NEW ORLEANS -- Everything you are about to read is true. It's the Super Bowl. You don't have to make stuff up.
Especially when the Super Bowl is in New Orleans, which is where all Super Bowls belong. It's the eighth matchup of the ultimate party and the ultimate party town, where the Big Excess meets the Big Easy in a best-of-three-falls, winner-takes-all competition. It's Mardi Gras with face masks and, this year, also cheeseheads. Head-butting is not only allowed but also encouraged.
In other words, anything's possible.
For instance, you can sit down with Packers star Reggie White, who will tell you of his conversation with God in which Reggie says he and the Lord discussed, among other pressing matters, like maybe famine and flood, the Packers' offensive coordinator.
Or, because it's New Orleans, you also can sit down with a local voodoo priestess who doesn't want to take sides between the Packers and Patriots because, she says, it is unwise to "jump between the two life forces." Ask her yourself. Priestess Miriam has her own Web page: http: //gnofn.org/voodoo. And you can e-mail her at: voodonofn.org. Priestess Miriam has done more interviews in the past week than Brett Favre's dad.
No one knows exactly when the Super Bowl stopped being about football. Maybe it goes as far back as Joe Namath, who moved quickly from Super Bowl guarantees to hawking pantyhose. Certainly, it was clear that football was beside the point by the time of Super Bowl XX, which is XI Super Bowls ago. That one was also played in New Orleans, and played hard, at least up to the time of the game.
That was the week during which Jim McMahon mooned the helicopter and the week during which a radio guy announced on the air that McMahon had called New Orleans women a derogatory name. The only thing was, McMahon never said anything of the kind. Death threats followed and also, eventually, a very bad football game in which McMahon and the Bears clobbered the Patriots.
McMahon is back. The Patriots are back. And the offending radio guy, who was fired briefly, is back, too. He was just named to lead a Mardi Gras parade.
McMahon, now the Packers' backup quarterback, made his first public appearance this week in shades and sporting an earring and also an attitude. He can't play anymore, but he knows something about making an entrance.
Asked what he would do this week, he said, "None of your business."
Asked what kinds of things he might do this week, he said, "None of your business."
Asked what advice he gave Brett Favre, well, you get the idea. But Favre came in wearing shades, too. He said the advice he got from McMahon was to not get arrested.
Well, yes. But this is New Orleans, the town that care forgot. And if they brought in extra cops because they didn't want anybody important, like say a linebacker, murdered, they weren't about to issue too many rules, either. The main one is not to act like a Dallas Cowboy. You can hit Bourbon Street hard and you can wear a cheesehead while doing it. No one will hassle you, except perhaps a Patriots fan.
At Arnaud's, an upscale Bourbon Street eatery only a few blocks from Big Daddy's, where the sign says you can "wash the girl of your choice," you're allowed to wear cheeseheads in the dining room. But only, sniffed the maitre d', if you wear a jacket, too.
Actually, sniffing on Bourbon Street can be dangerous. Everything on Bourbon Street is dangerous, except the tourists and the strip joints and the blues joints. For a hip town, New Orleans is as polyester-friendly as Vegas. Instead of chorus girls, you get female impersonators. The real danger is in the $5 hurricanes -- fruit juice and enough rum to float a barge down the Big Muddy -- they sell on the streets. No one cares where you drink in New Orleans. And there are no hours. One woman, Nancy Dowling of western Massachusetts, was carrying two oversized concoctions the other night. "I'm drinking a hurricane and my friend is drinking a hand grenade," she said. "We don't even know what that is."
That's the kind of excess the NFL can get behind. You've heard, too many times, all the Super Bowl numbers. They mean everything and they mean nothing: the $1.2 million, 30-second ,, commercial, the 3,000 media, the $275 ticket, the around-the-world broadcast to be seen by every single living soul in the world except this one guy in Tibet who refuses to get cable.
Excess isn't a byproduct of the Super Bowl. It has become the point of the Super Bowl. At the annual, invitation-only (and only about 3,000 people, most of them Ford dealers, get them) commissioner's party, they didn't simply have a woman wrapped in a real snake in the voodoo lounge. They also had live alligators, perhaps to eat the leftovers. Favorite moment of the week: It's the Oscar Mayer halftime show news conference. James Brown, part of the entertainment, has just announced (remember, everything is true): "I feel good. OW." And then Dan Aykroyd, who's performing as part of the Blues Brothers, says of the Oscar Mayer representative and his product: "We've got a good clean man here selling good clean meat. With a little yellow mustard and slapped on some Wonder Bread, bologna is one of my favorites."
John Goodman is also part of the Blues Brothers. He can't sing, but he did pass the weight test.
"They should have all the Super Bowls here," he said. "I love this town. I met my wife here. I live near here. I've gotten up some mornings wondering how I got here. It's a party."
He's a football fan, too, and actually roots for the Saints. Press him on a pick in today's game, and he goes with the Packers.
"Actually," Goodman says, "I'm just winging it."
Welcome to New Orleans, cher. Everyone here is winging it.
Bourbon Street mix
If you fall ill on the streets of New York, people grumble about having to step over you or around you. In New Orleans, there is still a chance, diminishing perhaps, that somebody will drag you into the neighborhood bar and pay the innkeeper for a shot of Early Times. -- novelist Walker Percy from "Signposts in a Strange Land."
When you first hit Bourbon Street, just past Canal, one step into the French Quarter, you believe you really might be in the town that care forgot. This is before you meet up with your first hooker, your first $5 hurricane, your first T-shirt shop featuring officially licensed Super Bowl merchandise or a $25 cheesehead. There's a guy blowing a sax, a lonely bluesy wail, and if you don't drop some money in his hat, you should be made to turn back. You don't belong here. Rachelle belongs. A stripper at the Silver Frolics, Rachelle is on break. She doesn't know much about football, but she has an idea about football fans.
"The ones with the cheeseheads -- where are they from, Green Bay? -- tip better," she says. "And they're a little rowdier. Maybe they like a little more wine with their cheese." Everyone's got wine, or more likely huge beers -- there's a guy carrying a sign up and down Bourbon that says just that: "Huge Beers" -- or a $2 concoction called a tooter that's sold out of something looking like a test tube. Drinking is to New Orleans what the trumpet was to Louis Armstrong, except Louis had fewer hangovers.
Here's what you do on Bourbon Street between gulps as the music pours from the clubs and the hawkers try to bring the crowds in: If you're from Wisconsin, as a majority of the fans here seem to be, you yell, with no prompting, PACKERS. You keep yelling until, and it shouldn't take long, somebody yells back: PACKERS. It's like a mating ritual. You yell back, he yells back. You give him a thumbs-up. And then somebody yells PATRIOTS. And you know the rest. Apparently, this can amuse people for hours, or until they see a TV "news" team doing a Bourbon Street stand-up and then the idea is to yell as if the TV person were an opposing quarterback and you were trying to drown out the play. This is called either putting on your game face or acting like an idiot.
According to a suitably arcane NFL statistic, 32 percent of the fans here are on expense account. The rest of them are on Bourbon Street. Some don't even have tickets. They all drove down from Wisconsin or New England, usually without stopping until they hit their first New Orleans watering hole.
Terry Gokey, of Oakfield, Wis., is here with his wife, Sandy, not only to see his beloved Packers. He's on a mission. It's Wednesday and he has driven 17 consecutive hours and now he is cruising Bourbon. "It's great," he says. But that's not why he's here. "I'm going to deliver a T-shirt to Kiln that says, 'Cheeseheads Rule.' It came from a bar in Fond du Lac and I'm going to hang it at the Broke Spoke." As you must know, nearby Kiln, Miss., is the home of Brett Favre, and the Broke Spoke is the town's favorite redneck bar. It would be Graceland if Elvis had played quarterback. "We just had to go there," Gokey says.
John Letourner, of Montague, Mass., and three of his buddies jumped in a Winnebago and drove for 28 hours. "We stopped in New York City for two hours to party there," he says. They don't have tickets. They're sleeping in the Winnebago parked somewhere on the edge of town near the river. They're willing to pay $500 for a ticket. "We hear the best way to get a ticket is to wait until the game begins and you can get him a face value," he says. "If we don't get in, we'll just watch it in a bar. The main thing is to be here."
The Quarter's edge
The Abbey is a non-tourist bar on the edge of the Quarter. Many of the patrons are missing important teeth. Out front is a sign that reads: A Tale of Two Cities. New Orleans, La. Population 475,000. 23 murders so far this year. Boston, Mass. Population 565,000. 3 murders. Mike Zembower owns the bar and it's his sign, too.
"Come here about 3 a.m. if you want to see the real Quarter," he says. "You get a biker next to a transvestite talking to a stock broker, and everyone is having a great time."
But Zembower worries about the Quarter, where residents have put up signs warning tourists of crime concerns. New Orleans averages more than a murder a day. The tourists can find the latest murders suitably grisly: A woman was convicted this week of murdering her parents for money to play video machines, to which she is apparently addicted. Others, who have to live here, are not so amused.
"Nobody wants to talk about the crime because it scares away the tourists," says Zembower, who keeps a running tally of New Orleans and Boston murders on his bar window. "So nobody does anything about it. It's like Never Never Land."
An informal poll of tourists along Bourbon reveals people are not afraid in New Orleans. People tend to be braver after a few, or a few dozen, pops. Tourists are busy eating, drinking, seeing Mary naked, although in this town, Mary is as likely as not to be a guy. This is not as likely to happen to you if you live in, say, Green Bay.
There is much to do. For history buffs, there are informal tours, such as tours of past Super Bowl excesses. Check out Chris Owens' Bourbon Street club where, back in the year of Super Bowl XV, John Matuszak partied until he had to be fined $1,000 for missing curfew. Except the Raiders, being the Raiders, had no actual curfew. And yet, they did expect the Tooz to get back to the hotel before 5 a.m. He said he was out making sure none of the other Raiders were getting in trouble.
"John put a chair up on the stage that night," Owens recalls. "He was having a great time." As evidence of this fun time, she remembers: "I saw him carrying a girl on his shoulders down Bourbon Street.
Others prefer the voodoo tour, where you can learn to hex someone (write his name nine times and stick it in the mouth of a live snake; so you have to really be committed). You can also learn about Congo Park, where voodoo was born here in the slave culture amid stories of great orgiastic revelry. This week it's where they hold the Sega NFL players party, a big blowout for the football-inclined. As you can see, and as they count on here, nothing much changes.
Pub Date: 1/26/97