NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Australian Who Dat Bruce Clements and his life partner Lara Kelly made a pilgrimage halfway around the world to watch the Saints play the 49ers on Sunday (Dec. 8). And despite the home team's lip-biting defeat in the final seconds of the game, the pair said their first experience at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was anything but disappointing.
"It was mind-blowing," Clements said at the conclusion of the contest. "The noise is out of control."
"The 'Who Dat 'chant at the beginning was the best part," said Kelly, “and the music they play through the game, and the players dancing too.”
The 28-hour trip from Adelaide to New Orleans was a 50th birthday present to Clements from friends back home who admire his relentless passion for the American sport and the men in black and gold.
Australian rules football (a game only loosely related to its American counterpart) is popular Down Under, but devotees are a bit more reserved in expressing their fervor.
Clements and Kelly explained that Australian football fans might wear team jerseys on game day and fly a team flag from a window after a win, but that's about the extent of their demonstrativeness. So the Poydras Street tailgating scene and game-day costuming phenomenon were a revelation to the wide-eyed visitors.
Clements said that even though he and Kelly were surrounded by 49ers fans during Sunday's game, there didn't seem to be any rancor between them and Saints fans. He's not sure Australian sports lovers would be as accommodating, he said.
At 10 a.m., Clements and Kelly, who co-own a school photography business, found themselves downing shots of chilled Jagermeister (a wince-inducing herbal liqueur) in a Who Dat bonding ceremony conducted by the rambunctious Jager Gator tailgate club under the I-10 on-ramp.
The couple then witnessed the clamorous Fat City Drum Corps march toward the Dome on Poydras Street as Who Dats danced amid the pregame traffic.
Nearer the Dome they encountered Saints superfan Chip “Pottymouth” Potter, who wore a macabre gold pig skull mask and carried a homemade sword and shield. Potter, it turned out, is also a remote Saints fanatic, who had traveled from the city of London in Ontario for the game.
Clements described the New Orleans tailgate experience as “surreal.”
"I'm speechless," he said. "It's so far out, the effort people go through, the rituals."
Clements, who played and coached Australian football, has no direct ties to either New Orleans or the Saints. He first became enchanted by the infrequent NFL telecasts he saw as a teen. Then in 1983 he caught a late-night rebroadcast of a match-up between the Saints and the Bears in the Superdome.
Despite the Saints' unremarkable record in the era, he was bitten by the Who Dat bug. Looking back, he said he was hooked by the charisma of Kenny Stabler and Rickey Jackson, plus the uniform, the colors and the logo. So much so that in time he acquired a fleur-de-lis tattoo and a man cave crammed with Saints gear.
After a story about Clements’ impending Crescent City visit ran a week ago, local Saints fans showered the Australians with offers of hospitality during their stay. Invitations to stay in time-share apartments appeared via email. The owner of a clothing store offered a pair of Saints socks. A frozen daiquiri maker offered a gallon bag of the beverage.
A Pelicans fan set up Clements and Kelly with tickets to a basketball game, the Superdome management offered a tour of the stadium, and a swamp tour operator offered an opportunity to see alligators up-close and to shoot off a real machine gun.
Fellow Australian Who Dats sought out Clements and Kelly for expatriate conviviality, and a Saints fan from Chalmette named David Clements suggested that he and Bruce might be long-lost cousins. Superfan Brian Henry, the committed Who Dat who has 64 player autographs tattooed on his back, arranged a pregame meeting. And Clements' and Kelly's 15 minutes of Northern Hemisphere fame were extended by a New Orleans television station that sought them out for an interview.
After Sunday's game Kelly admitted that she's never been as ardent a football fan as Clements, but the drama and spectacle in the Dome certainly helped her understand the appeal.
Clements and Kelly also have tickets to attend the Saints game against the Colts on Dec. 16, and Clements said he's been invited to help wrangle the gigantic American flag that is unfurled during the national anthem.