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AIN'T BEEN EASY IN "THE BIG EASY"

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      It's time to turn this thing around.

      "This thing" being New Orleans.

      It sure is a fun city. The weather's generally nice, the food's great, there's a wide variety of music and there's plenty of sights to be seen (some of which you just don't see in Cincinnati). For a full review of the city, I'd have to refer to radio play-by-play man Dan Hoard who used to go to New Orleans like some of us around here pack the Airstream for Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg.

      Dan's a "foodie", he knows the restaurants in the French Quarter and the Garden District (and whatever other districts exist in "The Big Easy").

      Me?

      I can't tell you much about the food there other than that Dan's steered me to a few good places and pretty much told me what to order. So, if you want New Orleans food advice, see Dan Hoard.

      For entertainment, Jim Kelly's your man. In my fortunate years of being involved in the radio broadcasts, Jim was always up for finding a good time somewhere. Turns out in New Orleans, it's all over. Of course, it's up to you to weigh what's a good time and what might get you lit up on You Tube or Facebook.

      Bourbon Street is kind of like being morphed into a kid again, taken to Toys-R-Us all jacked up on Yoo Hoo and having the run of the place. Of course, the same rules apply...you can look, but you better not touch.

      There are a lot of rules in New Orleans, one of those being the "Hurricane Rule". Again, I'd have to refer you to Jim Kelly on that one (or if you see me in person, I can explain).

      The problem with New Orleans has nothing to do with the nightlife, food or atmosphere. It has to do with the distractions.

      Nothing there is like here. The weather's warmer, the city's noisier and the stadium is indoors.

      It's the Louisiana Superdome.

      As you enter the city, it looks like something that landed in any number of alien invader movies. As you enter the dome, you definitely know that you're not in your typical football stadium.

      There is no wind factor, the seats are much further away than Nippert, and you kind of get the feeling that you're taking in a game in the world's largest rec room. There's no advantage for the cold weather team or the warm weather team. It's indoors on fake turf and as artificial as it comes.

      Not that it's a terrible place, it's just that UC's history there is lousy and THAT'S where this thing has to turn around.

      Perhaps this is the year, as this particular team has guys that have experienced wins indoors at the International Bowl (Rogers Centre) and twice at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.       However, as for playing inside in New Orleans, the UC Bearcats haven't won since beating the Tulane Green Wave 21-14 in 1976.

      Not trying to be a downer here, just stating the facts over the years in the Superdome. After Tony Mason's '76 'Cats won, Ralph Staub's '77 version fell the next year 16-13. Then comes a slew of games I'm more familiar with.

      In 1990, I had moved back to Cincinnati from Tampa and got to meet UC coach Tim Murphy. Real nice guy, but the team was awful and had a brutal schedule. That 1-10 group had Iowa, West Virginia, Florida State and Alabama on the menu that year. They also had a game in the Superdome with Tulane. As I recall, Tim Bray and Dave Lapham did it on Channel 19 and it was painful television with UC losing 49-7.

      Then, there's the four games I did in New Orleans with the radio crew. In 1997, it was UC's best chance to win as they had a lot of talent (five were drafted into the NFL off that Humanitarian Bowl winning squad). The Bearcats jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, but then Tommy Bowden's Green Wave led by Shaun King (who later QB'd Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy) came back strong beating up the Bearcats 31-17. Deontey Kenner actually played quarterback late in that game his freshman year and led UC to a "garbage time" score. He wouldn't take another snap 'til the bowl game in Boise some three and a half months later. That loss in New Orleans was one of four that season for a team that should've been no worse than 10-1.

      The highlight of that trip (the one I can print)?

      Dan Hoard and fellow food fanatic Brian McCann (former UC football SID) got us reservations at Emeril's. McCann was so excited that he seemed somewhat flushed while gazing at the menu on the Delta charter heading south. Pretty exotic and ritzy food. I never knew a meal could last three hours.

      Plus, we ran into former Bengal Jeff Blake as we were leaving ("Shake and Blake" was a Saint then). Still, I'd take Popeye's Fried Chicken and a win over French cuisine and a thumpin'.

      In 2000, UC and Rick Minter returned. This time Deontey Kenner was the starting quarterback. Didn't matter--another loss in "Nawlins" 24-19. I honestly don't recall a bunch about this game other than I met a rep from the GMAC Bowl in Mobile on the sideline and he gave me a lapel pin. My guess is you can probably blame my memory lapse on a violation of the Hurricane rule.

      In 2002, the Bearcats got a pair of trips to the Crescent City. This was a typical Rick Minter season that saw UC underachieve early and then rally back to make a bowl of some form. The first visit came in October where I believe Gino Guidugli got dinged up and UC ended up getting buried by Tulane again 35-17. I do remember Minter taking a couple knees around the 1:00 mark before halftime and I voiced my displeasure on the radio (part of me is always fan).

      Later that season, after starting 2-5, UC finished 5-1 (with the one blemish being the infamous first trip to Hawaii). After rallying to beat East Carolina on December 6th (game was rescheduled due to hurricane storm flooding earlier in the fall) UC earned a trip to the first New Orleans Bowl just 11 days later.

      The downside was that the schedule didn't allow UC to get its allotted 15 bowl practices in and it really showed during the game with North Texas. While UC jumped out early in the Superdome once again, the Mean Green defense took over from there. In the end, after stubbornly "sticking to the run", Gino Guidugli was forced into obvious passing situations and just had one of his worst nights ever throwing five picks.

      Really, as bad as the game was, the highlight was actually UC basketball that night. The roundball 'Cats were playing Oregon in Madison Square Garden in a game they were widely picked to lose. All I remember is having Mo Egger yelling in my ear about, "Tony Bobbitt going nuts". After Minter's Bearcats racked up the 24-19 loss, we all found a TV in the Superdome to gather round and watch Bobbitt and company beat the Oregon team featuring the bushy-haired "Lukes" (Jackson and Ridnour).

      After we all returned to the hotel, being young and ignorant, we went out to the French Quarter (note: not advised if you have an 8 a.m. flight). I believe we got pictures with cheerleaders, UC players and North Texas players. Pretty much anyone.  It was fun.  New Orleans is a fun town.

      But, I'd trade all the fun and silliness around for a Sugar Bowl win over Florida. I'll sign that deal right now. Bearcats over the Gators and you can meet me in the New Orleans Marriott lobby with milk and cookies and a checkerboard.

      In the land of the Mardi (Mardy we hope) Gras, you can King me!

      It's time we turn this thing around.....



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