NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Downtown businesses love what football is serving up this week. In addition to the Saints' Thanksgiving night game, an annual football rivalry that also garners national attention will play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before week’s end.
It was a festive atmosphere inside the Superdome Monday (Nov. 19) for the official kick-off of days of activities related to the annual Bayou Classic between the state’s two public historically African-American universities, Southern and Grambling.
The two teams face off on national TV Saturday afternoon before thousands of loyal fans. It’s a rivalry that guarantees the winner of the game a year’s worth of bragging rights and more.
Tens of thousands of fans flock to the city for the event.
"It is a highlight, not just here in Louisiana, but around the country, and it’s more than just a football game. I hope you all know that,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.
For Mayor Latoya Cantrell, it was her first time presiding over the Bayou Classic kick-off festivities as the city’s mayor.
"Understand, New Orleans we are prepared. We’re prepared for our large crowds,” Cantrell said.
Not only will Southern and Grambling play Saturday, but two days before that the New Orleans Saints host the Atlanta Falcons in the Superdome.
They’re big games that businesses welcome.
Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar on Poydras is one of the local businesses that expects to benefit.
"This Atlanta game on Thanksgiving is going to be something else, so we’re prepared to be as busy as we can be, and with Bayou Classic immediately following,it’s going to be a pretty awesome week,” said Marshall Hahn, a manager at Walk-On’s. Hahn said they are good at preparing for big crowds.
"We offer significantly more product, so there's that going on, but then we also bring in a whole bunch of extra folks, so not only extra bodies inside the restaurant, but we have to, you know, we hire for security, we hire for people to help us manage the door, we bring in all sorts of folks, so it's a significant undertaking when we have a game, so it's pretty exciting,” said Hahn.
And while a lot will be on the line for the Southern and Grambling teams when they hit the football field inside the Superdome, the Bayou Classic is about much more than football. Thousands of people attend the Battle of the Bands the day before the game, there is Bayou Classic Parade planned for Saturday morning and traditionally some fans plan their family reunions around this annual event.
"Our city is going to be hustling and bustling this weekend and we're thrilled because tourism is our largest industry, it drives this economy,” said Cheryl Teamer, of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
And the Saints game will offer a preview of what Bayou Classic fans will witness on game day.
"The two best bands in the country and I’m excited to come back Thursday night while my turkey is being digested watching those bands perform at half-time at the Saints game,” said Gov. Edwards.