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Can these Carolina Panthers win outside the known universe?

The woman in the bright blue shirt sets her card table up across from the pristine Cathedral of St. Louis, which opened in 1794. She has yet to remove her tarot cards from the bag in which she keeps them. So on this beautiful sunshiny morning she instead reads a customer’s palm. Fortunately, milk punch does not create a line on one’s hand.

Any feel for the Carolina Panthers-New Orleans Saints game Sunday?

She predicts a Saint will be injured (I don’t want to jinx the guy by using his name). Yet she says New Orleans will pull it out at the end.

“Does that make sense?” she asks.

As much as anything in New Orleans does, sure.

The beauty of New Orleans is that it’s like leaving the U.S. without leaving the U.S. Some nights, it’s like leaving the known universe without leaving the known universe.

Although the Carolina Panthers are 10-9 in New Orleans (and 1-0 against the Saints in Baton Rouge, La.) playing football in New Orleans is unique.

“It is,” says Panthers coach Ron Rivera. “It’s the kind of environment you want as a home team. Their crowd is a great crowd. Their quarterback plays well in the (Superdome). It’s a good spot for him and he knows it, he feels it, he gets it. Those things there really play well for who they are.”

Fans in other domes also make noise. What distinguishes New Orleans is not how many fans show up but who they are.

“They got old souls about them,” says Panthers cornerback Josh Norman. “The music, the food, and then their fans – oh gosh, man, you got Cajuns, the Cajun people, and that’s a beautiful thing, just the whole history. It’s cool, it’s cool to go down there and see – once a year.”

Many of those old souls won’t be in the Superdome. On Friday the Saints had for sale many $73 tickets, $150 tickets and $280 tickets. The secondary market also was crowded with season ticket holders who would rather sell than attend.

The Saints are 4-7. In October, they remembered who they were and won three straight. On Nov. 11, they remembered who they are and have lost three straight.

The Saints can still score; they’re third in the NFL in total offense. Carolina is 17th. Their issue is stopping other teams from scoring. New Orleans is 31st in total defense. Carolina is second.

But this is a game within the division, and the Saints have an opportunity to give the Panthers their first loss.

“It’s going to be rocking in there,” says Carolina safety Roman Harper, who played his first eight seasons for the Saints. “We got to go out and shut ‘em down.

“The later the game (kickoff was pushed back 3 1/2 hours to 4:25 p.m), the more they get jazzed up, get juiced for it. You’ve got to understand that. They really put their all into it and it’s appreciated down there. They prepare for it. They wait for it all week.”

The first time I went to a Carolina game in New Orleans a woman approached me outside the stadium. Around her neck was a strap, and the strap held a case full of colorful shots in narrow tubes. They’re a dollar, she said.

This never happened in Green Bay.

“They’re going to be super loud,” says Norman. “It’s like they pump noise in there it’s so loud. They do a great job. They have voodoo priests in there. They got some clowns. They make this game fun. They make it real fun.

“They’re like, ‘OK, this is my life right now, this is what makes me go, this is what makes me feel like I’m giving something back to my team.’ And that feeling you can’t ever take away from a person.”

Norman gets New Orleans.

Harper does, too.

“Some of the fans are full-out characters,” says Harper. “I know a few of the character guys. It’s kind of funny when you actually know them outside those (stadium) walls because they’re totally different people.

“They’re great fans, and they party hard. That whole Gulf Coast region gets behind their teams – LSU or the Saints or Ole Miss. I appreciate all the love they’ve showed me over the years and continue to show me.”

The characters are impressive. Two years ago I met a guy, a debonair and successful New Orleans restaurateur. Before a home game he spends three hours preparing.

What, you thought you could become Darth Saint in two?

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