Darren Sharper is out, but the iconic image of Tracy Porter’s 2010 Super Bowl-clinching interception return lives on.
When team officials unveiled the latest redesign of Champions Square this week, one thing was immediately apparent: They did not eliminate the most famous play in New Orleans sports history.
Just above a palm tree to the right of the stage, a huge photo mural of Porter’s touchdown return is still there — but with Sharper, the former Saints safety who recently pleaded guilty to rape, now cropped out. Porter’s 74-yard touchdown return gave the Saints a 31-17 lead late in the fourth quarter against Indianapolis and proved to be the final points.
“It was important to us to keep that up there,” said Ben Hales, senior vice president of marketing and business development for the Saints. “We recognized the issue with Sharper in the background, but that shouldn’t take away from people’s enjoyment of that moment. ... We wanted to keep that championship moment there but just find a way to do it that was a little bit more fan-friendly.”
Sharper has admitted that he drugged and raped — or tried to rape — nine women in four states in 2013 and early 2014, before his arrest and jailing in Los Angeles in January 2014. He is slated to serve at least nine more years behind bars in federal custody under a sweeping plea deal.
The removal of Sharper’s image is one of several changes at Champions Square that the Saints and Pelicans announced in collaboration with SMG, which manages the adjoining arenas.
Champions Square opened in August 2010 next to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and has been updated a few times since then.
At the front of the outdoor plaza, a new photo mural of Pelicans star Anthony Davis cradling the NCAA basketball championship trophy Kentucky won at the Superdome in 2012 is next to an old mural of Drew Brees holding the Lombardi Trophy.
Also remaining: pictures of LSU coach Les Miles holding the trophy awarded to the BCS national champion after the Tigers beat Ohio State in the Superdome in 2008; Tom Benson holding the George Halas Trophy; Muhammad Ali landing a punch on Leon Spinks at the Superdome; and a photo of former Saints linebacker and NFL Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson.
Near an entrance closer to Poydras Street, new photos of Brees and Davis face each other. A shot of former Hall of Famer Willie Roaf at the Pro Bowl also is new.
Phased out is a photo of Tulane’s undefeated 1998 football team. The Green Wave stopped playing at the Superdome last year after 39 years there, moving to a new campus stadium.
A fleur-de-lis and the Pelicans logo — white with a gold background — contribute to the square’s gold theme, a color the Saints and Pelicans share. The last Champions Square design used blue as a primary color.
“There was a lot of interest in branding the teams a little bit more,” Superdome General Manager Alan Freeman said. “It also blends in better with the color of the Superdome. We don’t want to update it every year, but we have to make sure we’re keeping it clean and crisp and that it looks good all the time.”
Hales said the physical changes at Champions Square required only a couple of days’ work. Crystal Clear Imaging, a local company, printed and installed the new murals.
The decisions on what to keep and what to replace took much longer.
“Selecting the pictures took a long time because these things last for a long time,” Hales said. “You want to make sure it’s going to pop, and it’s got to weather well because this is an outdoor venue.”
The rock group Boston, with special guest Foghat, performed at Champions Square on Friday, marking the first event since the redesign. But the main purpose of the square is as a gathering place for fans before Saints and Pelicans games.
“We’re thrilled to unveil a new backdrop where we hope they will be able to continue making lasting memories while cheering on our teams,” Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson said in a statement. “We continue to consider all aspects of our fans’ game-day experience and work hard to ensure it’s the best it can be in every way.”