If there’s one thing New Orleans knows how to do, it’s throw a party — and that’s what greeted the Ragin’ Cajuns as they got off their team bus near the entrance to the team hotel Tuesday in advance of Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl.
A jazz band was waiting for the team to arrive and started cycling through the New Orleans classics as they got off the bus. Mardi Gras beads were draped over players’ and coaches’ necks as they grabbed their luggage.
Speaking over a booming brass rendition of “Iko Iko,” sophomore running back Elijah McGuire said it wasn’t his type of music — but that couldn’t keep the smile off his face and it wouldn’t stop him from saying the word “fun” five times in a 90-second interview.
It was just the opposite for senior safety Sean Thomas, a New Orleans native, who paused mid-interview so he could bob his head to his hometown sound.
“I feel right at home,” said senior wide receiver James Butler, another New Orleanian, right after joking that he might pretend that his athletic eligibility doesn’t run out Saturday. “This is where I’m from.”
UL-Lafayette Athletic Director Scott Farmer didn’t travel with the team, but he made sure to be there when the team arrived — as he always does — to be a part of the experience.
“I make it a point to be there every year to watch the faces of the players and coaches getting off the bus,” Farmer said. “I think it’s something special, I think it’s kind of New Orleansy with the jazz band. You can look in their eyes and see that it means something to them.
“That kind of rejuvenates me. That makes all this hard work worth it.”
That’s what Tuesday was about for the Cajuns. The trip to New Orleans marked the culmination of the hard work that went into salvaging a season that started 1-3.
But there was an underlying theme for the players and coaches as they started their week-long stay in New Orleans on Tuesday, and that, in the words of Bulter and coach Mark Hudspeth, was “to keep the main thing the main thing.”
That main thing? To take a New Orleans Bowl title back home for the fourth consecutive year, and that requires a little more work.
The Cajuns hit the weights before they got on the bus to New Orleans but received most of the rest of the day off. After a bowl orientation meeting, the team went to dinner together before catching the Pelicans-Jazz game. Mixing work with pleasure is part of why his team has been so successful in its last three bowl appearances.
“We’re working our kids but we’re also rewarding our kids,” Hudspeth said. “You’ve got to remember, it’s a bowl game. It’s got to be a reward, and I think they feel that. But when it’s time to work, they work.”
They’ll be back at practice Wednesday morning, aiming at finishing their fourth consecutive 9-4 season that ends with a New Orleans Bowl championship.
Hudspeth and a good bit of his players have heard the music before. It’s part of the allure of coming to New Orleans for a bowl game, Hudspeth said.
It’s also a signal of what’s to come.
“Hearing that music lets us know that, you know what? We’ve finally got to the bowl,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve been ... lifting, practicing and meeting, now the fun stuff sort of begins. Excited to hear that, excited to be here.
“Our kids are coming here to win the football game, and I know Nevada is too. I think it’s going to be an outstanding game, and hopefully we can play awfully well.”