New Orleans has not hosted an NFL playoff game since 2012.
It's been six long years since the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, widely regarded as one of the loudest venues in the NFL, last contained the pressure of the playoffs. Only six players from the Saints team that blew out Detroit in that game are still on the current roster.
But the rest of this young Saints roster already has a pretty good idea of how much noise and energy the city of New Orleans can pack into the Superdome for Sunday's 3:40 p.m. kickoff.
New Orleans nearly blew the roof off the place two weeks ago when the hated Atlanta Falcons showed up on Christmas Eve.
"I’m sure it’s going to be crazy," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "Our fans know what a difference they made in that Atlanta game. Obviously, we stressed the importance of that. I don’t think I need to stress the importance of this one. I think our fans know, and I think they’ll be ready."
Perfect conditions for a playoff atmosphere surrounded the Christmas Eve game. The Saints-Falcons rivalry laid fertile ground, the NFC South title hung in the balance, and the two teams were only two weeks removed from a controversial game in Atlanta that left some bad blood between the two teams.
The Saints did their part to turn that brewing storm into a maelstrom of noise. During the week leading up to the game, the team issued a point of emphasis, asking fans to ratchet up the noise on every play the Falcons had the ball, issuing towels to wave in the crowd and asking fans to be in their seats and making noise for the start of the third quarter, instead of out getting food.
The Saints are ready and focused for their first playoff game since 2013 on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers at the Superdome.
New Orleans also whipped up a series of videos taking light-hearted pokes at the Falcons and filmed a new set of videos with players asking the crowd to bring the noise when Atlanta was on the field.
Finally, the Saints put the finishing touches on the storm by having Steve Gleason, the hero of the 2006 Superdome win over the Falcons, lead the "Who Dat" chant with Brees.
The end result was an atmosphere that felt an awful lot like the playoffs. According to The Advocate's noise measurements, the decibel level at kickoff hit 105, the point where the human ear begins to feel pain.
Atlanta struggled under the weight of the Superdome's noise, committing four pre-snap penalties and struggling to communicate on the sideline.
"The stadium, the Dome, it was rocking that day," said linebacker Jonathan Freeny, a veteran of New England's Super Bowl run last season. "I'm sure the playoffs, first game of the playoffs, the Dome will be pretty similar with the atmosphere and the noise level and everything."
Expect the Saints to employ the same tactics on Sunday. The franchise has already issued the same points of emphasis this week, asking fans to be as loud as possible, buying more rally towels to hand out to the crowd and hinting that fans should get to the game early to take part in pregame festivities.
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The team also plans to bring back a large group of former Saints stars, including Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and many others, to help whip the crowd into a frenzy.
Despite a playoff drought of three seasons, this New Orleans fan base still remembers what it's like to have a team in Super Bowl contention, and bringing back former players taps into that shared memory.
"I can remember once, going to a University of Miami pro day, and I loved seeing 30 to 35 former Miami University, former Hurricane players, maybe some in the NFL, but they were all so interested in their team and how those other players were doing," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I just found that to be encouraging, and I think a part of building a program is embracing those guys that were here prior, and I love it when they come back."
All of those measures should help a young team acclimate to the intensity of the playoffs immediately.
After the win over the Falcons two weeks ago, that kind of pressure and energy will feel like home.
"I think they felt, they got a taste of what that atmosphere can be like from a few weeks back with that Atlanta game," Brees said. "That’s been communicated throughout the week and will continue to be as we get ready for Sunday — just the importance of preparation and how that carries over to game day, and then what it’s going to be like on game day."