Column from New Orleans: Could Louisville-Kentucky hoops compare to Iron Bowl?

Tuesday update: Turns out I was premature in my praise for civility. My vision came true two days later. See for yourself with video.

Take a read over my first-person column from yesterday’s Final Four. It’s not what I typically do, but this was one of the more enjoyable experiences writing. And thank goodness for the iPhone. It’s the first full print assignment I’ve written on it exclusively …

NEW ORLEANS — The sun was out and the air warm, but this city was up to no good.

I was sure of it.

Chilly handshake (AP photo)

You can’t put two hated rivals with unprecedented stakes in a city famous for excess. While driving through the French Quarter late Saturday morning, I thought Louisville and Kentucky fans certainly must be ripping limbs.

This was the Final Four. Call the National Guard and hide the kids. Fur and feathers were sure to fly.

Absolutely, this was can’t-miss carnage. So, on a whim, I drove south for a front row seat. Could this compare to the Iron Bowl? Would New Orleans look like it did three months ago for the BCS championship?

Almost and yes.

(Full disclosure: I grew up in Louisville and wore a red shirt all day but went home feeling blue.)

Basketball nirvana

This was a once-in-a-lifetime odyssey to a basketball nirvana I never dreamed into reality. Missing it would be criminal.

What I found was a harmonious gathering of red and blue on Bourbon Street. The crowd wasn’t quite what it was in January, but considering the drive of 10-plus hours from the bluegrass, I was blown away.

Anyone unable to spell “Cards” or “Cats” got a full-throated crash course.

There’d be no one left to riot back home. Before the game it was frighteningly civil. I expected blood in the streets. All we got was rotting booze and dismissive glances. Imagine that being the case if the Tide and Tigers ever met under such circumstances.

Honestly, it’s hard to compare these two rivalries.

Louisville-Kentucky is city versus county. The hate is concentrated heavily in Louisville whereas the Iron Bowl is just as intense from Ardmore to Fairhope.

The hate, well, at least extreme distaste, isn’t quite the year-round sport in Kentucky. It’s still a top-5 feud, just not on the Iron Bowl’s unattainable level.

The unexpected nature of this matchup packed the fun into one wild week. The BCS had a full month to gain steam. Pack that into six days, and you get the ultimate experience.

Quiet Bourbon Street

Yet these unprecedented stakes didn’t yield embarrassing moments.

I know this. I patrolled the Krystal on Bourbon Street more than once.

Nothing.

Just greasy burgers in a box.

This was supposed to be a Hunter S. Thompson-style journey into the heart of savage reality. Where was the rising smoke on the horizon?

Don’t get me wrong, the French Quarter didn’t disappoint. Some people can’t handle this city. Tipoff was still hours away when one bar patron in red turned green and ran for the trash can.

I’m not sure if she ever made it inside the Superdome. I certainly wasn’t expecting to witness this one in person. Chronicle the crime in progress was my assignment.

Then came the Hail Mary I never intended to throw. A high school buddy I hadn’t seen in a decade had an extra ticket. For free. Thank you, Brent Wheeler.

The sportsmanship ended inside the dome. It was serious business, after all, once the ball was tipped.

My voice cracked when Peyton Siva’s 3 tied it midway through the second half. This half-cocked trip was getting surreal. Mayhem was averted, now a miracle?

Ultimately, no. Kentucky 69, Louisville 61.

Certainly the postgame scene would turn ugly. All the cheer-spelling must have crossed the line after the sun set.

Back to Bourbon. Time to survey the damage. Again, all quiet.

Order was in tact, as one of New Orleans’ finest promised me.

It was more civil than war.

All was well when I hit send …

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