New Orleans Bowl Central - A busy Thursday

by Dan McDonald

A colorful award, a replay of last year's defining moment, pumping up the volume and a visit to the fish - all in a day's work at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Thursday, 4 p.m.

Notes and quotes from a busy day of activities surrounding the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, a day that included both UL and East Carolina making their first venture into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for practice:

* Most of the 35 players who are honored as bowl game Most Valuable Players during this bowl season will receive some sort of traditional plaque or trophy symbolizing that feat.

Not so for whoever is chosen as MVP of the New Orleans Bowl Saturday. Instead, the honoree from either UL or East Carolina will receive a one-of-a-kind painted helmet designed by New Orleans artist Tuna Seither - coincidentally, a 1989 UL graduate.

The hand-painted helmet, done in various mediums including metallic paint, acrylics and glitter covered by a glossy varnish, depicts the bowl logo, the Superdome, a traditional Crescent City lamppost and the logos of both teams. All are accented by a rainbow of colors, making it easily the most eye-catching feature in the room Thursday during the bowl's annual media day activities.

"I'm not normally a big glitter guy," Seither said while watching the press conferences, "but we've got a ton of glitter and some really high-end UV varnish."

The key component is the face shield, which has large "MVP" letters painted across to obscure the inside.

Bowl Executive Director Billy Ferrante wanted something different as an MVP award, and he and Seither brainstormed the helmet idea. "He wanted to do a helmet," said Seither, who got a helmet from Tulane and turned it into a piece of art. "What I did was come up with a concept. The shield is really what makes it stand out."

UL coach Mark Hudspeth was admiring the unique award following Thursday's bowl press conference.

"That's the type of thing that you keep on a shelf or in a bookcase," he said. "I've got a helmet from all the places I've coached on a shelf at home. Something like this is so much better than just a plaque. It's something you can keep with pride for the rest of your life."

* The Cajuns memorably won last year's New Orleans Bowl 32-30 on kicker Brett Baer's final-play 50-yard field goal. During Thursday's Ragin' Cajun practice in the Superdome, at the end of the team's early field goal period, Hudspeth replayed that winning kick.

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As the final play before UL moved on to another part of practice, Hudspeth took a ball and sat it at the exact spot where last year's final play began ... and then moved it back two more yards. Baer, now a senior and the leading kick scorer in Cajun history, was true with the 52-yarder.

"That was fun," said Baer, whose winning kick last year carried just inside the left upright on the Poydras Street end of the 'Dome.

"I wanted to make sure that we had that again if we needed it," Hudspeth said after practice. "I won't lie to you, when I walked out on the field for the first time today, I glanced up at where that ball went through. It felt pretty good to see that again."

* Even though they've never faced each other on the field, Hudspeth and East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill have one common spot on their coaching resume'.

McNeill served as linebackers coach at North Alabama, his second full-time collegiate coaching job, during the 1988 season. Twelve years later, Hudspeth took over as head coach at UNA and began a stellar seven-year streak which included a 66-21 record and five appearances in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Lions reached the national semifinals in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

"Just about every coach, you can find places that they've crossed paths," Hudspeth said. "He was there at North Alabama before I was, so we've sat in the same chairs and in the same offices."

* McNeill was asked during Thursday's media day how his team will cope with the expected noise level on Saturday, with the way sound bounces around the 'Dome and knowing that most of the anticipated 50,000 crowd will be pulling against him.

"We prepare for noise. Every Thursday is our noise day," he said. "We blast sound at our guys. We know they're going to have a big and loud crowd and we prepare for that."

"We're based a lot on offense on hand signals," said ECU quarterback, Houston product and Brett Favre look-alike Shane Carden. "That's how we communicate. We've played in some loud places before."

The Pirates played in the Superdome not that long ago ... actually, five weeks ago on Nov. 17 when they topped Tulane 28-23. The listed crowd that day was 14,041, but one writer who was there said that number was inflated and that ECU fans nearly outnumbered Tulane fans.

"We've been here so we're familiar with the surroundings," McNeill said. "We have one of the top selling-out figures at home, and we travel well. But this is still going to be a home game for Mark and his bunch."

* The Cajun squad divided forces following their practice session Thursday, with Hudspeth and the 18 seniors going to the children's ward at Oschner's Hospital.

The rest of the squad and staff took the buses from the Superdome to the Aquarium of the Americas, where they toured that attraction and generally drew quizzical looks from other aquarium patrons.

The team has an earlier curfew Thursday night, and except for the official bowl luncheon at noon Friday, it's regular game preparations for the squad all the way through Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff.

"You want all the guys to enjoy themselves," said Cajun offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. "But this is a business trip for us. I told the quarterbacks that we didn't come down here to play a game, we came down here to win. Friday is going to be just like every other Friday we've spent on the road this season."