(The Advocate/Times-Picayune, Jan. 14) 

After the New Orleans Saints season-ending game on Jan. 7, I gave up season tickets my family has had since the Saints were founded — 57 years of games, the last 49 of them at the Superdome’s 50-yard-line.

I was there as a 5-year-old telling other fans to stop booing Billy Kilmer because it was the offensive line’s fault. I was there when Archie Manning won his first game with a last-second touchdown just inches before fumbling the ball. I was there when the fans’ loudest cheers were for paper airplanes that made it from one terrace section to the loge on the other side, I was there when the Saints first qualified for the playoffs — and so much more.

But I won’t be there, at least not with season tickets, any longer.

The ticket abandonment isn’t due to finances, or to fading loyalty to the Saints (I don’t like the team’s direction, but I remain obsessed with their fortunes), or to health or to the time commitment required. Instead, the culprit is a society-wide problem that has become unbearable: constant, artificial, sensory overstimulation.

Fans can’t converse with each other without yelling, can’t avoid hours of leftover ear-ringing after the game unless they wear earplugs (which makes it even more difficult to converse). Almost every single minute for more than four hours (including pre-game) features bombardments of piped-in sound and flashing lights.

Every time opponents go two plays without gaining 10 yards, the scoreboard erupts with the words “THIRD DOWN” in giant letters as the loudspeaker blares at about 95 decibels that “IT’S… THIRD…DOWN!!!” If one team scores, the speaker plays loud rap music all during the commercial break, not stopping until the kicker’s foot meets the ball on the ensuing kickoff. Either that, or the audio-video system plays some gaudy “contest” promising free groceries or $20 of free chips for a nearby casino’s slot machines.

No space at all is left for crowd enthusiasm to ebb and flow organically, in reaction to action on the field. Yet if the Dome is all noise all the time, the home-field advantage of sudden surges in natural excitement levels is lost. What aids home-team players isn’t the level of noise so much as the growth of it, rising, crescendoing, crashing down on the other team in clutch situations. In today’s world of nonstop super-stimulation, the sense of a spontaneously growing drama disappears.

It’s not as if Saints fans need the stimulation. This is a fan base that stopped a game for 21 minutes by booing so loudly the referees couldn’t work. It’s a fan base that went so wild when a half-footed kicker made a 63-yard field goal in 1970 that the noise could be heard more than half a mile away (when the games were outdoors at old Tulane stadium).

Today, though, every venue thinks every human is so conditioned by sensory input from glowing hand-held boxes that somehow we would all shrivel and evaporate without a constant electronic barrage.

Enough is enough. This Saints fan is marching out. And, from friends across the country, I hear pledges of similar exoduses from their hometown venues. Stop the noise; we want to get off.

[This is the full column as it ran here. A shorter version ran here. IMPORTANT NOTE TO THE SAINTS: Usually I receive only a handful of email responses to my T-P column, and they usually break about 50-50 pro/con. In the first 18 hours after this one ran, I received literally dozens of messages about this column, and EVERY SINGLE ONE enthusiastically agreed with me and most of them sent on for some length about how bad the correspondent thought the situation is. I don’t think I have ever received 100% agreement before, in decades of journalism. The Saints — and Tulane, and LSU, and almost all arenas — are playing with fire here. I guarantee the Superdome wasn’t full for the last several games this year, no matter what the official attendance was. I was there. I saw. It’s just a chore to be there. Okay, Saints: Fix this now, or suffer financial losses.0


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