What's Up Down There

If you had any doubts about the power of emotion or whether there is such a thing as a home-field advantage in professional football, they were taken care of Monday night. New Orleans played eight or nine clicks over their collective head, played like a Super Bowl champion, and destroyed a good Atlanta team. Utterly.

Which got me to thinking about Louisiana sports, in general. Which caused me to call the Houma Courier sports desk. The Courier is a 20,000 circulation daily entering its 128th year of publication. Houma, the city, is the parish seat of Terrebonne Parish, located 58 miles southwest of New Orleans.

Sportswriter Ray Legendre, 21, is on the phone. He's been working there, "since I started college part-time. Started full-time this year, after I graduated." We trade opinions about the Saints and then I ask, "How would you compare local sports before Katrina versus now?"

"The schools closest to New Orleans aren't back at full speed yet," Legendre says. "You've got John Curtis [Christian School] -- I'm sure you've heard of them; they're nationally known for their football program. They're back to full strength. But, a lot of high school teams in New Orleans share stadiums. They've been hit hard. The Catholic League schools, there's Rummel [High School], there's Jesuit [High School], they're back to normal. ESPN just did a piece on the John Ehret [High School] basketball team from New Orleans. They stepped up and came together after Katrina. John Ehret is a public school, and they won the state championship in 5A basketball, which is the top classification in our state. They pulled together the best players from a lot of different teams to do that. It's an amazing story." Legendre takes a breath. "I think sports got back to normal in the spring, with baseball. You could see the schools in New Orleans that were dominant before Katrina were coming back.

"I'm from New Orleans," Legendre says. "I've been back to New Orleans many times since Katrina. I've been through Ninth Ward. I've been to the affected areas. The inner-city schools haven't recovered as quickly as the schools on the outskirts of New Orleans. Private schools have come back in a big way. Like I said, John Curtis, Rummel, Jesuit, those schools."

I ask, "What do you see when you drive around New Orleans?"

"It depends where you go," Legendre says. "There are certain areas that still look like nuclear bombs were dropped on them. It's intense. Then, there are other areas. I was in the French Quarter a few nights ago, and it looked like nothing ever happened.

"I went to this woman's house for a story. She lives near the 17th Street canal. The levee broke and there was ten feet of water in people's houses. You could see the water line up near their roofs. She was one of the only people on her street. Her street had, probably, 1000 people on it before Katrina. There were cars on top of houses; it was a crazy situation. There's a huge amount of work to be done.

"The woman I talked to and the people I talked to, part of the problem was, they don't have enough police out there. Especially, with her, living where she did. She didn't have phone service. She and her husband were really scared. They're pioneers living in a new land. They had five murders in one night and that got people going crazy."

Five murders should do it. "The Superdome is sold out for the season," I say. "But, this swine Benson [team owner] is still going to move the team, don't you think?"

"That's the question. Before Katrina happened, you couldn't trust him as far as you can throw him. And now people, all of a sudden, are blindly having faith in him. I'll be honest: the signing of Reggie Bush did a whole lot for the team because if they would have been stuck with, say, somebody like A.J. Hawkins in the draft, I don't think they would have sold out," Legendre says. "But, if the Saints have a few losing seasons, and for some reason he's not able to turn a profit, he'd look somewhere else. I don't think he cares about New Orleans.

"Benson is looking at a base population of 230,000. He can't leave now because of Katrina, but I wouldn't book any bets after this year." I mention the Monday-night game again. Legendre says, "I'm kicking myself. I didn't buy season tickets. I travel with the local college team. We travel, and a lot of times I don't get back until Sunday afternoon, so I miss the Saints game. But, these [Monday night] tickets were selling for between $1000 and $2000. I could have bought season tickets for $200." Legendre laughs, "I was looking at it the wrong way. Where's my business sense?"

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