There are two things in my life that I cannot bear to ever part with: Soccer and the city of New Orleans. Unfortunately for me, it appears as if those two will never be friends. As a student at Tulane University, I’ve had to adapt to a different sports lifestyle (and I’m not going to even go into the atrocities that constitute Tulane athletics). Soccer on all levels took a seat in the back while the Saints and Hornets buckled up in the driver’s seat. Apparently that’s just the way it goes down here in the Big Easy, and I was almost ready to accept that. Almost.
Let’s rewind two weekends ago – NFC Championship Sunday. I awoke early in my Reggie Bush jersey and stumbled outside my room to catch a glimpse of downtown. Through the fog and morning haze I could see the roof of the Superdome, preparing itself to be blown off from sheer noise and jubilation when the Saints took the field later that night. Simply put, the city was in an uproar.
We packed into a bar uptown an hour before kickoff while munching on po’boys and sipping Abita Amber (is that enough NOLA for you yet)? The atmosphere, I assure you, was electric. I’m not going to give a play-by-play recap of the entire championship, but I’ll let you know that for every second of the turbulent game, not one person left the bar or refused to give up hope. Decibel levels reached new heights when Garrett Hartley kicked the field goal in overtime as fans danced on tables. An older man, quiet and unemotional the entire game, simply put his head on the table and wept. Cell phone service almost completely shut down for the night; it took seven tries to reach my cousin across the city. Fireworks were popping, cars were honking, and in one instance I saw fireworks being shot out of a moving car.
The journey downtown and yes I would consider it nothing tamer than that, consisted of our car being mobbed at every corner of St. Charles by Saints supporters spilling out of bars and apartments. After parking illegally (the police busy with other things), we witnessed a twelve person marching jazz band strolling down Canal Street, complete with black and gold banners, gleefully dancing fools, and continuous shouts of ‘Who Dat?!’. Hand Grenades were bought. Hurricanes were spilt. Hugs were welcome and abundant.
Can you imagine this response, this party, this ultimate and absolute backing of team for soccer in New Orleans? Anywhere in the U.S.? Absolutely not. Not to this extent.
Oddly enough, soccer still exists here. The beautiful game in the Big Easy operates in an underground manner, finding refuge beneath cracked sidewalks that plague the city. A good friend recently talked a bar owner into coming in early on weekends to broadcast EPL matches for a few local football fanatics. Even walking through campus, it’s not unusual to spot a soccer jersey here or there. But lately, I’ve seen most students forgo the big names for teams such as Tottenham, Lazio, and even an Australian National Team shirt. The New Orleans Jesters, a USL premier development team didn’t lose a single game in the regular season last summer. Jesuit New Orleans has one of the top high school soccer teams in the country with 23 wins and counting. Can anyone in the Who Dat Nation attest to that? Probably not.
But that doesn’t mean that soccer here is dead. No, it’s simply waiting its turn. There is still reason to hope that soccer will become more popular. Why not believe that a World Cup final berth will invoke the same sense of national pride and excitement? Now that will be the real party.
Tim Patterson is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org