The Week in New Orleans For Alabama LSU
New Orleans, LA
Sunday afternoon five men, fiftysomething's clad in purple and gold, stood in a huddle just off Jackson Square Park. It was mid-afternoon and throngs of Alabama and LSU fans swarmed the French Quarter making it virtually impossible to move. All five men were doubled over in laughter, occasionally standing back up and demanding to look at one the picture on one of the men's phones again. The picture? A photoshopped image of Nick Saban lying on a bed clutching a younger man in an embrace. The younger man wore tight white underwear emblazoned with a cursive Alabama insignia.
When I approached the man with the phone to ask whether he'd appear on camera, the middle-aged LSU fan turned suddenly serious.
"I can't go on camera," he said, clutching his photoshopped Nick Saban photo closely to his chest, "I'm an elected official."
Of course he was.
And that was par for the course in New Orleans this weekend. No matter what walk of life you came from, no matter your age, Southerners from across the country flocked to the banks of the Mississippi, and partied like no party you have ever seen before.
It's fair to say that many of those revelers will say, if asked in the final moments of their life, to pinpoint the exact moment that their life's fun quotient peaked, this weekend was it.
This weekened in New Orleans was the apex of the Southeastern Conference's 78 year history.
It was the highest that any conference has ever ascended in the history of college sports -- two teams from the same league competing to be the conference's sixth straight title holder.
If anything, this accomplishment has been underplayed by the national media.
This was the year, above all others, that it became crystal clear even to the biggest SEC haters in the country -- the South owns college footbal.
I've been telling y'all for five years that this moment was coming, that Mike Slive's genius management, the money being paid to the besst coaches, the South's demographical additions, the top recruits pouring into the conference year after year, that all of these factors would germinate to create an event such as this. Fans and media from other conferences have sometimes derided my predictions, but on Monday night, by the time the ball soared into the air in the direction of the Superdome roof, there could be no doubt that the SEC had conquered college football, that the South's game is now the second most valuable football brand behind the NFL in the country.
This is the story of the best weekend in Southern football history, told in numerical "Dixieland Delight" style.
I hope y'all enjoy it as much as I did.
1. I'm taking my wife and oldest son, three year old Fox, to New Orleans with me to the game.
As much as I travel, I'm trying to get my family on the road with me to experience some of these cities.
On our flight in to New Orleans Fox stares out the window, nose pressed against the circular plexiglass, asking for the final half-hour of the flight, "Is that a swamp?", "Is that a swamp?", "Is that a swamp?" in repetitive circle after repetitive circle, as only a three-year old can, as we pass over every body of water.
His alligator obsession mirrors my own youthful alligator obsession. At least according to my parents.
Fox can take virtually any situation and turn it into a story that involves alligators.
He loves volcanoes too.
The moment we touch down in New Orleans, he walks off the plane and says, "Where are the alligators?"
Evidently he expected us to land in a swamp and for alligators to be sitting in the terminal upon our exit.
"We'll see alligators later," I promise.
He's quiet for a moment.
"Will we see volcanoes?" he asks.
"No, there are no volcanoes here."
"Do alligators like volcanoes?" he asks.
2. We check in at our hotel and immediately walk down to the French Quarter to eat lunch and check out the vibe.
Alabama and LSU fans are just beginning to arrive in the city. It's still quiet, the calm before the SEC storm.
As we walk down the street, Fox points to the beads hanging around a woman's neck, "Why does she have those beads?"
"She's very popular," my wife says.
Before we've finished lunch, we have been peppered with so many alligator and swamp questions that we have agreed to take a swamp tour in the morning.
But first, beignets at Cafe du Monde.
3. I write the first draft for my BCS title drinking game while sitting in the media room at the Convention Center Marriott.
Despite asking multiple people, no one can come up with a signature cliche, go-to line of Kirk Herbstreit's for the drinking game.
I ask ESPN employees, writers, local television people.
Everyone I can think of. No one can come up with a Herbstreit cliche.
This is pretty amazing.
4. I go out drinking until two in the morning with other writers.
We're at an Alabama bar called the Rusty Nail, that's located on the underside of I-10 in New Orleans. But tonight there are no Alabama fans, instead around fifty men are dressed as Elvis.
This is completely normal for New Orleans.
5. The next morning, Saturday, Fox wakes me at 7.
We're all sleeping in the same bed, he's in the middle. For a tiny child he often takes up enough space for Japan's largest Sumo wrestler.
"Daddy," he says, "it's time to go see alligators."
