Lyric from: A Change is Gonna Come from the album Ain't That Good News
Written By: Sam Cooke
Performed by: Sam Cooke
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, I wonder if you feel the same way I do about it.
I always feel that this place has something to tell me.
Who knows why that is. Maybe it’s the diverse culture and heritage, the storied architecture or the rich cuisine.
But it never fails.
I arrived on Sunday night, just in time to kickoff the seven-day countdown to Super Bowl XLVII and as someone who hadn’t been to town since before hurricane Katrina, this time, I received one message loud and clear.
Everything will and must change.
The few remaining abandoned houses help write the narrative. Before Katrina the city’s population was about 484,000. The population now stands at around 360,000. And while downtown shows few visible signs of the storm's wrath, the flight is palpable and, the amount of new construction is a persistent nod to a rebuilding effort that’s been in the making almost seven and a half years and counting.
New Orleans hosted its first Super Bowl in 1970, three years after the New Orleans Saints were established. Super Bowl IV was played at Tulane Stadium, the site of the Saints home games at that time and, there were overcast skies that day as the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League (AFL) enjoyed a 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League (NFL).
The game was broadcasted on CBS with Jack Buck, Pat Summerall and Frank Gifford manning the booth. An estimated 44.3 million viewers watched and, in a Super Bowl first, a celebrity-Carol Channing-provided the halftime entertainment.
That same year the AFL and the NFL merged, laying the foundation for the NFL as we know it today.
This year the halftime show won’t just feature “a” celebrity but “the” celebrity. Beyonce’ will take the stage fresh on the heels of her $50 million dollar endorsement deal with Pepsi.
And that’s not the only difference 43 years has made.
Thirty seconds of airtime costs advertisers north of $4 million, a monumental increase from the $78,000 it cost in 1970 and, whatever the weather conditions outside, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will render them a non-factor to the play on the field.
Speaking of non-factors, despite some sparing success over the years, neither the Chiefs nor the Vikings have made a Super Bowl appearance in the years since Super Bowl IV.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, however, have fared better over the years. The 49ers have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy a total of five times and, the Ravens have rarely been out of the championship discussion since they won their first in 2000.
And like the city in which they will meet for all the marbles this coming Sunday, the teams’ willingness to embrace change this season has been a driving force on their paths to claim the fateful glory of years past.
Jim Harbaugh has been a fan favorite ever since he arrived in San Francisco in 2011 after a successful run as head coach at Stanford but, a swap at QB cost him some warm and fuzzies with the 49er fan base as they were disgusted at the idea of exchanging their wade in steady, if uneventful waters with Alex Smith for a potentially rocky one in unchartered waters with Colin Kaepernick.
“He hasn’t done anything to lose that job,” Jim said of Alex Smith after he named Kaepernick the starter for Week 14.
For his part, Kaepernick has wowed, smiled and “kaepernicked” his way into the circle of trust with 49ers fans and, his ability to make plays with both his arms and his legs have helped earn his team their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1994.
This from the kid whose only bowl win to date is the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Jim’s brother, John, took over the reins in Baltimore in 2008 and the team has gone to the playoffs each year under his leadership. But in route to this year’s run, he had to fire his friend and the team’s offensive coordinator-Cam Cameron-in order to save the team’s sputtering offense that was ranked 18th when he made the move with only three weeks left in the regular season.
“Personally, this is the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a coach,” the elder Harbaugh said of the firing in a statement at the time.
The Ravens promoted Jim Caldwell to OC. It was a big risk that has paid big dividends as anything short of a Super Bowl berth this season would have been a disappointment for the Ravens. Even Cam Cameron has said that the move was necessary.
“It was a brilliant move,” Cameron recently told the New York Times. “Everyone on the team took a look in the mirror after that.”
And with that, the 49ers and the Ravens will play for history this Sunday in a city with a powerful story to tell about the winds of change and the power of resiliency.
Who knows how many more Super Bowls New Orleans will host over the next 43 years. What we do know is that the NFL will endure a super sized makeover in that time span.
The league is experiencing its own exigent transition now in the face of increased scrutiny regarding the long term effects that the game’s violence has on its players and at least one player competing for the Lombardi this weekend doesn’t believe the league will survive.
“Thirty years from now, I don’t think the NFL will be in existence,” said Ravens Safety Bernard Pollard. “I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, but I think with the directions things are going-where NFL rules makers want to lighten up and they’re throwing flags and everything else-there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.”
And the winds of change continue to blow.