When the formidable Ohio State Buckeyes jumped out to an early 10-0 lead against the LSU Tigers last Monday night in the BCS title game, the Tigers dug in and responded with 31 unanswered points in a breathtaking display of championship mettle. But the National Champion Tigers weren't the only ones who showed their resilience in and around the Superdome that night. When the national spotlight hit our city during the Sugar Bowl and BCS festivities, New Orleans likewise responded with the kind of hospitality, enthusiasm and resolve that visitors have come to expect from us " in spite of all that we have endured in recent years. The BCS game thus was a capstone to the city's championship season as well as LSU's, and as we congratulate the Tigers we also salute the Sugar Bowl Committee, the local hospitality industry, Superdome management and all others who made New Orleans shine.
Leading up to the final college football game in the Dome last Monday, the nation's sports pages focused first on the upcoming game and then on the setting " and that was a victory in and of itself for our city. Visiting press debated whether LSU, with two losses, deserved a shot at the championship (they did) and whether Ohio State had the legs to keep up with a Southeastern Conference team (they didn't) " and not whether New Orleans should be rebuilt or whether the city was progressing fast enough after Katrina. Even during the Saints' season, television coverage of New Orleans during the home games focused on the parts of the city that are functioning, even prospering. Finally, the rest of the world started to get the picture that New Orleans, while not yet fully recovered, is at least not still under water.
Every major sporting event brings a media horde upon the host city for days in advance of the big game. Reporters seek out 'local color" to spice up their coverage, and New Orleans has always provided lots of it. Thankfully, this time the local angle wasn't all post-Katrina destruction or a lethargic recovery. Those images and stories had to be included, of course, but the dominant themes reflected the city's pre-Katrina strengths. Dispatches from Ohio's Dayton Daily News, for example, related glowing reviews of a dinner at Arnaud's and of one Ohio family encountering gracious hometown crowds while walking to the Dome for the game. 'Often in sports the anticipation is the best part, as the games can certainly fall flat," wrote the Daily News' Kyle Nagel. 'In New Orleans this week, though, nothing at all was flat."
This is not Katrina denial " that's not possible " but there is much more to our city than the disastrous levee failures. We are a world-class city, one that can sustain the hype of a mega-sporting event while also offering visitors a chance to relax amid charms that no other American city can offer. Early reports from the hospitality industry indicate that the world has rediscovered New Orleans after the 2005 storms. The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Commission noted record numbers of visitors for the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl and the Jan. 7 BCS game, with an estimated economic impact of more than $400 million. Those numbers are not abstract. 'This has been the best week since the Super Bowl of 1986," said veteran United Cab driver Mike Alleman. 'It's definitely better than any other Sugar Bowl."
It's too bad the Commission on Presidential Debates couldn't see New Orleans in its true light. In November, the CPD rejected the city's bid to host a presidential debate. Commission officials offered various excuses for the snub, including ridiculous claims that New Orleans isn't 'ready," that it doesn't have sufficient press and broadcasting facilities, and that it can't afford the police overtime. Apparently no one told all that to the BCS, the Sugar Bowl and the NBA, which is bringing its All-Star game here on Feb. 17 " less than two weeks after Mardi Gras, just eight weeks before the French Quarter Festival and only 10 weeks before Jazz Fest. Granted, we're preaching to the choir at this point, but New Orleans' recent triumphs and the anticipated influx of millions more visitors are just one more reason why our city matters " and why, as we noted in our first post-Katrina issue (Nov. 1, 2005), we must continue picking ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Mayor Ray Nagin predicts that 2008 will be another 'tipping point" in the city's long recovery. We hope so. Just as the historic reopening of the Superdome in September 2006 marked a turning point, we believe that New Orleans' championship performance during bowl season " along with the additional economic boosts anticipated this spring " will become another milestone for our city. As the LSU Tigers showed last Monday and throughout their championship season, there's no limit to what resilience can overcome.