The weather in New Orleans is perfect, a forecast high of 75. My wife asks if we need jackets for the swamp tour.
"No," I say.
Unfortunately she listens to me.
We take a Cajun Excursion bus to a swamp. Our bus driver says he's going to give us a tour en route to the swamp. I'm pretty excited because I think he'll tell us some historical details. The history nerd in me is never far from the surface.
His "tour" leaves much to be desired.
"If you look outside your window, you'll see a new Home Depot," he says.
Later, "That used to be a Toys R' Us."
This is really his tour.
6. We climb aboard our boat and take off on the swamp tour.
Immediately, it's freezing. My wife curls into a small ball hidden behind me.
"I don't know why," she says, "I listened to you."
Presently my wife listens to me for the following reasons: a. the mortgage b. that's actually it.
"Me either," I say.
As we rocket through the bayou, I feel like I might throw up over the side of the boat.
Where are Troy and Jacob Landry when I need them most?
But Fox, wearing a life jacket and sitting on my lap, loves it.
He points to every floating stick, "Alligator!" he screams.
Our guide is pointing out egrets and hawks. Fox is angry.
"Smoking chimneys!" he grumbles.
(After Fox picked up on my cursing in traffic -- my wife instructed Fox that the curse words Daddy used didn't make any sense, but that he could make up his own angry expressions. His choice? Smoking chimneys. Drop a toy, "Smoking chimneys!" Time for bed while he's still playing? "Smoking chimneys!")
I do it now too to avoid cursing.
Try it, you'll like it.
7. There's only one problem on the swamp tour, alligators hibernate.
So, you guessed it, we aren't seeing any alligators.
Despite my alligator knowledge, I knew nothing about this hibernation business. Maybe because most of the alligators I've seen before are in south Florida. I had no idea that they burrow up under mud and don't move very much for months at a time.
Ultimately we arrive in a small inlet where five baby alligators are clustered together.
Fox is in awe.
Real. Live. Alligators.
Later we get to hold a one-year old gator.
The perfect cure for any daddy hangover.
(FYI, for a time when my son asked, "Where are the Gators?" I always replied, "In jail."
My wife made me stop, but I figure I've got to get him trained early.)
8. It's Saints playoff time in New Orleans on Saturday night.
My wife, a Detroit native, is interested in the game because the Lions are playing, but we've got reservations at Commander's Palace, a restaurant in the Garden District with Lance Taylor, my buddy from Birmingham's JOX.
I'm not even sure what we ate, but I'm very confident that we drank enough to sink a small boat.
Saints fans have taken over the city.
I've never seen so many people in jerseys. Especially young women. And the women aren't in the women's version of the jersey, they're wearing the adult version of the jerseys.
9. ESPN holds a meet and greet for "select" media members and the crew that will be calling the game.
Somehow, I make the cut.
Erin Andrews gushes that she loves my Twitter feed and I encourage her to use the words "want," "multiplicity," and "perimeter," in a single interview with Miles.
She promises to work on it.
And by "work on it," she means, "I will never do that."
10. Now that Saturday night is here, Bama and LSU fans are arriving in the city in force.
The onslaught has begun.
And already I've seen enough of the city's party vibe to ask this question, if the BCS format is going to be reconfigured, doesn't the SEC have to move the title game from Atlanta to New Orleans?
My reasoning is simple, New Orleans kicks the crap out of Atlanta.
I mean, there's no comparison.
Which city would you rather visit?
Atlanta is stale, too big for everyone to end up the same place, and not that much fun to visit.
New Orleans is vibrant, condensed, and one of the best cities in the country to visit.
The goal for SEC fans used to be to reach the Sugar Bowl. Now, if you make the Sugar Bowl it generally means you don't have a chance to play for the title.
So shouldn't New Orleans replace Atlanta as the home of the SEC title game?
Wouldn't every SEC fan who doesn't live in Atlanta be in favor of this?
11. Saturday night in the French Quarter is dominated by Saints fans celebrating their win over the Lions.
As we stand on a balcony and look out over the quarter, it occurs to me that now, post-midnight, it's the 197th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.
I picture the city's celebration of the victory looking something like this.
With the horses coming down Bourbon Street, I can almost see Andrew Jackson swinging a bottle of bourbon over his head and yelling for hookers to show their tits.
Ah, New Orleans, city of champions.
I turn to my wife.
"Today is the 197th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans," I say.
She does not say anything.
13. Sunday is bedlam in New Orleans.
It's pure insanity.
