Battle of New Orleans
By Chris Connelly
Special to Page 2

"What has happened down here is the winds have changed."

Bourbon Street
New Orleans -- and Bourbon Street -- will change you.
That's the first line of Randy Newman's song "Louisiana 1927," and if you can't track it down on his 1974 record "Good Old Boys," you can rent Ron Shelton's movie "Blaze" and hear it soar over the movie's last, majestic shot. If memory serves, Greil Marcus' book "Mystery Train" puts a comma in that lyric of Randy Newman's (then again, the good people at ESPN the Magazine once inexplicably put a comma after the first word when Linda Cohn shouted out the first line of the Aeneid: "Arms and the man I sing ...") But thanks to Marcus' memorable book, those are the words that run through my mind more than any other whenever I'm lucky enough to be in New Orleans because something in them captures the mystery and sadness and carnality and worldview that makes this place so eternally alluring. I've been here by myself, with just my wife and on family vacations with my wife and children. You cannot resist this place. It changes you, and you love it for that.

And so much of it starts with the weather. You even walk differently down here ... you lose that ball-of-your-feet peppiness and devolve into a back-on-your-heels rolling gait. Which is one of the few things I have in common with the myriad of athletes who've come to town for the week to play, party and, in most cases, leave before the game played. Why? I guess it's like going to the Oscars in a year you're not nominated: makes you look inadequate. Players I talked to only want to be here for the game if they're playing in it.

The car dealers and their blue blazers pulled out of town Monday, and the athletes pulled in. Since the week started, all you have to do is stroll down Bourbon Street in the evenings around here and it looks like the French Quarter is the host of an athletes' convention; they've got everything but buttons that say HI! MY NAME IS TONY SIRAGUSA! And maybe you have to see them all at once -- or interview a mess o' them, rapid-fire, as "Unscripted" did this week -- to notice that athletes are now coming in two model sizes only: the Scatback, where the athlete is smaller than you, weighs less than you, and can run and cut faster than you can process the thought; and the Escalade, where the athlete is gi-freaking-normous and moves with a sense of grave deliberation ... unless, of course, you're wearing the other team's jersey. The Scatback notwithstanding, the frequently spotted Escalade proves my theory that on the whole, athletes are larger than you expect when you see them in person, while actors and rock stars are smaller. (Eddie Murphy once told me that the only movie star he'd ever met who looked like a movie star in person was John Travolta.)

  If it's hard to have a bad time at a Super Bowl, and harder still to have a bad time in New Orleans, it's impossible to have a bad time at a Super Bowl in New Orleans. 

Anyway, thanks to an excessively liberal door policy at some of this town's better establishments, I've been able to watch the social interaction between athletes and the people who love them ... or would like to, and as soon as possible, like maybe right now. Many of you may associate the courting process in your own lives as a sharing of mutual vulnerabilities. Let me assure you that in the world of athletes, this is not the case. As Joe Garagiola used to put it -- in a totally different context, mind you! -- this is strictly Strength against Strength: the guys have great bodies, the women have great bodies, and let the games begin. And they do. Me, I like to see the young people enjoying themselves. You've seen that adorable pop-up ad on the web: "Let's get serious about this soulmate thing"? From what I've seen, the motto down here is: Let's not and say we did.

If it's hard to have a bad time at a Super Bowl, and harder still to have a bad time in New Orleans, it's impossible to have a bad time at a Super Bowl in New Orleans. This is my third New Orleans Super Bowl, and my main social objective has not changed since 1990, when Ken Ober -- now the host of "Smush" -- was nice enough to take me to Tiptina's. My main social objective in 2002? See the Neville Brothers. Haven't figured out how I'm pulling that off, but I've got my fingers crossed.

I'd also like to see a good game. My prediction will date faster than Parris Hilton, but what the hey. A lot about this matchup has "BCS championship" written all over it. You can talk schemes and strategies and edge blitzes and all the rest, but the Rams offense has so much speed and then there's Kurt Warner's dazzling accuracy. If they're feeling their Cheerios early enough, this could be 35-0 by halftime, and Tom Brady will just be a hot-looking Tony Eason.

Drew Bledsoe
Drew Bledsoe, at right with Fred Coleman, will step in again and be the hero for the Pats.
You know how everyone always says it doesn't mean anything unless you win the Super Bowl, and you'll be forgotten otherwise? That's just so much baloney. If I say early-to-mid-'80s to you, what team do you think of first, and with the greatest fondness? That's right: the Air Coryell Chargers. The Rams play in that great tradition, and no matter what happens Sunday, they're the team that we'll remember most and for the sheer exuberance and unmatched skill of their offense. "Nowadays, the world is lit by lightning," wrote St. Louis native Tennessee Williams, a guy who wrote a pretty good play about New Orleans, come to think of it.

But ... if their Dusenberg of an O gets out of sync early Sunday, this might be a good one. If New England can snuff some drives early, maybe get a turnover, the pressure of living up to that Greatest Show on Turf moniker in the biggest game of the year might eat at the Rams' efficiency. So try out this scenario: Brady keeps 'em close, but the Rams lead by 10 going into the fourth quarter ... when Brady reinjures the ankle. In comes Drew Bledsoe for a quick six, then it's three-and-out and Bledsoe's got the chance to do what Donovan McNabb and -- two years ago -- Steve McNair couldn't quite manage: drive the length of the field to win the game.

And so he does. Patriots 31, Rams 27.

What has happened down here? The winds have changed.

Chris Connelly writes a weekly column for Page 2. "Unscripted with Chris Connelly," the TV show airs at 5 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday on ESPN.



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