Seeing devastation first-hand in New Orleans
Ken Fowler | Sunday, December 31, 2006
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a week-long series of articles from New Orleans The Observer will publish on its Web site in anticipation of the Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl. Check back for mid-day updates on practices, player interviews and local features from now through game day.
NEW ORLEANS – Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis knows playing against LSU in the Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome Jan. 3 will be essentially a road game for the Irish, but he did his best the first two days of the team’s stay here to get his players’ feet wet in the Crescent City.
Each Irish player arrived Wednesday, and on Thursday Weis had the team join in the continuing cleanup efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While Notre Dame will visit West Jefferson Medical Center Jan. 1, Weis didn’t inform the media of the team’s first occasion of charitable work
“We fed them [Thursday] and had a meeting and then did a little community service because we did not want to misconstrue it like PR,” Weis said. “We just wanted to give our players a little taste of the devastation that actually occurred in this area because sometimes, when you hear about it, it is a little different than when you see it.”
Weis said he felt the community service was an important part of the New Orleans experience for the Irish players. Friday marked the 16-month anniversary of Katrina’s landfall
“Last year on a recruiting trip, I went to a couple of local high schools and I ask a local policeman to drive me through some of the really bad areas,” Weis said. “What our players have seen are not nearly as bad as some of those areas are. I think that everyone that comes down here should get on a tour guide bus and really go through and see this is what they’re talking about. A year later you go through and it is unbelievable to see what you see.”
LSU coach Les Miles offered sentiments similar to those of Weis.
“You come in [to New Orleans] on I-10 and see the Superdome, and it brings back memories of Katrina,” Miles said. “And as you go around the city, everyone seems to want to share and relive their experiences with that storm. I can tell you it’s an emotional event for us.”
Miles said he would bring a delegation of his team to the Habitat for Humanity Musicians’ Village, where new homes continue to be constructed. He said he made it voluntary for the players but “suggested very strongly” that they invest in the rebuilding of New Orleans in some form.
“I suggested that they come and see what Habitat for Humanity is doing for this state and the fact that people are reclaiming land the storm had taken,” Miles said. “A lot of guys are from and around the city and have taken the same tour.”
According to figures provided by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, 18,700 of the 81,000 businesses in the greater New Orleans open before Katrina hit were still closed in October. Much of the damage to city businesses came in the form of flooding.
“Look at the water lines and to me that is the scariest thing,” Weis said. “To realize the water was that high is scary thought. I’m not to second-guess anyone. I am just happy that the University of Notre Dame is here together with LSU, which seems to be the perfect matchup to get some cash flow into this city.”
Gregory Blackwell, director of media relations for the Sugar Bowl, said the game’s average economic impact on the area was $175 million, with the Jan. 3, 2005, contest between Auburn and Virginia Tech setting the high-water mark of $200 million. Auburn won that game, 16-13.
Weis gave his players extra privileges for their second night in New Orleans. But anyone to break curfew – especially Thursday night’s extended deadline – would forfeit the remainder of his visit to the Big Easy.
“I had bed check last night,” Weis said. “It was late, but they know if they are not there they are going home. Case closed. Non-negotiable. I don’t know if there were people running up the stairs two minutes beforehand, but I did bed check and everyone was there sleeping or faking like they were sleeping.”
Check back regularly for mid-day and nightly updates from New Orleans through game day.
Contact Ken Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org