New Orleans Bowl Central -- It's not a bowl without a parade

by Dan McDonald

UL fans have begun arriving in droves for Saturday's R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and Thursday night's parade aimed most of them toward several Bourbon Street establishments ... to the surprise of absolutely no one.

The focus at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl for much of the week has been on the teams and their activities. Thursday night, it was the fans' turn to take center stage - specifically, the red-clad Ragin' Cajun nation.

If the participant numbers in Thursday night's "We're Back" street parade is any indication, there's little doubt that last year's bowl-record 42,841 attendance at the New Orleans Bowl won't just be broken, it'll be shattered when UL takes on East Carolina at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Including the UL Pride of Acadiana marching band that led the way, the crowd that left the headquarters New Orleans Marriott wasn't far from the 1,000 mark ... and it might have hit that figure as more and more people joined the fray. By the time the parade turned right off Canal Street and headed up Bourbon Street, Cajun and non-Cajun fans were falling into the "second line."

"Who are all these people?" one bewildered onlooker and likely New Orleans tourist was heard to say on the parade route.

"There are a lot more people here than last year," said UL athletics director Scott Farmer, who was in the banner-waving and loudly-screaming pack.

"That was pretty special to see," said Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth, who watched the parade depart the Marriott before returning to his team-preparation duties. "I tell people all the time how special our fans are and how great they support us, and they're showing it down here."

It wasn't just the parade participants who were into the spirit of the New Orleans Bowl. Onlookers from Bourbon Street balconies had red UL-logo flags hanging from the wrought iron and waved "Geaux Cajuns" signs, and several French Quarter establishments were bedecked with the same decorative scheme.

Photo by Dan McDonald

Reportedly, the UL band made several other stops for impromptu concerts for much of the evening. Can't say that for sure, since Pat O'Brien's brought a premature end to the parade for at least a couple of participants.

Pat O'Brien's iconic piano bar was awash in Cajun supporters, and UL's fight song roared out of that site on a regular basis - especially when Lafayette's Michael McGehee took his turn in the rotation on one of the bar's pianos.

Locals wanting to hear something similar Friday night can join Michael and the rest of the Mageez group performing at 10 p.m. at the House of Blues, an easy walk from the Marriott.

That, of course, will follow up the New Orleans Bowl's Friday night concert, one that features musical icons the Beach Boys and Bad Company and gets underway at 5:30 at Champions Square next to the Superdome. The free concert is open to any and all ... even the outnumbered East Carolina fans, and especially the ones who had to suffer through the Louisiana and Cajun-related playlist at Pat O'Brien's before departing into the breezy Thursday night air.

It's a good thing that the Cajun players got their free time in New Orleans early in the week, because the distraction of the hordes of UL followers became a reality in the Marriott lobby on Thursday. What was a small group of supporters turned into a packed house even before Thursday's walking parade, and it will likely be greater by Friday afternoon when UL hosts a FanFest from 3-5 p.m. in the Marriott's main ballroom.  Roddy Romero and the Hub City All-Stars will perform there.

The musical entertainment never seems to stop. Even at Saturday's three tailgate party locations - the RCAF/Alumni Association gathering inside the 'Dome, the party at Rouse's supermarket parking lot not far from the 'Dome, and the bowl's official tailgate gathering at Champions Square - there will be performances by Krossfyre, Sammy Kershaw and Band Camp beginning not long after 8 a.m.

As Hudspeth might say, everyone should be juiced and ready to go for the 11 a.m. kickoff.