Getting To Know The Big Easy

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - December 26, 2007
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“The Crescent City,” “The Big Easy,” New Orleans, home of the Louisiana Superdome, site of the 2007 Sugar Bowl, which - along with the Orange Bowl and the Sun Bowl - is the second-oldest football bowl game in the nation; the Rose Bowl being the oldest, first played in 1902.

In the first Sugar Bowl in 1935, the hometown favorite, Tulane University, beat Temple 20 to 14.

In this year’s clash, of course, as everyone in Hawaii - right down to the tiniest Warrior-logoed-romper-wearing keiki - knows, our own UH Warriors are taking on the Georgia Bulldogs, who have recorded three wins and four losses in their seven appearances in the classic.

Because New Orleans has always been considered a great convention city - good hotels, modern convention center, terrific restaurants, historical intrigue all the way back to Andrew Jackson’s Battle of New Orleans, the Mardi Gras tradition and, of course, the famed Vieux Carre or French Quarter anchored by the lurid clubs and brassy jazz of Bourbon Street - I’ve had the privilege and fun of speaking to corporate groups and associations there a dozen or more times since the early ‘80s.

New Orleans is called the Crescent City because it nestles in the lazy arms of the Mississippi as it arcs its way from a southerly to a southeasterly flow. And it’s The Big Easy because that’s what some call the river, or maybe because of the easy access to great food, booze, gambling and the good (night) life; or as in the words to the song “Summer time ... when the livin’ is easy ...”

But Hawaii’s own Chris Hemmeter, entrepreneur and developer, didn’t find it that “easy” as he tried to develop one of the city’s first gambling casinos. He was apparently stymied by the city’s parochial - some would say crooked - regulatory and permitting process. In New Orleans everything is political, even more so following Hurricane Katrina.

But nobody cares about that as they down “Hurricane” drinks (even after Katrina) that come with their own souvenir glass at Pat O’Brien’s on Bourbon, or “Bananas Foster” to finish off their brunch at Brennan’s, or their crawdad “Po Boy” lunch at Mama’s Marine Corps-themed hole-in-the wall on Poydras, or sop the remains of their barbecue-shrimp-in-the-shell juice with fresh hot sourdough at Pascal’s Manale on the edge of the Garden District, or round out the evening with chicory-black coffee and beignets at the eclectic Cafe du Monde across from Jackson Square.

Non-culinary attractions abound, like the one-of-a-kind World War II Museum on Magazine Street, or The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, now reopened after an eight-month restoration following Katrina, or the street cars on St. Charles Street connecting Canal Street - downtown’s main artery - to the Audubon Park and Zoo near the Tulane University campus, or the art galleries and antique shops on the quieter streets of the French Quarter, or old St. Louis Cathedral - itself an antique - overlooking Jackson Square and the river.

For balance and perspective, any New Orleans itinerary should include a tour of the Ninth Ward, a vast neighborhood devastated by the floods of Katrina, and a scary reminder of nature’s power. My hope for Warrior fans is that they make the most of the time and expense of getting there by experiencing all of New Orleans.

But, of course, the main attraction there will be the football game in the Superdome, where I’ve watched the Oakland Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, and the Tulane Green Wave beat a tough Cincinnati team. The din of cheering fans can be deafening and distracting.

On New Year’s Day, our Warriors are going to be playing against a 12-man team. Georgia to New Orleans is just an easy day’s drive, and Bulldog fans are going to be there cheering en masse. Our lucky neighbors who are at the game will have to rise to the occasion, to fill the breach, to be our 12th Warrior in the Dome, and to embrace and express with all their heart our Warriors’ theme: “Believe!”

Like most of you fans out there, I have learned to “believe,” and when next week’s 72nd annual Sugar Bowl has been played, hopefully we can all say, “how sweet it is!”

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