Lafayette, Louisiana is renowned as the heart of Cajun County, in large part due to the rich combination of the Cajun and Creole cultures of the surrounding region. The world famous cuisine of the region, Cajun, is one of the most famous cuisines in the United States and North America.
On Thursday, however, it was the taste of the New Orleans Saints Championship Tour that invaded the fabric of Lafayette, and the main course was Saints' Lombardi Trophy. Over 10,000 fans of the Saints descended on the Lafayette Convention Center along the banks of the Vermillion River to witness the latest stop on the Champions Tour, which has also made stops this week in Lake Charles and Alexandria. Each stop this week, according to Saints' Vice President of Ticket Operations, Mike Stanfield, has exceeded the 10,000 mark, with each stop on the Tour seemingly dueling with the previous stops to see who area can claim the crown as the most passionate destination on the regional tour.
"Each stop we've made on the Champions Tour has been unique in it's own right," said former Saints Pro Bowl kickoff and punt returner Michael Lewis, who now serves as an important role as a Saints' Ambassador. "Lafayette is a great city and the support the Saints feel from the community is tremendous. It was great to see all the smiling faces and feel the excitement in the room today and to witness the joy the fans in this region are still experiencing."
Lafayette native Darren Ricard, 28, said this is just the latest opportunity for him to take in the Saints' experience. "I remember as a kid heading out to see the Black-and-Gold scrimmage here in Lafayette over across the street from the Cajundome. People here are just always talking about the Saints and how excited we are and proud of our team. This is just another reason to look forward to the season and get even closer to see what our guys have won for us--the fans."
Lewis, who spoke in between signings thousands of autographs for the fans, talked about the Championship Tour, which is sponsored by The United States Marine Corps, The National Guard and The Louisiana Lottery. "This tour has been outstanding and it never gets old sharing the success that not only the Saints have had, but also in a larger way, that our fans have had in the team's success. I believe the players feed off of the support of the fans and we know that the people that fill up the Superdome on game days come from all over the Gulf South region."
Lewis, infamously named "The Beerrman," is a Gulf South native himself and take a particular pride in seeing how the fans have supported the team through the some dark days, and of course, the brighter ones. "They come in all forms and all ages," Lewis laughed. "You see babies dressed up in Saints garb and also talk about rooting for the Saints since their inception back in the 1960's. They love to share their experiences and what the team means to them and they take a lot of pride in how the team does on the field, but an equal amount of pride in the things the team does to keep in touch with the fans throughout the off seasons, and certainly this tour has been a chance for them to get even closed to the organization, which is what this is all about."
The thousands of fans took in everything from elements of the interactive Saints Experience, to exhibits featuring the Hall of Fame career of defensive terror Rickey Jackson, as well as exhibits featuring the 2009 New Orleans Saints Championship Season. "Each stop in the exhibit means something different to each person, whether it is brining back memories or a chance for them to learn something new and see things they might have only seen on television, such as the Lombardi or Halas Trophies."
The Saints' Championship Tour will continue over the next two weeks, with stops in Houma (July 20), Baton Rouge (July 22), Jackson, MS (July 26), Pensacola, FL (July 27), Mobile, AL (July 28) and Biloxi/Gulfport, MS (July 29). The final day of the tour also coincides with reporting date for the 2010 New Orleans Saints, as the team will report to Metairie, LA and begin preparations for the new season.
The following stops and their locations are as follows:
*Houma, LA (July 20): Houma/Terrebonne Parish Civic Center
*Baton Rouge (July 22): Baton Rouge River Center
*Jackson, MS (July 26): Jackson Convention Center
*Pensacola (July 27): Pensacola Civic Center
*Mobile, AL (July 28): Mobile Convention Center
*Biloxi-Gulfport (July 29): Mississippi Coast Coliseum