The crazy days of youth
You would think in a city that had only a professional football team that this story about the beauty of tailgating would center around the pregame Superdome rituals of being a New Orleans Saints fan or about living in a city where the Saints were worshipped like Kanye worships Kanye.
That is where you'd be wrong, my friends.
(Note: At the time, somewhere between 1983 and 1986, New Orleans no longer had the Jazz and the Hornets didn't arrive until 2002.)
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Not to say that the art of tailgating wasn't an act of beauty in the Crescent City on Sundays (people would even tailgate outside the Superdome on when the Saints were playing on the road!), but those Saints tailgate parties were too civilized. In New Orleans the best tailgating happened during two annual events: The Bayou Classic and the Xavier versus Dillard basketball games.
I got two stories to tell but can tell only one. The other might land me in jail.
See, I went to a school (Xavier University) that didn't have a football team. We didn't have a baseball team, a soccer team, a track, volleyball, lacrosse, swimming, golf, chess or debate team. All we had was a basketball team. One that the whole school rallied around, all 2,500 of us.
Our rival was a school a few miles away, Dillard University. We played each other "twice the year" as they say in New Orleans. Once at their house, once at ours. Each one was an event unto itself, sort of like Duke versus UNC, with one-tenth the number of students. Tailgating was a word unfamiliar to us back then; we just called it "gittin' ready for the Game." And all around New Orleans (even for people who didn't go to either school) getting ready for the Dillard-Xavier game was like a mini-Mardi Gras Gone Wild.
The best tailgate for one of those games came when me and my boy Flea began doing our thing probably 10 hours before the 7 p.m. tipoff.
We started off at his house with a bottle of something and a 12-pack of something else and he cooked hamburgers in a skillet full of water. (Don't ask.)
Throughout the day we'd make runs to the campus, runs to the female dorms, runs to the gym, runs to other houses that were doing the same thing we were. It was a two-man tailgate.
Without going into massive and incriminating detail, let's just say by game time I was a little like Danny DeVito on "The View." I remember going to our guy Tony's house to ride to the game with him. They threw me in the back. Tone had just purchased a new BMW and he wanted to show off the whip at the game. All I kept hearing was, "Flea, keep that window down! If your boy throws up in my new car ... I'm killing you!" Tony owned a gun.
We pull up in front of the gym on Xavier's campus. At least a couple of hundred people were outside, 20 minutes before the game, trying to get in. As I climbed out of the car, let's just say there was one girl who needed a new pair of shoes.
Inside the gym, the game was crazy. Tight score. Crowd outta control. And all I kept tasting was those "boiled" burgers Flea cooked for breakfast. Then, not far from where I stood, a Dillard student got into an argument with someone from Xavier. A few punches were thrown, next thing you know ... straight mayhem.
Game stopped. Students emptied out onto the court. Thank god YouTube had not been invented. Then I looked over and I saw my boy Bobby, a cat I grew up with in Chicago, standing on the balcony with a golf club in his hand looking down at the fight. Screaming with a smile on his face.
From about 20 feet up, he jumped in.
Golf club swinging. Yeah, he was "tailgating" earlier, too.
It wasn't right. But our "twice the year" tailgating bested anything anyone did while waiting for the Saints to play.
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