Leroy Mitchell, or the Whistle Monsta as he is known by his siblings Who Dat Nation, will return to his usual place in the Superdome on Sunday.
Section 111, Row 1, Seat 11.
It will be his first time there for a New Orleans Saints regular season game in 637 days.
He did not attend any games during the 2020 season when fan attendance was affected by restrictions caused by the COVID pandemic.
So it’s pretty easy to see why the Whistle Monsta feels the way they feel about Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, the Saints’ first game where full capacity has been allowed since January 2020.
“I am very excited,” Mitchell said. “It’s like a family reunion to be honest. We will all be back.”
The last time the Saints played to a full house was on January 5, 2020 in the playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Crowds were limited last season. And the first home game scheduled for this season had to be moved to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. So, after facing a pandemic and natural disaster, the Saints are eager to set foot in the new Caesars Superdome, which experienced its own trials two weeks ago when a fire broke out on its roof.
“All last season you didn’t really play with a type of fan base that makes noise,” Sean Payton said. “So that’s important, especially when you have a venue like ours where a lot of people think it’s one of the hardest places to play.”
There are still plenty of tickets available in the secondary market, so it doesn’t look like the Dome is filled to the brim like it was when the team returned after Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago. You can attribute this to several factors. First, the Giants are winless. And second, fans must either be vaccinated or show a negative test result within the past 72 hours to enter the stadium. And there are fans who probably aren’t yet comfortable being in a crowded indoor room during a pandemic.
But despite that, Saints players still expect the atmosphere to be electric, strong enough to make things uncomfortable for the Giants.
Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who spent five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been sidelined by visitors to the Dome before and knows how tough things can be for opponents.
“It’s difficult, just because they are going at it,” Winston said. “We have big fans. We have very manic fans… I think one thing this city liked is that we won these two games and I think they are very happy that we are coming home. and I know it’s going to do a lot for the city to invade this Dome and support us. “
Offensive lineman James Hurst, like Winston, knows how difficult it can be for an opponent. He was there during his playing days with the Baltimore Ravens.
“It’s just miserable, especially when you’re out there on offense,” Hurst said. “You can’t hear a word. You better hope there is no audible, no control, no nothing because you won’t hear it anyway. So yes. just can’t wait to be on the safe side of it this time. “
And then there are rookies like Payton Turner and Pete Werner who don’t know what to expect but have heard the stories of what it is. Cam Jordan has done his part to make sure his fellow defensive linemen know what to expect.
“When the crowd moves like we know anything can, it’s deafening,” Jordan said. “And it can be confusing if you’re not used to it.”
A Saints defense that is the league’s sixth-best in yards allowed now suddenly has a bigger advantage, which makes the ever-confident Chauncey Gardner-Johnson even more confident.
“I’m sorry for these boys,” Gardner-Johnson said. “They (are) in a rude awakening on Sunday.”
Alvin Kamara, meanwhile, had no words to describe what it is for someone who has never experienced it before.
“You really can’t,” Kamara said. “It’s different. You can’t really explain it if you’ve never been there.”
Even if this Domecoming won’t have quite the same emotions as the one in 2006, the Saints know how important this one is for a region where many are still recovering from Ida. It’s more than a game. It’s also, as the Whistle Monsta said, a family reunion, a time for fans who haven’t come together in 19 months to reunite.
“This city is powered by the saints,” Kamara said. “Just being able to be back after a year and then obviously the hurricane is something that makes everyone forget what’s going on. We’re excited. I know the city is excited. just ready. “