By Mike Scott
It was, without question, among the best of times.
The worst of times, or at least some of them, would still be coming. But as the game clock ticked down on Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a true New Orleanian who didn’t look at the dawning decade ahead without a sense of warm, chest-swelling hope.
Not only did the Saints’ victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts deliver New Orleans its first-ever chance to party with the Lombardi, but it also exorcised decades of futility by the once-hapless franchise — and every bit as much frustration by its fans.
Perhaps most important was the timing, coming on the heels of the Decade of Digging Out — that is, the decade of Hurricane Katrina, which had decimated the city 4½ years earlier. The still-fresh memories of the storm and its grueling aftermath made the Saints’ Super Bowl win feel like an honest-to-goodness turning point.
The city was well and truly back, baby, and now nobody could deny it. Not even Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the U.S. House who openly questioned the wisdom of rebuilding the city after the storm (and who would later become a convicted felon).
So the bon temps? Oh, they rouler-ed after that Saints win. Brother, did they rouler.
Fast forward exactly two months and 13 days to the offshore fireball in the Gulf of Mexico that scuttled the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Eleven people were killed and 17 more hurt in the explosion, the result of a blend of bad planning, bad decision-making and bad luck.
In what is considered the largest maritime oil spill in history, hundreds of millions of gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf over five months. The fallout would be felt for years by the state’s fishing industry and the myriad restaurants and other businesses that rely on it.
It was the heart-wrenching yin to the Saints’ Super Bowl yang, the sort of spin of Fortuna’s wheel that would have wreaked havoc on Ignatius J. Reilly’s ever-suffering pyloric valve.
The fumes from the burning rig, some 40 miles offshore, could be smelled all the way to the Fair Grounds, where the bands played on at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in a display of the city’s hard-wired defiance — and its just-as-hard-wired determination to dance in the face of tragedy.
Those two back-to-back events at the start of 2010 — the Saints win and the Deepwater Horizon disaster — would also set the tone for what would be a back-and-forth decade in New Orleans, filled with events that often felt complementary in some odd cosmic way.
The Crescent City? More like The Pendulum City. Care might have forgotten us, but wildly fluctuating fortunes sure as heck didn’t.
In 2011, former Gov. Edwin Edwards checked out of the federal pen. By 2014, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had checked in.
In 2012, Saints owner Tom Benson bought the Hornets, then the name of the city’s NBA franchise. By 2015, he would find himself in the middle of a bitter court battle with family members over his billion-dollar estate and who would inherit it.
Such swings continued all decade.
In 2012, The Times-Picayune roiled the city by announcing it was reducing its print schedule to three days a week and focusing on digital publication. John and Dathel Georges sparked a newspaper war by purchasing the Baton Rouge Advocate and launching a daily New Orleans edition in 2013; then, in 2019, they announced they were buying the Times-Picayune and restoring it to local ownership.
In 2013, Benson’s Hornets became the New Orleans Pelicans. In 2016, the New Orleans Zephyrs became the New Orleans Baby Cakes. And in 2019, the Baby Cakes became history.
In 2016, the all-volunteer, all-grit Cajun Navy was formed to rescue people from historic rain-fueled floods. In 2018, the Sewerage & Water Board was exposed for extensive operational deficiencies blamed for repeated inundation of local homes.
Through it all, the highs and the lows, New Orleans buckjumped, twerked, krunked and chop-chop-Choppa-styled.
It was a decade of gut-punch passings. We lost Fats and Nash. We lost Tom Benson and Allen Toussaint. We lost Miss Leah, Chef Paul and Dr. John. Will Smith was straight-up stolen from us.
But we also got the national emergence of Big Freedia, the triumphant arrival of Ed Orgeron, the return to New Orleans of Dixie Beer, and the Popeyes chicken sandwich phenomenon that lived up to every spicy, mouthwatering ounce of the hype.
There were fires (Hubig’s) and there were sinkholes (Canal Street) and there was the now-infamous NOLA no-call. But there was also a noteworthy LSU tailgate keg stand (Mary Landrieu), a Little League World Series championship (Eastlake) and a multi-year celebration of the city’s 2018 tricentennial.
Thanks to Louisiana’s filmmaking tax incentive program, we got “Treme” and “NCIS: New Orleans,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.” In the process, Louisiana in 2013 became the filmmaking capital of the world, outpacing both Hollywood and New York in production work.
Until, inevitably, it wasn’t anymore.
Some of the city’s most prominent Confederate monuments were knocked from their pedestals. So were Chef John Besh, former Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pelican star Anthony Davis.
The city soldiered on without them. Because that’s what New Orleans does.
The soul-sapping list of notable crimes would take up more space than allotted for this column: a shooting during the Muses parade, the airport machete attack, the Endymion crash, spiking murder rates, the shooting of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball practice in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.…
And now another new decade dawns. And, once again, there’s reason for hope.
The LSU Tigers, led by freshly minted Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, are in the title hunt. So are the Saints and their own hotshot gunslinger.
Hubig’s is expected to return its beloved hand pies to store shelves in 2020. We’ve got a gleaming new billion-dollar airport to welcome all those who come to bask in the city’s unique flavors.
In short, there are plenty of good reasons to believe the 2020s will, indeed, roar. If the past is any guide, though, there will be times it will also bite.
The one thing we know for sure is that the band should stay warmed up and ready to play.
Because we’ll be dancing, one way or the other.
This story was originally published Jan. 1, 2020, on NOLA.com and in The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate.