It’s hard being a guy who doesn’t care about “Big 4” athletics. Countless times I’ve found myself at social gatherings where people attempt to make small talk by asking me about last weekend’s game, and I look at them like they just addressed me in a foreign language, asking if I could solve the square foot of infinity. Eventually, they sense that my cognitive networks are returning an error message, and I get the look—you know, the one that says, “You’re not one of us.”
No time of year does this emasculating scarlet letter of ignorance shine more boldly than during football season, especially in New Orleans. Following the Saints’s triumphant return to the Super Dome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006 and a subsequent 2010 Super Bowl win, football went from being a regional religion to a commandment—failure to ob-serve is heresy.
Unfortunately, the seeds of my indifference were planted early. My mother, a psychologist specializing in brain injuries, forbade me from even thinking about football in the ‘90s (turns out she was ahead of her time ... thanks, Mom!). To this day, this parental-blacklisting has left me illiterate to the rules and nomenclature of the sport; however, it was my father who truly drove me away from game. I remember watching him get red in the face, screaming at the “Ain’ts” through the TV, every season after defeated season. I couldn’t understand why he would let something he has no control over put him at an increased risk of a stroke or heart attack every weekend.
My bewilderment carries on to this day. When the Saints lose, locals slump through their week like a sad Charlie Brown with an ever-present stormy cloud following him around. New Orleanians’s fickle fandom confounds me. If your children bring home a bad report card, do you wear a paper bag over your head whenever they’re around until they make the honor roll? Either you’re all-in or all-out—show some loyalty.
When the tables are turned, though, everyone is ecstatic. They explode into the office Monday morning like a SWAT team kicking in El Chapo’s front door, proclaiming victory. Sorry to break it to you, but you didn’t actually win anything—you watched. The only points you possibly scored binging on beer and wings from your couch were added to your waistline and subtracted from your brain cells. Even more mind-numbing is the eruption of fan riots in the aftermath of a historic win, such as the drunken destruction of public property (not to mention decency) in Philadelphia following their Super Bowl victory earlier this year. Imagine if at the end of World War II, the Allied Forces’s civilian populations all obliterated their respective countries in celebration. It’s as if sports spectatorship is the social god particle that gives mass to stupidity.
That being said, everyone should admire athletic competitors: They are focused, disciplined, and driven to be their best selves on the field. These are all traits embodied by society’s most successful leaders and behaviors we should all strive to practice.
Attending LSU in the early aughts, I feared my athletic apathy would leave me cast out of the gates of Tiger Country like a teenager on Bourbon Street with no fake ID. However, to my surprise, I came to embrace football season. While 99 percent of our state capital’s population packed into Tiger Stadium, my artsy friends and I had free run of the city. Movie theaters, restaurants, downtown bars—you could walk into them all like you owned the place. When the jocks are away, the geeks will play.
My social circle splintered when I moved back home post-graduation. In an attempt to upgrade my small talk game, I decided I was finally going to make a concerted effort to follow football—at least enough to keep up in a conversation. This pursuit was short lived because of the internet. Fantasy sports had become an online obsession sometime around 2006; now, I not only had to follow “my” team’s success, but every other team as well. To be competitive, you had to be current on individual player stats, up-and-coming players’s stats, and other stats. It was too much, and my historic foundation was too anemic for me to ever catch up. I quit.
What is it about bros and sports that I deemed this “upgrade” necessary? I felt like a fat kid on a diet, force-feeding himself a salad when a slab of chocolate cheesecake was just within fork’s reach. I don’t torture myself watching E! just so I can tell one Kardashian from the other should my wife mention them in conversation.
Luckily, I was back in New Orleans. Like college, while the city’s lemmings followed the NFL and NCAA into a seasonal ocean of quarters and kickoffs, I decided I would make the most of my weekend-long moratorium on the masses.
If you’re like me and would need to spontaneously combust to care less that there’s a game on, do yourself a favor and don’t just Netflix-and-chill. For the next few hours, you get to be Will Smith in I Am Legend. Make it count.
Sunday Funday (Without the Wait)
Fewer crowds makes it easier to get to places more quickly and enjoy yourself without a wait. Game time provides the perfect opportunity to explore the city without being overwhelmed by the usual mosh-pit of weekend warriors.
One thing my wife and I love to do during this time is visit local museums. The New Orleans Museum of Art and The Sculpture Garden at NOMA (1 Collins Diboll Cir.; pictured above) in City Park are both a peaceful way to spend an afternoon. While you’re there, you could also go for a bike ride around the park or rent a paddle boat for a different view of its lush scenery. Stop at Cafe DuMonde (56 Dreyfous Dr.; pictured below) for a coffee and beignets and sit under one of the parks majestic, centuries-old oak trees. If you truly want to take a scenic route off the beaten path, locate Couturie Forest off Harrison Avenue, towards the back of the park. Walking its remote trails, surrounded by nothing but wildlife and the sounds of nature, you will feel like you are hundreds of miles from the city—there is nowhere else in the city like Couturie Forest if you want to unplug and clear your head.
Though parking may be a bit more daunting, heading towards the city—especially if it is a home game— downtown and the CBD are also rich with options. The Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St.), Ogden Museum (925 Camp St.), and The National World War II Museum (945 Magazine St.; pictured below) in the CBD are all a short walk from each other and will be easier to navigate, thanks to reduced foot traffic. Southern Food and Beverage Museum & Museum of the American Cocktail (1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.), just down the road Uptown, is also a great option for those who prefer their art to be of the culinary kind.
If you would rather take in your culture outside, city tours are a great way explore the city while learning about its storied past. The French Quarter offers countless walking tours, everything from history tours (Historic New Orleans Tours: TourNewOrleans.com) to ghost tours (Haunted History Tour: HauntedHistoryTour.com). Feel like day drinking? Learn the stories behind some of New Orleans's most revered cocktails while sampling hurricanes, Sazeracs, and pra-line liquor on the New Orleans Drink & Learn Tour (DrinkAndLearn.com). If you are looking for something less structured that you can do at your own pace, download a city guide from FreeToursByFoot.com and rent a bike from The American Bike Rental Company (318 N. Rampart St.). For those looking to experience Louisiana Life outside the Crescent City, try a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters (cajunencounters.com).
Heading down toward the Marigny/Bywater area, take a stroll through Crescent Park (2300 N. Peters St.) for a gorgeous view of the Mississippi River, as well as a handful of installations from Prospect 4 (prospectneworleans.org). When you are done, stop by Bacchanal Wine & Spirits (600 Poland Ave.; pictured above) for a delicious wine and cheese pairing while you enjoy jazz music in their scenic outdoor setup. You can also enjoy a more hands-on musical afternoon at the Music Box Village (4557 N. Rampart St.), exploring its many avant-garde instrumental installations.
Finally, just because you don’t enjoy watching sports that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy participating in them. Last year, I wrote the article "8 Ways to Discover Adventure In-And-Near New Orleans This Summer" for Where Y’at, outlining extreme sports options in our area. A trampoline park (Sector 6 Extreme Air Sports: Sector6.us), a water park (Blue Bayou: BlueBayou.com), an indoor bouldering facility (New Orleans Boulder Lounge: ClimbNola.com), and a cable wakeboarding track (Cajun X Cables: CajunXCables.com) are all in or within driving distance of New Orleans. All will experience attenuated attendance on behalf of game day . . . be a real sports enthusiast and give one of these activities a try.
While being a football noob does make you stand out like a sore thumb during the fall, it doesn’t mean the season is without its benefits. Here’s to hoping you make your own winning season.