One night last week in New Orleans, Percy Harrison set up a cheap keyboard and amp at the far end of Bourbon Street, in front of a corner shop, way past the burlesque clubs and hurricane-in-a-fishbowl tourist traps.
He closed his eyes, leaned back and crooned everything from Adele to Prince, singing “Purple Rain” as drops began to fall. He has a voice that should make him a star, and he was playing for tips on the street of America’s most music-enriched city.
The periodic rivalry between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints will resume Sunday two miles from Bourbon Street, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A rivalry that has familiarized Minnesotans with New Orleans has become even more consequential for the Vikings’ championship aspirations than their neighborhood feud with the Green Bay Packers.
Whatever happens between the Vikings and Packers during the regular season, both can make the playoffs. The Vikings’ January duels with New Orleans have proved more defining.
The Vikings’ most impressive playoff run since the Purple People Eaters occurred in 1987 and early 1988, when Wade Wilson, Anthony Carter and a dominant defensive line produced a stunning upset in New Orleans, leading to an upset of a great 49ers team and a close loss against Joe Gibbs and Washington, which went on to win the Super Bowl.
In January 2001, the Vikings beat New Orleans at home to advance to the NFC title game.
Following the 2009 regular season, the Vikings and Saints met in the NFC Championship Game, which proved to be one of the most dramatic events in the history of either franchise. You remember: epic noise, 12 men in the huddle, Brett Favre’s brutalized ankle, Bountygate and that last, fateful interception. The Saints survived and won the Super Bowl.
Following the 2017 season, the Vikings collapsed in the second half in a divisional playoff at U.S. Bank Stadium but were bailed out by the Minneapolis Miracle.
Sunday’s rematch will be another reminder of how different two of my favorite cities, and their most prominent teams, can be.
You can find great music in Minneapolis at First Avenue. You can find great music in New Orleans on any avenue.
The Vikings have the Skol chant and their fans can almost clap in unison. During the 2009 NFC title game, the Saints played “Halftime (Stand Up & Get Crunk!)” and every Saints fan and player swayed with the beat.
Minneapolis is cleaner; New Orleans is gritty by design — tonight’s revelry becoming tomorrow refuse.
New Orleans features exceptional restaurants on every high-traffic street; Minneapolis has become one of the most underrated restaurant cities in America, despite being haunted by the ghost of lutefisk past.
They are two of the best walking cities in America, as long as you can survive a few months of black ice or sauna sweat.
Minnesotans celebrate big events — even a frigid Super Bowl — like opportunities to prove that we’re not stupid for living in the Twin Cities. Yes, We Like It Here. The good people of Nawlins live on tourism and host big events every month. They know we like it there.
As for their respective NFL teams, Vikings fans are known for equal parts passion and paranoia. Saints fans spent decades wearing bags over their heads.
While the Vikings remain the most popular team in Minnesota, we have other options — representatives of every American major league sport, and a Big Ten university. New Orleans has the Saints and Pelicans, and the Pels have never won anything.
Last week in French Quarter boutiques you could find a variety of T-shirts celebrating former Vikings quarterback and current Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater. There are voodoo dolls dressed as NFL referees stuck with dozens of pins, and posters ridiculing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for a year for his alleged role in the Bountygate scheme that brutalized Favre.
The Vikings have become immensely popular. They play in a state-of-the-art stadium, contend almost every year, and their home games have become well-produced and riveting.
But they will never mean as much to their city as the Saints do to theirs, in a place where you can carry your drink down the street, see the fleur-de-lis in every window and hear someone as good as Percy Harrison singing for tips in front of a corner shop.