From game operations to fan participation, the New Orleans Saints organization did its level best to create a Dome-like feel for the Saints' regular-season opener this year.
TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., was as gracious as a host could be, and the organization went about its business in attempting to conjure the atmosphere for a team temporarily displaced by Hurricane Ida. And together, a near-perfect result was posted: New Orleans dominated Green Bay in a 38-3 victory Sept. 12.
But it wasn't a raucous Caesars Superdome.
The Saints haven't had the benefit of being supported by a "well-oiled," screaming, adrenaline-inducing, capacity home crowd since playing Minnesota in a Wild Card playoff game on Jan. 5, 2020, in front of 73,038 fans.
Last season, home games for the Saints maxed out at 3,000 fans due to Covid-19 restrictions and in some road venues, the teams virtually played in front of no fans. And this season, they played a preseason game against Jacksonville in the Caesars Superdome on Aug. 23 in front of a noticeably less-than-full stadium.
That will change for New Orleans on Sunday.
When the Saints (2-1) play the New York Giants (0-3) at noon, they will do so in front of a capacity home crowd for the first time this season (all due respect to Jacksonville), making the Saints the last NFL team this season to play in their home stadium.
Don't think they don't know it.
Quarterback Jameis Winston went and picked up his car from the Loews Hotel after the team landed Sunday night in New Orleans.
"The first thing I thought about, 'We got a home game in the Superdome,' " Winston said Wednesday. "That was the first thing I thought about riding past the Loews, riding past Caesar Superdome. Like, 'We're back in our city.' "
"Obviously, it's been awhile," Coach Sean Payton said. "Last season, not really playing with any type of fan base that's making noise. It's significant, especially when you have a venue like ours, which a lot of people – including us – feel like is one of the harder places to play. So when that is just all equal around the league, the teams that have the better home-field advantage lose out a little bit more."
The Saints are eager to regain that advantage.
"Just having everybody electric in that Superdome," Winston said. "I think we feed off of that. I remember being on the other side, going against these fans and I know how much of an impact that affected me, affected our team.
"I just think this community loves and embraces football, more than a lot of communities. The community that I've been a part of, it's just in the culture. Like, I'm a kid from Alabama. I know about the Saints. I know how they live and breathe football down here."
Winston was on the "other side" four times against the Saints – in 2015-17 and '19, he was serving a league suspension for the game in '18 – as the starting quarterback for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers were 1-3 in those games.
The New Orleans Saints returned to practice at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center to begin preparing for their Week 4 matchup with the New York Giants.
"It's difficult," he said of playing against the Saints' home field. "Just because our fans, they get into it. We have great fans, we have very mannerable fans.
"Like, some people have got tough fans but our fans, they just want to see the Saints win. Period. Like, that's it. They're not into throwing things at the players or doing wild stuff. They're just about, who's winning at the end of the day.
"We're winning, and we're singing 'Who Dat' all day long. I've experienced the good side and the bad side of that, but I'm very happy to be experiencing it with our fans."
Winston said the Superdome is the loudest venue he has played in as an opponent.
"In '18, I wasn't there but '17, when this place was rolling, when it was rocking?" he said. "Oh my gosh. It was unbelievable."