally and physically,” he said.
The city has been preparing for this moment since May 2009, when New Orleans was named host of Super Bowl 47.
Jay Cicero, 50, executive director of the Super Bowl host committee and president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, said more than $1 billion in recent infrastructure improvements were not done just for the Super Bowl, but the completion dates were moved up “dramatically” because of the big game.
The city also recently completed a $350 million renovation to the Louis Armstrong International Airport.
On Monday, the city will host a ceremony for the expansion of the historic street car line to one block away from the Superdome.
Cicero said about 100,000 people are expected to travel to New Orleans from out of town for events related to the Super Bowl, which are listed on NewOrleansSuperBowl.com.
The city is also hosting other events that sandwich the Super Bowl because of Mardis Gras 2013.
An early estimate from the University of New Orleans predicted the Super Bowl’s economic impact to the region would be valued around $434 million. It’s a whopping figure compared to the past Super Bowls in New Orleans and a reflection of the expanding efforts of the National Football League to create an extravaganza for the community.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Adam Forsgren, EastIdahoNews.com Columnist
Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Millie Behra, FamilyShare
Billy Hallowell, Deseret News