NEW ORLEANS -- If only this city's recovery from Hurricane
Katrina could be measured by the cheers and smiles in the rebuilt
The first Sugar Bowl back in New Orleans since the devastating
storm offered yet another chance for a wildly popular Louisiana
team to put on a crowd-pleasing performance here, and No. 4 LSU
came through with a 41-14 rout of No. 11 Notre Dame.
"There could be no place we'd rather play than in the Sugar
Bowl and in a state and city so close to our hearts," LSU coach
Les Miles said before accepting the winner's trophy.
About 16 months ago, the Superdome became an international
symbol for misery as floodwaters flowed in surrounding streets and
tens of thousands of storm evacuees suffered in hot, squalid
conditions for days.
In September, the NFL's Saints christened a $185 million
renovation with a convincing victory over the Atlanta Falcons on
Monday Night Football. The Saints continued to play so well that
Superdome workers will have to do something they've never done
before: wash out the Sugar Bowl design on the field and repaint a
black-and-gold fleur-de-lis for the Saints' first second-round home
playoff game in the franchise's four-decade history.
It's been one of the feel-good stories of the year, and after
LSU initially campaigned for the Rose Bowl, Tigers players and
coaches said repeatedly in recent days that they cherished the
opportunity to be a part of the story in rebuilding New Orleans.
The Tigers play their home games only 80 miles up the
Mississippi River from here. Their alumni and fans are prevalent in
New Orleans and all across parts of the Louisiana coast that were
devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. LSU has put together a
pair of 11-2 seasons since those storms, beating Miami 40-3 in the
Peach Bowl to conclude last season and blowing out the Fighting
Irish this year.
"Our guys would like to do more, but they really for two years
did what they were supposed to do, and that's play for the great
state of Louisiana," Miles said.
Much of the Superdome, much of the city even, had become a
festival of LSU purple and gold over the past few days. People
driving to work around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning found downtown
parking lots already dotted with LSU tailgate parties that got more
numerous and larger throughout the day.
Inside the Superdome, most of the crowd of 77,781, the
fourth-largest in Sugar Bowl history, were clad in LSU colors, and
the Tigers gave their fans plenty of memories to take home. Not the
least of those was quarterback JaMarcus Russell's stellar
performance in what was expected to be his final game for LSU.
He would not say whether he intended to come back for his senior
season, but the fans screamed for him to do so after he threw for
332 yards, including two 58-yard completions, one for a touchdown
to Brandon LaFell that put the game away.
Russell won the game's most outstanding player award and his
first bowl game, perhaps doing away with the notion espoused by
some of his critics that he falters in big games.
The local fans, meanwhile, had an outstanding time watching it