New Orleans Bowl Central - Cajuns touch down in Crescent City

by Dan McDonald

UL's football team was greeted by a brass band and Mardi Gras beads Tuesday afternoon when it arrived in the Crescent City for Saturday's New Orleans Bowl.

Tuesday, 5:15 p.m.

The brass band played - they even had a mini-rendition of UL's fight song mixed in with the traditional jazz and Saints numbers - and a couple of dozen fans and well-wishers were already on hand Tuesday afternoon when the Ragin' Cajun football team arrived at its New Orleans Marriott headquarters hotel for Saturday's R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

"It's always exciting any time you can go to a bowl game," said senior linebacker Emeka Onyenekwu, who was named to the first-team All-Sun Belt Conference squad last week. "Especially when you can play a bowl game in New Orleans, where you get to enjoy yourself."

Cajun players check in at the New Orleans Marriott.

The Cajuns will be doing some of that enjoyment Tuesday night when they head out for their bowl player party at New Orleans' iconic Rock 'N' Bowl, and later in the week when they take in the Aquarium of the Americas among other stops. But it's still a business trip for the squad, which meets East Carolina's Pirates at 11 a.m. Saturday in the nearby Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The squad's three charter buses arrived at the Marriott at approximately 3:20 p.m. Tuesday and were met by a brass band and Mardi Gras bead bearers as well as New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante, who was the first to shake hands with Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth when he got off the bus.

"Welcome back," Ferrante said to him.

Coach Hud and son Major arrive at the New Orleans Marriott Tuesday afternoon.

The Cajuns have been more than welcomed by the bowl staff, and that's no surprise since having UL in the bowl game translates into ticket sales. UL athletics director Scott Farmer said that the Cajun ticket office had topped the 21,000 mark even before Monday's sales were added in, and that number tops the 18,862 that were sold through the UL ticket office last year.

The bowl-record crowd of 42,841, set last year when the Cajuns beat San Diego State, is already assured of being broken. Ferrante said that over 46,000 tickets had been distributed by the bowl as of Monday.

"That's a testament to what we've done locally to help grow the game," Ferrante said of the record ticket distribution. "Our ticket base, our group sales, the youth programs, they're probably all doubled from last year.

"Since Lafayette has name recognition here and has so many supporters down here, we wanted to take advantage of that and do some things to get on top of that."

"This is a great bowl for our fans," Hudspeth said upon arrival. "They aren't far behind us to get this party started."

Associate AD Ken Winstead hands out bowl T-shirts to players as they arrive in New Orleans.

A small group of supporters, as well as a larger group of local media from Lafayette and New Orleans, were out front of the Marriott to meet the team upon arrival. The team held its bowl orientation meeting with Ferrante at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at the hotel before heading over to the Rock 'N' Bowl - which will be featured in the next update later tonight.