No place for big event like New Orleans

One of the axioms and clichés in horse racing is “there are horses for courses”, meaning that certain horses do well on certain tracks without any logical explanation. The same could be said of mediocre hitters who do well against Hall of Fame pitchers and mediocre pitchers who do well against Hall of Fame hitters. Sometimes things just happen.

This week we have an addition to that list. Cities that fit events better than  others. And that would be New Orleans–not only for the Super Bowl, which will be played in New Orleans for a 10th time on Sunday, but for Final Four’s, BCS title games, conventions and other parties.

I have visited New Orleans a dozen times at various events, ranging from Super Bowls, as well as the Final  Four  and BCS title game (both held in New Orleans last season) as well as a few NCAA conventions and other major events.

To succeed as a big event destination, a city must have a combination of attitude, access and accommodation.

The attitude is simple. When an event comes to town do the people of that town embrace it or tolerate it? Access is simple. Proximity to the arena or stadium in which the event is held with hotels and restaurants is vital.

Accommodation is obvious. You need rooms for the visitors.

Until Katrina hit New Orleans in 2006 and almost changed the culture, New Orleans hit all three areas. Everything was close. The city thrived on the attention.

The two other event cities which come closest to hitting that trifecta are San Antonio and Indianapolis, which is underrated.

With Super Bowl XLVIII now just slightly more than a year away and slated to be played in the New Jersey Meadowlands, people attending the Super Bowl should file the memory of this week in New Orleans. It won’t be matched next year in New York, most likely with the weather, but more significantly with the atmosphere. As big as the Super Bowl has become, it is not going to take over New York.

The idea of gambling on good weather in February in New York is to paraphrase Baltimore Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco “retarded”.

From traffic, to weather, to atmosphere to overall cost, just who benefits from playing the Super Bowl in New York?

But this week has been about New Orleans. Since I have rarely visited the city when it wasn’t hosting an event, it is sometimes difficult to get a real pulse of the city when things are “normal.’

Bourbon Street on a Tuesday afternoon in late July is delightful. Quiet, but with a pulse of activitity which includes potential.

But even in “non-peak” times, New Orelans is just different. Not only on Bourbon Street, but on Canal Street which is a main transportation route throughout the city, as well as the Garden district, with a combination of  tree shaded homes and businesses which softens the commercial aspect of the area.

Memories? So many.

I remember being in New Orleans for a BCS title game between Virginia Tech and Florida State on Dec. 31, 1999, which. of course was a big deal, especially in New Orleans where a party will be held when someone starts a new job.

I was staying at the Hyatt, which was and is connected to the Superdome and severely damaged during Katrina and the word from the hotel management was that when the clock struck 12:01 on January 1, 2000, even if you were indoors, stay away from the windows.

Why? It seems that one of the many  New Year’s traditions celebrated in New Orleans was to fire guns into the air. Guns with bullets which had to eventually come down unless they hit something in the air.

I celebrated in a function room inside the hotel, but the next morning the story filtered out quickly that one reporter who was in his room was startled when his window was shattered by a bullet–on the 31st floor.

I remember last year at the BCS title game between Alabama and LSU watching an Alabama football player walk out of the Mariott Hotel on Canal Street at about 9 p.m on the Friday night before the Monday night game, clearly in search of something.

He was–a meal.

And with a wide variety of choices from the upscale Commanders Palace to the more wallet friendly Palace Café or any number of treats on Bourbon Street, the Alabama football player wasted no time. He walked three stores down and turned into an Arby’s.

I remember taking a tour of the 9th ward when I was in New Orleans last year and still seeing empty houses and vacant lots. I remember seeing a road marker at least 8 feet high on a street corner and then looking at a photo of that same spot during Katrina and seeing only the top edge of the sign  remaining above the water.

I remember being part of the Boston Globe coverage team in 1997 when the Patriots made it to the  Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers and attending a party in the French Quarter the night before the game.

I was playing  a game of celebrity observer, watching a group of Massachusetts power brokers which included Matt Storin, the Executive Editor of the Globe, Bill Weld, the Governor of Massachusetts and Chad Gifford, the Chairman of Bank of America,  being involved in a animated discussion in the middle of the room.

I then saw Storin, my boss, look in my direction and wave me over. My first reaction was to look behind me to see who Storin wanted. But he pointed to me and invited me into the circle to answer a question about college football. I gave the anwer (it was correct, I assume) said my good-byes to the shadows to watch some more and enjoy New Orleans.

New Orleans is different in so many ways. Take the names of the streets which are not your standard Elm and Main intersection.

That prompted Chris Dufresne of  the Los Angeles Times to start  a game called “Real or nor real in which he  would throw out a name and challenge his listeners to choose between a real intersection in New Orleans or the name of an LSU football player.

Is for example, Chase Clement,  a tight end for the Tigers or the intersection of Chase and Clement Streets.  What about Lamin Barrow? Or Gravier O’Keefe? Or Chartres Conti?

Only the last two names are NOT  LSU football players, but rather street intersections in New Orleans.

New Orleans brings people even if they their teams do not make it for the game.  Another memory of the 2000 Sugar Bowl title game between FSU and Virginia Tech was to see Nebraska fans in the French Quarter the week of the game. It seems that the Husker fans were so confident that their team would be in the title game they had purchased tickets and made hotel reservations before the season began for a trip to New Orleans. When the Huskers lost in mid-season and were shuffled to the Fiesta Bowl as Big 12 champion (but not BCS title game participant) some Nebraska fans chose to come to New Orleans and watch the Huskers on television.

New Orleans is just different and, in terms of big events, better. Having it as a permanent site for such events would not be the worst thing in the world.

The 49ers and Ravens will face off in the Super Bowl on Sunday night and another chapter of NFL history will be in the book. But then both teams and their fans will leave and New Orleans will go about its business in a “normal” fashion–until Mardi Gras, which starts in 10 days.

© 2013, Mark. All rights reserved.

  1 comment for “No place for big event like New Orleans

  1. Dennis
    February 2, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    The Super Bowl should be in NOLA every 4 years, along with Miami, and The Rose Bowl. Those places should be on the circuit continuously. They can add in the Houstons, Dallas, Tampa, etc. in that 4th year but those 3 locations should be constants….no questions asked.

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