I received the following e-mail from PawSox fan Don Werner over the weekend:
I already thought you had the best job in the world, but it’s just not fair that a guy can get paid for going to Cincy football games like that one.
I responded very simply by saying, “Hard to argue.”
In case you’re not aware of it, when I’m not calling PawSox games in the summer, I broadcast University of Cincinnati football and basketball games on the so-called “nation’s station” 700-AM WLW. This past weekend, Cincinnati concluded a perfect regular season by rallying from a 21-point deficit to beat Pittsburgh 45-44. The Bearcats are 12-0 and will face Florida on New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl.
I’m thrilled because New Orleans is the greatest city in the world to attend a big sporting event.
Trust me, I speak from experience.
For starters, everything is within walking distance – the downtown hotels, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, the Superdome, live music clubs, tremendous restaurants, and great shopping. Before the handsome lad was born, it was the number one place that my wife and I loved to go for a short vacation.
And it’s ideal for a big sporting event because nearly all of the fans congregate in the French Quarter every day and night wearing their team gear. You’ll see everybody you know that made the trip, and will undoubtedly run into friends you haven’t seen in years. Additionally, you’ll see the Florida fans every day and in New Orleans – where the perpetual vibe is to relax and have a good time – the interaction stays friendly.
My first taste of The Big Easy was in March of 1987 when I covered the Final Four for the Syracuse radio network and sat almost directly behind Bobby Knight when Keith Smart’s last-second shot gave Indiana a 74-73 win over Syracuse for the National Championship.
And speaking of first tastes, the trip marked my introduction to the Hurricane – the unofficial cocktail of New Orleans that is as sweet as Kool-Aid but packs a lethal punch. Fortunately, I was given valuable advice by a taxi driver on my way into town from the airport. He said, “A hurricane is like a woman’s bosom . . . one is not enough but three is too many.” That advice has served me well.
I returned to New Orleans nine months later for the Sugar Bowl between Syracuse and Auburn – a game that ended in controversy as Tigers’ coach Pat Dye played for the tie with one second remaining (before overtime was added in college football). Syracuse ended the season 11-0-1 and bitter ‘Cuse fans mailed Pat Dye more than 2,000 ties in the week’s that followed. SU coach Dick MacPherson ripped Dye after the game and even took a classic shot at Auburn fans by saying, “They brought a $20 dollar bill and one pair of underwear on a bowl trip and didn’t change either one.”
Attending the Sugar Bowl gives you the chance to ring in the New Year in a city where “last call” doesn’t exist. I’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but I think it’s less crazy and more fun in New Orleans.
I vividly remember doing the countdown to midnight in five time zones on Bourbon Street. Five, four, three, two, one – Happy New Year in New York . . . New Orleans . . . Denver . . . Los Angeles . . . Anchorage . . . Honolulu . . .
I was tucked away in bed by the time they got to Auckland.
While working for Fox 19 in Cinicnnati, I covered the 1997 Super Bowl in New Orleans between Green Bay and New England. The Packers’ young quarterback led the franchise to its first Super Bowl win in nearly 30 years. I wonder what Brett Favre is up to these days?
Favre was the big story all week because he was from nearly Kiln, Mississippi. Like nearly every reporter covering that Super Bowl, Fox 19 photographer Dave Smith and I dutifully made the trip to Kiln to do the “Favre’s hometown” angle. While there, we ran into a fledgling musician named Stevie T. who had written a tribute song to Favre called “Brett’s on a Quest.” These priceless lyrics are forever seared into my brain.
Daddy was a coach, showed him the way
Train, fight, win . . . that’s the form-u-lay
My best New Orleans experience came as a fan, as Peg and I attended the 2003 Final Four to see our Alma mater beat Kansas for the National Championship. It was like a college reunion set in the Big Easy as most of our closest friends from school showed up unannounced for the weekend.
It’s the one and only time that I’ve busted out this hideous orange Hawaiian shirt.
Between business and pleasure, I’ve probably been to New Orleans 15 times. Here are some of my favorite places to eat, drink, and visit:
Hotel: The International House. It’s somewhat pricey, but worth it.
Restaurants: K-Paul’s. If you like stuff “blackened”, nobody does it better.
Irene’s Cuisine. Get the rosemary chicken.
NOLA. It’s an Emeril Lagasse restaurant, but cheaper and easier to get to than Emeril’s.
Brennan’s. The ultimate “gain 5 pounds” brunch – Bananas Foster is a must.
Commander’s Palace. Take the trolley to the Garden District and splurge.
Clover Grill. A dive where you can get a burger cooked under a hub cap after hours.
Hanging Out: Café du Monde. It’s famous for its coffee and beignets (little powdered donuts) and open 24 hours a day. I witnessed a powdered sugar fight there at 3 am once.
Bars: Pat O’Brien’s. It doesn’t get much better than enjoying Hurricanes (remember . . . stop at two!) around the fire fountain in the outdoor courtyard.
Napolean House. Usually not that crowded since it’s not on Bourbon Street, so it’s a good place to meet friends.
Whatever is designated as the “Bearcat” bar. One of the spots in the French Quarter will cover its walls with UC gear and become the unofficial home of Cincinnati fans.
Wherever Marva Wright is singing. She suffered two strokes this year so I don’t know if The Blues Queen of New Orleans is performing again. If she is, you’ll have a blast.
Aside from the BCS Championship Game, the Sugar Bowl would be my pick for the Bearcats bowl destination every year.
I’ll get there on December 31st.
I’d love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard