Long before Yulman Stadium even received its name, questions about how football games would impact the neighborhoods around Tulane University dominated discussions about the return of college football to the Uptown campus.
On Saturday, those questions were finally answered: On-street parking may have been tough to find, but traffic was relatively light, and many neighbors were thrilled to revive the front-yard parties associated with memories of the old Tulane Stadium.
“Going to the Dome spoiled my football experience at Tulane. I’m so glad, 40 years later, that we’re back, and I’m shocked at how quiet Audubon Boulevard is,” said Seph Dupuy, a 1970 Tulane graduate, as he attended a small gathering on that street. “I’m pleasantly surprised how well-controlled and easy it is to get around.”
The university was successful in coaxing the majority of the game-day mania onto the campus, where the open quadrangles designated as official tailgating zones were brimming with Green Wave fans partying under tents and around tables laden with all kinds of grilled food, tossing bean bags while bands played on a small stage.
The closest residential street to the stadium, Audubon Boulevard, was the center of much of the opposition to the stadium when it was first announced, but it was largely quiet on Saturday, perhaps even more so than usual.
Tulane fans walked in small groups down the sidewalk toward Willow Street, but there was virtually no vehicular traffic on Audubon, where printed signs politely “reminded” fans against tailgating in the neutral ground.
At the corner of Hickory Street and Audubon Boulevard, where the edge of Yulman Stadium rises over the rooftops, a dozen or so residents and their guests were sitting in lawn chairs and grilling on the front porch. The residents — many of whom moved onto the boulevard within the last year or so — were pleased with the way the first game day was unfolding.
“We’re excited about the stadium, but the construction process was tough,” Audubon Boulevard homeowner Christian Chauvin said.
The boulevard was accessible only to residents or their guests with parking passes. Police and parking attendants were posted at each entrance to the upscale street, in keeping with a promise university officials made to residents before construction began.
“It’s actually nicer on this street with the game going on,” said Madelaine Feldman, a guest at the gathering near Chauvin’s house.
Another new resident of Audubon Boulevard, Joel Waltzer, took advantage of the festivities to grill bratwurst on his front porch.
“Just having the stadium back Uptown, it’s a big deal for the city, and a big deal for Tulane,” Waltzer said. “I’m not even a Tulane grad. I’m just enjoying the spirit of it all.”
Robert Ramelli Jr. also bought his home on Audubon Boulevard after the stadium was announced, moving from State Street about two years ago. As kickoff time approached Saturday, Ramelli pushed his 1-year-old son Robert III down the block to visit the gathering outside the Chauvin house.
“I was pretty excited about it,” Ramelli said of the stadium, but he had decided to stay home for the game. “I kind of want to see how it’s going to be at my house,” he explained.
On other residential streets around the campus — Broadway and State, Palmer and Calhoun — on-street parking was hard to find, but the neighborhoods were otherwise largely quiet as fans quickly walked to the on-campus festivities.
One group of four friends parked on State near Ursuline Academy for actual tailgating before the game, gathering for drinks around the back of a gray Toyota Tacoma pickup.
All four used to work in the IT department at Baton Rouge General Hospital decades ago, and they have fond memories of the old Tulane Stadium, so they decided to reunite for Tulane’s home opener at the new facility.
“We’re the old cats,” Mark Theriot said.
“We’re all LSU fans, but we want to be part of history,” Paul Triche said. “We will be pulling for the Greenies today.”
Another small party gathered on a back porch alongside South Johnson Street, which dead-ends off Calhoun Street near the stadium. About half a dozen women — all married to athletic trainers and coaches associated with local football programs — joked about how their gathering was fodder for reality TV.
“We’re ‘The Football Wives of New Orleans,’ ” said Jody Price with a laugh as they prepared to head to the stadium. “We’re just so excited to finally have it open.”
The sense of calm extended to the cluster of small businesses at Calhoun Street and South Claiborne Avenue, to the slight disappointment of some owners. Several had increased their staffing in anticipation of crowds or even set out extra seating outside, but at Bayou Hot Wings, for example, orders were actually slower than usual for a Saturday afternoon of college football.
Although parking for customers was readily available in the lot outside, Bayou Hot Wings owner Allen Nguyen said some regular customers might have had a hard time reaching the store because of street closures. As kickoff time neared, he said he hoped he caught some of the crowd after the game.
“We’re loaded and ready to go,” he said. “They might come in afterward. I have my hopes.”
Also on South Claiborne near Calhoun, Oliver Delery Jr. was part of a group of Tulane graduates in the front yard of a home one of their fraternity brothers bought for his Tulane-bound son a few years back.
Knowing that the return of on-campus football was imminent, they kept the house just steps from the entrance to the stadium, and they were all making great use of it Saturday.
Delery called the stadium’s reopening part of “the rebirth of Tulane,” and he predicted that enthusiasm for the Green Wave will only grow over time.
“It’s so exciting to see all these people,” said Joyce Delery, his wife. “There’s so much spirit.”
Oliver Delery said his family’s season tickets to Tulane date back to the 1940s, but their attendance fell way off when the games were held in the Superdome in recent decades.
“You lost that intimacy. You lost the Tulane experience,” he said. “Now that’s it back, I think the Uptown community will end up embracing it. It will be a little warm, but I’d much rather have it on campus and have this atmosphere.”
Lt. Liz Belcher at New Orleans Emergency Medical Services said that despite the temperature, she did not hear about a lot of heat-related calls Saturday. “I know it was really, really hot, but we haven’t noticed a specific impact from it,” she said.
By 3 p.m., when the game was scheduled to begin, Audubon Boulevard was completely empty. The partiers had left to take their seats in the stadium, their lawn chairs were empty and the pedestrians were gone from the sidewalk. All was quiet — until the sudden roar of Tulane fans celebrating the Green Wave’s first touchdown in Yulman Stadium.