Just about everybody was at "Big" Jude Briscoe’s celebratory pre-game tailgate party Sunday, except Big Jude himself.
A Saints season ticket holder since 2006, Briscoe died in March of a heart attack at age 48. He’d purchased his tickets for this season just days before his death.
To honor his memory and his allegiance to the Saints, dozens of family members and friends gathered Sunday morning in a Poydras Street parking lot, the same lot where Briscoe’s employer, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, hosted a massive tailgate party for years.
Sunday's throw-down featured food, drink, memorial jerseys and a deejay spinning Frankie Beverly & Maze, the Hot Boys and “Stand Up and Get Crunk."
To cap it off, the To Be Continued Brass Band led a second-line procession to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the Saints-Buccaneers game kicked off at noon.
“We wanted to open the season with a tailgate dedicated to him,” said Briscoe's adult son, “Lil” Jude Briscoe Jr. “He would have been out here with us.”
In just about every NFL city, hopes and spirits run high before the regular season’s opening game. Such was the case among Saints faithful still blissfully unaware that their team was destined to lose Sunday's shoot-out with the underdog Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Earlier Sunday, vanishing parking lots near the Superdome were a larger concern than what proved to be the team’s porous defense. Many traditional tailgating lots have disappeared because of new construction in the burgeoning South Market District.
For years, Troy Bourgeois parked the pickup carrying his customized “Who-Dat Poo-Dat” port-a-potty in a lot on South Rampart Street that is now home to The Paramount, a retail/condo/restaurant development.
So Bourgeois moved across Lafayette Street to another lot, where the price of each parking slot increased $10 this year, thanks to shrinking supply and still-high demand.
“We’re running out of room,” he said.
But there was still enough space for a couple of shade canopies, tables laden with roast beef and crawfish bread, and the Who-Dat Poo-Dat.
Bourgeois and his brother, Jason, found the red port-a-potty abandoned along River Road during the Saints’ Super Bowl season in 2009. They cleaned it up and put it back into service, adding more decals and other decorations each year.
The Who-Dat Poo-Dat has proved especially popular with the 40 or so members of Bourgeois’ tailgating group. “Trust me, it gets filled, especially for a night game,” he said.
A friend with a vacuum truck cleans it out every week; it is stored in Avondale between games. “We’ve got it down to an art at this point,” Bourgeois said.
Along the sidewalk in the 1000 block of Julia Street, Jack Phillips and his crew from Morgan City cooked up deer sausage, burgers and back strips. Their tailgating menu changes with the season — the hunting and fishing season.
“We get to do this seven more times,” Phillips said. “We might wind up with rabbit, some nice duck. We might be frying fish. Other friends will join us with what their favorites are. But deer is our favorite.”
Confident about the merits of the upcoming menus, he was more cautious about the team’s prospects, predicting a 10-6 season.
“I am realistic,” Phillips said. “There are a few outdoor games, and we don’t do well outdoors. We’re a dome team.”
Across O’Keefe Avenue, Dale Hymel and Jason Legaspi manned a small blue grill laden with sausage and thin-cut pork chops, buoyed by a soundtrack of New Orleans hip-hop. Lifelong west bankers, they’ve spent 20 years tailgating at the same lot, which affords easy access to a Crescent City Connection on-ramp.
They, too, feel the squeeze of encroaching real estate development. They arrived at 7:30 a.m. to secure their usual spot for their revolving cast of two dozen or so friends.
“We’re about to lose another” nearby lot, Legaspi said. “We’re starting to get worried. They’re being pushed out toward us.”
Such concerns couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the regular season opener.
“I get chills thinking about it,” Hymel said. “I’m ready. We’ll be in the playoffs. We’re Super Bowl-bound.”
In contrast to such tailgating veterans, the extended Briscoe clan tends to gather mostly for other types of celebrations. Many are Saints season ticket-holders, but “the majority of us here never tailgate,” said Schewanda Parker-Hill, a cousin of Jude Briscoe's widow, Nicole, by marriage. “We came out today for Jude and Nicole.”
Many at the Briscoe party wore customized Saints No. 48 jerseys, in honor of the age at which the senior Briscoe died. “He stopped on the 48-yard line,” said Vanessa Bolds, an aunt of Nicole Briscoe.
The jerseys also sported a helmet-shaped patch bearing the initials “JB,” similar to the memorial patches Saints players are wearing to honor the team's late owner, Tom Benson.
“Jude was the life of the party, for every party,” Parker-Hill said. “He made sure everybody had everything. Now we’ve got to make sure everybody’s got everything.”
At 11:30 a.m., the To Be Continued Brass Band fired up an original song called “Firewater” and set off toward the Superdome.
Tuba player Brenard “Bunny” Adams is related to Briscoe on his father’s side. Adams’ 4-year-old son, Brennan, played a red pocket trumpet in the procession.
Briscoe’s family and friends fell in behind the musicians, dancing and celebrating. Saints and Buccaneers fans alike stopped to take pictures and video of the procession. Nearing the Dome, the band kicked into “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The parade concluded near the Poydras Street entrance to Champions Square. A call-and-response broke out among the marchers: “Who dat? Jude dat! Who dat? Jude dat!”
“My husband was a true Saints fan, a diehard,” Nicole Briscoe said. “He’s smiling down on us. He’d say, ‘All this is for me?’ "