Rather than describe the French Quarter as day turns into night, watch this video of me in the French Quarter reporting for NBC Sports Network.
Brian Williams has got nothing on me, you think he ever pointed at the chests of two smoking hot girls and said, "What size are those?"
Meet the Press, here I come.
By the way, I'm going to be doing more and more work for NBC Sports Network -- my awkwardness on TV notwithstanding -- and I'd encourage you guys to check them out. It's the rebranded Versus station and they're going to have a lot of good programming coming.
Some of the footage that I shot was too risque for airing.
Including French Quarter strippers breaking down who were better tippers -- Alabama or LSU fans.
LSU fans was the consensus.
And, of course, the topless Alabama fan in a houndstooth hat who I interviewed did not make the cut.
I asked her what Bear Bryant would think of her outfit.
14. I'm also happy to report that the crying Bama fan attained redemption.
But first here's one of the shirts that I saw on Sunday in the French Quarter.
And here's his redemption posing alongside an LSU fan who had made a poster board of the crying fan and was carrying it around the French Quarter for more than one day.
15. Here's a video I took of Bourbon Street at around one as Sunday turned into Monday.
I don't know that this video captures the intensity, but it's the only one I took from my own phone on Bourbon Street.
16. LSU fans are confident.
As evidenced by this fan wearing the championship belt and the Charlie Sheen winning shirt.
17. Harvey Updyke is talking about me to reporters while on Bourbon Street.
I have a lot of fun with Alabama fans, but the truth is, the vast majority with IQs over 100 like me. (Yes, contrary to popular belief, there are Bama fans with !Qs over 100).
People are always shocked to hear this because they've seen the Twitter hate and the email hate that I broadcast, but that hate always provokes a lot of love too. Intelligent Bama fans actually dislike an awful lot of their own fanbase.
Indeed, I've never had a Bama fan say a single negative word to me face to face.
Not a single one.
In fact, that goes for SEC fans in general.
Face to face, I only get love from you guys.
Which is why my thesis is that most haters are incredible losers who don't actually have enough success in life to be able to attend games or travel to events.
If you "hate" me, you really just hate success in general.
Because you're probably a failure in life. People who are successful don't have much time to hate.
18. Monday is a complete whirlwind.
Every morning my son has gotten up by 7:15 or so.
With the late nights and early daddy wake-up, I can barely see by Monday.
Fox wants to buy his own beads so my wife takes him to the bead store.
His first selection?
Only the sign on them says, "I'm a horny toad."
His second selection, alligator beads, only those say, "Show your tits," on them.
My wife said she was thankful the tit and penis beads were too high because he would have asked for them and taken it home for his one-year old.
"Here you go, baby Lincoln," he would have said, "a pee-pee necklace!"
Finally, he settles for birds.
On one of his walks through the French Quarter he pointed at all the trash on the street and said, "Volcano?"
19. The BCS title game arrives.
But the complete truth is that the game was an afterthought.
The party was the thing.
And that's maybe something that non SEC fans really don't get.
SEC sports isn't about the team or the conference.
It's about a lifestyle surrounding those teams and conferences.
Games come and go. And so do wins and losses. But what the SEC has become is something much more than a sport, it's an integral thread of Southern cultural life.
The SEC is a lifestyle.
20. By early Tuesday morning when I wake up for my life I feel the same way I do at the end of any Las Vegas trip.
Like I've aged ten years and just want to hit the bed and sleep for 24 hours straight.
On my morning plane flight back to Nashville, the most glaring absence of all hits me.
I didn't hear a single SEC chant in New Orleans.
Not in five days in New Orleans.
Now partly that could be because two SEC teams are playing, but I think it's also emblematic of something larger.
SEC schools own college football to such an extent that fans don't even feel the need to praise the conference any longer.
After all, fans of the NFL don't chant NFL at the end of the Super Bowl.
That's because everyone is watching and knows that the winner of the game is the best in the nation.
Deep down the SEC chant was a reaction to a perceived bias in the rest of the nation, a collective thumbing of the nose at the South. We felt like the rest of the country looked down on us. But now that's changed, the South is winning football games, but ask any Southerner and we also feel like we have the best lifestyle in the country.
Most of us, myself included, wouldn't live anywhere else.
Deep down every fan of every other conference in America knows that the SEC is the best brand in college sports.
And that there is no longer a close second.
When you're the best, you know it, and everyone else knows it too, suddenly the SEC chant becomes an afterthought.
For most Southerners, SEC football weekends are proof of one incontrovertible truth -- God exists and He loves us.