As the NFL season begins, I can’t help but think about where it will end.
In less than five months, the Super Bowl will return to New Orleans for the first time since 2002.
Naturally, one of the questions at the forefront of my mind — will the zip line that stole the show as a star attraction for fans and media members at last season’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis be making a comeback as well?
New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee executive director Jay Cicero is the man to go to for the answer.
“We have an everyday zip line called Bourbon Street,” Cicero said after another day of preparation for the sporting world’s biggest day of the year. “We will not be having a zip line. We will be having some fan interactive events, but not a zip line.”
For the thrill-seekers among us, you will have to get your kicks through some other avenue, but less zip-lining, more Bourbon Street — sounds good to me.
Of course, there were more serious matters to discuss with Cicero, who has been the president/CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation since 1997.
He has been through this drill before. In fact, this is his third go-around on the Super Bowl host committee (1997, 2002), and he has experience managing the many other large-scale sporting events that have come through New Orleans on his watch over the years.
Cicero, who oversees a staff of about 20, says he believes everything is going along smoothly.
“There’s nothing out there we either haven’t seen before or been through before,” he said.
He says the committee is on track in terms of volunteer recruitment. Fundraising has not been an issue, he says — $6 million has been raised from private sponsors (another $6 million of the committee’s budget came from the state of Louisiana). Cicero said he is talking to potential supporters to gain the additional $1 million the committee needs to raise before the Super Bowl.
It’s clear that the nuts and bolts of Super Bowl preparation are all very familiar to Cicero, who resides in the suburbs but lived in the city for about a decade.
But he did acknowledge that this Super Bowl has its own feel and a different type of emotion attached to it.
This is the first time the NFL will bring its premiere game to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast region seven years ago.
“There is more excitement — genuine excitement — about hosting this event this far out than I’ve ever seen,” Cicero said. “I think the city used to take it for granted that these things were going to happen. And now they take nothing for granted.
“They celebrate everything.”
There is reason to celebrate, and to put a renewed emphasis on rebuilding areas that still are in need of attention. Cicero says there are plans in the works for special projects related to servicing areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina, including refurbishing New Orleans recreation department facilities.
In the meantime, Cicero will hope the weather does not live up to its potential to be an expensive inconvenience. It already has affected the committee. Hurricane Isaac, which reached New Orleans Aug. 28 — one day before the seventh anniversary of Katrina’s arrival in the city — slowed the committee’s progress for four days.
“You learn to really plan around it,” Cicero said. “Our planning now is completely different than it was pre-Katrina. September 10 is basically the peak day of hurricane season. You keep an eye on the weather and make sure we are prepped to be able to shut down our business and be able to do it remotely if need be.”
In a city that has made resiliency one of its trademark characteristics, Cicero and the Super Bowl host committee seem determined to stay on schedule. They put in extra hours to make up for the time lost because of the complications from Hurricane Isaac.
“(The hurricane) caused a delay on a lot of things,” Cicero said. “But nothing major that we couldn’t catch up on this week.”