Outage darkened Superdome, unnerving fans, disrupting momentum

NEW ORLEANS — A power outage darkened the Superdome in the third quarter of the Super Bowl on Sunday night, an unnerving experience for a stadium that had been the refuge of last resort for many when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

The 34-minute outage seemed to halt the Ravens' momentum, coming almost immediately after Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff for a touchdown to start the second half. The Ravens had led 28-6, but the previously sluggish San Francisco 49ers went on to score two touchdowns and a field goal in the third quarter.

Howard County (Md.) Executive Ken Ulman, among the thousands of Ravens fans here to watch the team, was baffled that a power outage could befall such a major event so long in the planning.

"How could this happen?" he said. "You think they would have tested it repeatedly."

Ulman had just left the deafening Mercedes-Benz Superdome to call his wife back home so they could enjoy the Jones touchdown together, and she knew more about the outage than he did. "I was facing away from the building, and she's like, 'Everything's dark in the stadium, the game's off,'" he said.

"They locked the doors, which was fine with me," said Ulman, leery of being in a darkened stadium with tens of thousands of people and recalling conversations he just had about the hurricane. "We were talking about Katrina and infrastructure and the things no one is paying attention to until they break."

For some spectators, the incident recalled the week that people were trapped in the Superdome with no power for a week. The storm sent 30,000 residents to the dome, where they sweltered in fetid conditions when the stadium's roof was damaged and the electricity went out.

In the stadium, spectators were left in the dark, literally, as announcements simply repeated that play would resume "momentarily."

Power officials said the outage originated in the domed stadium, not with outside power lines.

"We don't know a whole lot," said Philip Allison, spokesman for Entergy New Orleans. "It actually was not our issue. We were providing service as usual to the dome. We had power flowing to the dome. The issue was on the Superdome's side."

Eric Eagen, Superdome spokesman, apologized for the outage, during which spectators increasingly grew restive and players stretched to stay warm.

The NFL issued a statement that did little to clear up the mystery of how the sport's biggest event was interrupted by a lack of electricity, starting at 6:22 p.m.

"Stadium authorities are investigating the cause of the power outage," the NFL statement said. "We will have more information as it becomes available."

Jennifer Sabatelle, vice president of communications for CBS Sports, said the network lost several cameras and some audio but used backup power. "At no time did we leave the air," Sabatelle said in a statement, adding that "all commercial commitments during the broadcast are being honored."

Meanwhile, spectators in the stadium groused.

"It's a little unprofessional," said Mario Urquilla, 32, a San Francisco banking consultant. He did think, though, that it was insensitive to make references to Katrina. "I heard a comment, 'It's happening again,'" he said.

For some fans, it was frightening but luckily a fleeting experience.

"I was scared, I'm not going to lie," said Rachel Deckelbaum, whose brother Brian, 33, bought their Super Bowl trip as a 30th birthday present for her. One of the vendors, though, reassured the Canton, Md.,resident. "'If it was really bad, I wouldn't be here,'" Deckelbaum said the vendor told her.

With the lights coming back on, their main concern was the effect on the Ravens.

"We lost all momentum," said Brian Deckelbaum, who lives in Pikesville, Md., and is director of leasing for General Growth Properties. "But these guys are professional."

At least one New Orleanian working in the stadium was momentarily worried.

"I got a little scared," said Daryn Johnson, 21, who was manning a beer stand in the stadium. "I thought there would be a rush, people knocking other people over. But they didn't panic. They started buying beer. That was the only thing to do."

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