NEW ORLEANS -- The thought occurred to me, as I was plodding through the mile or so walk from Bourbon Street to the Superdome, that all the red and blue could have been an optical illusion. Maybe the Kansas and Ohio State fans were blending in with the Louisville and Kentucky masses. Maybe the UL-UK crowds weren't as dominant as they seemed. Maybe it was more evenly split.
Upon closer examination -- i.e., my looking at the actual writing on blue and red shirts, an unscientific but trustworthy method -- I was ready to call this thing. The results are in, and they are what we thought they were: Louisville and Kentucky fans have overtaken this Final Four.
Perhaps the most surprising portion of that statement is that Louisville deserves equally warranted mention in the equation. In fact, Cardinals fans were ubiquitous at the bars and restaurants on Bourbon Street these past two days, outnumbering Kansas and Ohio State fans easily. Even Kentucky fans seemed to fall behind in sheer quantity, at least last night. SeatGeek.com released its ticket purchasing info in graphic form Thursday, and its data showed more tickets being purchased in the city of Louisville than the entire state of Kansas. We should have seen the red storm coming.
Needless to say, Kentucky fans caught up today. They have descended in the requisite anticipated droves, forming what was a nearly 50/50 red-blue split on Bourbon Street and the avenues and throughfares leading to the Superdome. On Bourbon I saw competing "C-A-R-D-S" and "C-A-T-S" chants, empty plastic beer cups flung in every direction, beads and tchotchkes and every possible design in the "T-shirt as trash talk" genre.
These people were occasionally tossing things, and every once in a while they'd turn serious and scream, but for the most part there was a surprisingly good humor to it all. For all the talk of how much these two sets of folks hate each other -- for all the worry about what would happen when Kentucky and Louisville transplanted their distaste into this den of sin -- there was a more casual, jovial quality in the streets. Maybe things won't be quite so angry after all. Or maybe, after a few more plastic cups get drained, the madness will ensue.
Either way, we've got two very big games to decide first. I can't wait for Kansas-Ohio State; I think it could very well be an epic. But if you needed a reminder of what this weekend is really all about, all you have to do is step foot on the streets of New Orleans and look closely at some T-shirts. It's all UL-UK everything, and that won't stop until someone goes home.
They're ready. I'm ready. Let's do this thing.