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Super spotlight on Big Easy

– A 20-story-high mural of the Lombardi Trophy, affixed to the glass exterior of bustling hotel that was once a shattered symbol of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, rises like a beacon above the expansive white roof of the Superdome.

The Super Bowl is back in the Big Easy, finally, after 11 years, giving New Orleans a spotlight of global proportion to showcase how far it has come since Katrina left the city on its knees and under water in August 2005.

“The story is much, much bigger than the Super Bowl,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Monday afternoon. “This is a story about the resurrection and redemption of a great American city.

“The Super Bowl gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

From 1970 to 2002, New Orleans was a regular host of the Super Bowl and hopes to become one again. Sunday, when the Baltimore Ravens meet the San Francisco 49ers in the Superdome, the Crescent City will host the NFL’s marquee game for the 10th time, tying Miami for the most of any city. If all goes well, it hopes to get back in the rotation.

Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, said his group will ask the NFL for permission to put together a bid for the 2018 Super Bowl, coinciding with the city’s 300th anniversary.

It is that history, which produced a colorful culture driven by a mix of European, Caribbean and African influences, that makes New Orleans such an attractive Super Bowl city, noted political consultant James Carville said.

“This is not just a city. This is a culture,” said Carville, who lives in New Orleans and serves as the co-chairman of the Super Bowl host committee with his wife and fellow political pundit, Mary Matalin. “We have our own food, our own music, our own social structure, our own architecture, our own body of literature. By God, we have our own funerals.”

Billions of dollars have been spent in the past seven-plus years to rebuild New Orleans since Katrina pushed tidal surges through crumbling levees and flooded 80 percent of the city. Renovations to the Superdome, done in phases during six years, ran about $336 million, transforming the stadium to a facility better equipped to host a Super Bowl than it was back in 2002.

“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 the previous nine Super Bowls. “It’s never looked better.”

Pockets of the city still bear obvious scars from Hurricane Katrina. “Katrina tours” are still offered, with vans carting the curious to areas where they can see the remnants of the devastation.

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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