Follow our live men Final square.
NEW ORLEANS — When he wrote about relying on the kindness of strangers, this city’s most famous playwright probably didn’t envision Carolinians and conventioneers sipping dark red okra in Herbsaint.
But even Tennessee Williams may not have been able to conjure up the beating his adoptive New Orleans has taken over the past two years – and the welcome arrival of this better-than-fiction Final Four and outsiders. that he brings to town.
Rarely in the history of the sport has there been a convergence of a contest with the hype of the Duke-North Carolina showdown on Saturday, and a host city desperate for the buzz of the game of the century and the revenue that comes with it. this.
Ever since Joe Burrow led Louisiana State to the college football title in the Superdome in January 2020 and Louisianans celebrated Mardi Gras a month later — a back-to-back civic holiday for that state — New Orleans has been diving. in a dark winter.
The coronavirus pandemic arrived here early and was vicious; then there was Hurricane Ida last year, which again left blue tarps where roofs should be; crime has consumed many inhabitants, thanks to a series of horrific carjackings; and last week, as if to suggest the only plague yet to strike was a descent of locusts, a tornado swept through, damaging 150 homes.
Less visible but equally threatening to the city’s psyche and economy has been what hasn’t happened – the canceled concerts, conventions and festivals at a venue that, more than any other destination this side of Las Vegas , depends on the visitors. In 2020, the Superdome Stadium Authority lost over $90 million in event and tax revenue.
The quiet and emptiness was shocking in a community so accustomed not only to the sound of the jazz club trumpeter and Bourbon Street revelers, but also to the low-decibel crowd of lanyard-wearing conference attendees and people using the tramway running on avenue Saint-Charles.
“Covid has really shut down our world,” said Kermit Ruffins, the trumpeter and owner of the New Orleans club.
Mr Ruffins, who plays at his mother-in-law’s drawing room every Tuesday and Sunday, has suffered more than most here. The pandemic has exhausted his two sources of income: he has lost his own concerts as well as customers of his club. And this month, his pregnant girlfriend was hit by a stray bullet (both she and their baby are fine).
Despite his troubles, Mr Ruffins said he felt optimistic. “We can feel it, since Mardi Gras we feel like we’re back,” he said.
Few things beyond the loss of the Saints irritate New Orleans residents more than the outsiders who hang out with them for their “resilience” — so cliché it’s sometimes called “the R-word” here — but it It’s hard to miss the lingering hope that maybe, just maybe, spring has finally arrived.
There was a sunny Mardi Gras, with tourists arriving just below pre-pandemic numbers, immediately followed by a busy New Orleans first-ever book festival that brought the “Today” spectacle to town.
But it may have been the gumbo before the main course – what ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale said in a text message was the biggest game in college basketball since the 1979 clash between Michigan State of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s Indiana State. .”
In a city that celebrates its excesses and its appetites, it is fitting to host such a superlative event.
New Orleans residents, however, are viewing the first-ever tournament clash between the Tobacco Road rivals, and what may be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game, through a decidedly local lens.
“This is the first big, good news we’ve had since January 13, 2020,” said famed Democratic strategist James Carville, alluding to the date of his beloved LSU Tigers’ college football title triumph. “It’s a chance for the country to reconnect with New Orleans.”
For those who want to do it in person, it won’t be cheap.
Most nonstop flights to New Orleans this weekend were sold out and many connections were over $1,000. Housing was scarce; the only remaining Marriott property with rooms for Friday and Saturday nights was an AC hotel priced at $1,458 a night. And tickets for Saturday’s game were among the most expensive in tournament history: more than $4,000 per seat on StubHub for everything in the lower bowl where the game can be watched without the help of a TV. a giant video screen.
The many well-heeled graduates from Kansas, Villanova and, especially, Duke and UNC are a welcome sight for restaurateurs, hoteliers and local leaders.
“Mardi Gras is one thing, but it hits a different visitor, and that’s CEOs and corporate executives,” said Anne Milling, a stalwart of New Orleans’ philanthropic community. “It’s our bread and butter and, I’ll tell you what, we’re going to welcome everyone like family.”
It’s one of the enduring ironies of this city, where the virtues and vices of Europe, the Caribbean and the Deep South all seem to converge: it can handle major events as well as any city in the world. , but she struggles with basic services, such as garbage collection for residents.
“We can’t synchronize the lights on Canal Street, but we can host the most iconic sporting events,” joked Jeff Duncan, the widely read sports columnist for The Times-Picayune.
Other event cities have comparable weather and the beaches that New Orleans lacks, not to mention more robberies and fewer murders per capita — but the big games always come back.
“When you’re covering a Super Bowl here, you feel it on every street and in every neighborhood,” Duncan said. “You don’t have the same sense of immersion in LA or even in Miami. The downtown footprint is so compact.
You get off the plane, said Doug Thornton, who helps run the Superdome, “and come into the French Quarter and you’re surrounded by 30,000 other people wearing their team jerseys and drinking Hurricanes.”
New Orleans has been the site of 10 Super Bowls (second only to Miami), numerous college football title games, a pair of WrestleManias and a papal visit.
But he had his best chance with college basketball.
It hosted the first Final Four in a dome. It was 1982 when Michael Jordan’s basket elevated UNC to a national title – so long ago the welcome brochure said some restaurants in New Orleans required coats and ties, while many allowed “men to wear jackets or leisure suits”.
More than any sport, however, this is a city about fun.
“New Orleans is ready for any kind of party,” Mr. Ruffins said, noting that he was already meeting visitors here for Jazz Fest, the next big event.
What makes it such an attractive destination – beyond the donuts, pearls and booze – is the sense of place here, the enduring and reliable culture that visitors know and seek from memory. So many out-of-towners smile when New Orleans is mentioned because it reminds them of their own visits here and makes them look forward to returning.
It’s the kind of town where, as author and son of the country Walter Isaacson said in a different context, you invite 90 people to an event and 100 will come.
Gatherings are, of course, the engine of the economy. But they also represent the joy of the city. And not just for tourists.
There’s Mardi Gras, Final Fours and Super Bowls, of course. But this place also has smaller business, whose absences during Covid-19 have been so painful: the buses of middle schoolers coming to town for fraternity ceremonies; the impromptu stop at the Creole gumbo festival in Tremé or just an evening with friends for a bourbon; red sauce and garlic with oysters on the side at Mosca’s, the legendary cash restaurant across the Mississippi River.
Nina Compton, a local restaurateur whose popular restaurants were booked for the weekend, said the ups and downs of Covid life had been ‘mentally taxing’, with the pivot to take-out followed by the need to eat outdoors, then mandatory vaccination card checks.
Still, Ms Compton said it wasn’t just the restaurant industry that was excited to be back to normal here – it was every New Orleanian.
“We really haven’t had this in two years,” she said of this city’s bustling, sweaty, sweet ways. “We need this, we live for this.”
To borrow another regional expression, long before the days of Tennessee Williams, it just means more here.