GRAY: LSU fans will make Sugar Bowl the best

As it struggles to recover 15 months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans needs the Sugar Bowl match-up between LSU and Notre Dame to be a huge hit – a partypalooza.

Following a Bayou Classic that went from 100% hotel occupancy down to just over 50%, it's a sure bet New Orleanians were callin' the Hawgs when looking for a sweet Sugar Bowl match-up. 


But as fans woke up on the Monday morning after the BCS line-up was announced and began canceling plane tickets and hotel rooms in Pasadena when they found out we would not be taking time to smell the roses, you could almost hear the collective groan from disappointed fans, New Orleans businesses and Baton Rouge hoteliers. 


Experts claim the 2004 Sugar Bowl game between LSU and Oklahoma resulted in a $250 million economic boom for the city, but that was for a National Championship. A typical Sugar Bowl means between $175 to $200 million for the city. 


There will be no problem selling tickets since so many Tiger fans can go, and no problem filling hotel rooms in New Orleans since Notre Dame is such a strong traveling team with a national following. When the Fighting Irish played at LSU, Catholics from throughout South Louisiana wanted to be in the stadium, even those who don't routinely attend LSU games. When LSU traveled to South Bend, Tiger fans shopped in their campus bookstore in droves to bring home souvenirs of the trip.  Let's face it – would we be caught dead buying Auburn sweatshirts?  There's something about that Notre Dame mystique. 


But there won't be much overflow for Baton Rouge hotels, and New Orleans won't get the four or five night stays they had hoped for from traveling fans. And that's where the city that care forgot will come up short.


Unfortunately, there hasn't been much of a rallying cry across the state in support of New Orleans, partly because of the spike in crime and partly because of the failure of city leaders to adequately address clean up and recovery. 


Meanwhile, celebrities, national organizations and others across the country who love New Orleans have been coming to the city to visit and volunteer to save what they feel is one of the world's great cities. 


What we're lacking is a tipping point for saving New Orleans – that magical moment when it becomes the cool thing to do and everyone looks for a reason to spend a little time and money there. 


Not for the politicians, but for the city.  For God's sake, we got in our cars and drove to Shreveport in 1997 when LSU played Notre Dame in the Independence Bowl and gave that city the time of its life, didn't we?  So much so, that Senator Foster Campbell threatened to pass legislation requiring LSU to play one game a year in Shreveport. 


Why can't we do the same for New Orleans?  Tiger fans could do what FEMA, the Bush administration, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin and even Brad Pitt have all been unable to do – single handedly jumpstart the New Orleans economy with a massive infusion of purple and gold. It would be the greatest national news story of 2007 – Louisianans doing what we do best.


What Tiger fans lack in extended hotel stays, they can make up by hosting the world's largest tailgate party. The way I see it, we take over the city of New Orleans – you know, like we did in Omaha in the glory years of LSU Baseball. We check in hotels, organize in lobby bars, stake out favorite restaurants to hang our banners, get chummy with the locals, shop in the stores, eat in the restaurants and leave them begging for more.


We make just being there fun. 


We march into the city for New Year's Eve, just so the Irish don't get too comfortable, and we don't leave until we've sent that leprechaun packing. And if you live in New Orleans, head down to the French Quarter and sing the fight song in the piano bar at Pat O'Brien's, cover yourself in powdered sugar at Café du Monde and drop a dollar into the hat of a street performer – that's right, maybe even be nice to a mime.


New Orleans isn't perfect, but it's ours. 


So instead of watching the game on TV at home, let's turn New Orleans into our living room – our backyard tailgate – our city. When Tiger fans come together behind a common cause, that's when the magic occurs. Like when we decided it would be OK to tailgate with the Ragin' Cajuns in Omaha and it became the story of the World Series. 


Simply put, we make things happen. 


So we may not make a $200 million impact on the city's recovery, but let's make sure they know the Tigers came to town. Forget trying to blame others for the city's slow recovery – let's just do the right thing.


Let's chalk up another BCS win and feel good while having fun.




Rannah Gray is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag Magazine. Contact her at

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