NEW ORLEANS – For the most part this week, amid the sin and seduction of Bourbon Street, you are more likely to find an Amish family sipping a banana hurricane inside Larry Flynt's Hustler Club than a Southern California fan.
As televisions here flickered with the final images of USC's 28-14 Rose Bowl victory, all but assuring a split national championship that will dampen the Sugar Bowl dreams of both Oklahoma and LSU, the Big Easy did a big shudder.
In a city always willing to give you a buzz, this was a buzz kill. About the only thing OU and LSU fans could agree on this week is that a USC loss – eliminating the Trojans from the title argument – would be a divine thing.
Thus everyone, be they from Muskogee or Metairie, was a Michigan fan.
"My mom taught me to share when I was a kid," Oklahoma center Vince Carter said. "But there are some things you don't want to share, and a national championship is one of them."
Depending on your political philosophy, the winner of Sunday's Sugar Bowl will now be: a) the "official" national champion, b) co-champs with USC, who will almost assuredly be ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll or c) a paper champ that lacks the seal of the approval of neutral fans.
Which brings us back to Bourbon Street, where a half-dozen men and women, willing to tempt death – or at least a booze-fueled sucker punch – marched right through crowds of Tiger and Sooner backers chanting "USC! USC!"
"We're representing," said Albert Meza, a USC employee proudly wearing a No. 1 Trojan jersey. "What are they going to say? Everyone knows we are national champs. They saw it. Sunday's game doesn't mean [anything]."
Meza was right about one thing. No one said much. While a call for the return of prohibition would have been better received, debate was limited.
"I don't care," said Oklahoma fan James MacDonald, turning his back on the SC fans. "Did you see anyone hand a national championship trophy to [USC coach Pete] Carroll? Well, they are going to give one to Bob Stoops Sunday night, I promise you that."
Only in college football do we get this, a championship system that leaves a bad taste in so many mouths yet provides such great theater. Consider Meza and his friends. Given their druthers, they'd be back in L.A., saving money and watching their team. But after USC finished the regular season 11-1, they gambled on a good travel deal and booked flights to N'Awlins. Then a bunch of computer formulas pulled the rug out.
"Non-refundable," Meza laughed. "What are you gonna do?"
At least we know travel agents like the BCS.
Meanwhile OU and LSU, who did nothing wrong but go only 12-1 are stuck defending their game. There are two popular arguments. You can only do what you can do, and who cares about what the AP voters think anyway, the BCS is the official system.
But there would be no justification necessary if SC had only lost. Before the game tarot card readers just off Bourbon were offering Rose Bowl specials. And one "spiritual healer" who claimed to be connected with the otherworld offered to put a hoax on Matt Leinart. For a price, of course.
"I haven't seen any voodoo," Oklahoma defensive lineman Tommie Harris said earlier, "but I brought my stump water just in case."
He should have brought more.
After USC's impressive performance, each team have to wonder if just winning will be enough to convince the public that its official title is legit. Or does it need to blow out the other team?
This is not to say that the city isn't fired up. New Orleans, a regular host for all sorts of sports championships, finally has a home team to root for. LSU is playing in its biggest game since Billy Cannon was canonized for leading the 1958 team to a national title.
"We are like, 'Man, they are still talking about the '58 team,' " said Tiger linebacker Lionel Turner. "If we win, in 2050 they'll be saying, 'Boy, that 2003 team did this.' When you think about it like that, it's amazing."
No wonder ticket brokers are in a purple-and-gold heaven, demanding a $1,000 for a good seat.
But isn't that college football. Confusion, controversy and color. It's lovably ugly. It's addictively bizarre.
It's six fans who traveled to the official title game that their team isn't even in, heckling fans of the two teams that are and somehow, someway, winning the debate.
College football, you need a hurricane before you go insane.
Fortunately we know where to get one.
- national championship