College football fanatics party outside Superdome
Vail, CO Colorado
NEW ORLEANS – Having staked out her spot in a nondescript parking lot a couple of blocks from the Superdome, Jan White shook her head as she looked around.
All those million-dollar homes on wheels. All those 50-inch televisions blaring away. All those enormous grocery bills that must be paid to keep the grills a-grillin’ and the coolers packed with beer.
“I’m a bookkeeper by trade,” White said. “When I look at these people, I’m like, ‘Where did all this money come from?'”
Then again, she’s right there in the middle of it. When White heard that a store in Baton Rouge ” a 150-mile round trip from New Orleans ” had gotten in a supply of large, inflatable LSU helmets Saturday morning, she jumped in the car with a friend and hustled off to buy one.
There it was Sunday, 6 feet tall, sitting in all its tacky, purple-and-gold glory in front of the RV where White and her friends partied on the eve of the BCS national championship game between their beloved Tigers and top-ranked Ohio State.
Who cares if she had to dole out $3 a gallon for gas on her helmet quest?
“I’ll put that in my front yard when I get home,” White said. “Win or lose, I’ve got my helmet.”
All around the Superdome, pockets of tailgaters claimed their spots amid office buildings that were largely empty on the weekend, putting their own stamp on a concrete jungle that lacks the charm of the nearby French Quarter but is throwing just as good a party for the big game.
These are the folks that bring out the “fanatical” in “fan” ” willingly doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, to show the love for their favorite school.
While some may question the sanity of people so devoted to their team they would buy a $1.2 million recreational vehicle just to enhance the experience, as Tom LeBlanc did, it seems perfectly logical to those whose lives come to a halt every Saturday in the fall.
“It just keeps getting bigger and better all the time,” said LeBlanc, standing alongside his 45-foot-long behemoth, a beer in hand. “This is where it’s happening.”
His RV sat bumper to bumper with nine others, all parked in a lot within sight of the Superdome. They were aligned in two rows of five, with space left down the middle for “Tiger Alley.” That’s where the grills smoked, the pots boiled and the booze flowed.
Alligator. Shrimp. Crawfish. Roasted pig. All on the menu.
Jambalaya. Gumbo. And boudin, too, a tasty blend of rice, pork and Cajun seasonings, all wrapped up and resembling a sausage.
LeBlanc pointed proudly to an old-fashioned grill, set up between the double-fisted daiquiri machines ” there were three of them ready to pump out tasty concoctions ” and the seemingly endless tables covered in chips, snacks and liquor bottles.
“I got a Cajun microwave over there,” he quipped. “We can grill on top, and inside we’re going to put all kinds of pork tenderloins and rump roasts.”
Yep, it’s all one big party, and it doesn’t come cheaply.
LeBlanc and the others on Tiger Alley spent all day Friday loading up their supplies, then drove to New Orleans to claim 10 parking spots near the stadium. Those cost $600 a pop. He also hired security officers to watch over things at night, and hauled in portable toilets to accommodate the hundreds of fans he expects to take him up on his open party invitation.
All in all, LeBlanc figures this little weekend will set him back at least $12,000.
“It’s all good, man,” he insisted. “We’re just a bunch of good friends over here. We can make a party happen. All we have to have is an excuse.”
About then, a friend ambled up with a 12-pack of beer in each hand. LeBlanc asked him where he was staying. A hotel, his friend replied.
“The hell with the hotel,” LeBlanc said, pointing to the open luggage rack on his RV. “Look what I’ve got for you. I’ve got a nice open space you can stay in. I’ve got a blow-up mattress. You’ll be comfortable.”
On the other side of the lot, Lou Boatman and his family set up shop, daring to raise the Ohio State colors among the sea of LSU fans.
He doled out $250 a day to rent an RV from a local dealer. One of his sons hauled down a smaller camper from his home in St. Louis to provide additional beds. In all, they were expecting about 15 family members and friends to gather for what was essentially an impromptu reunion in a parking lot.
They don’t even have tickets for the game, preferring to watch on the 50-inch flatscreen TV brought in by another son, who moved to Louisiana nearly two decades ago and quickly crossed over to the other side.
“He says he’s 85 percent an LSU fan and 15 percent an Ohio State fan,” Boatman said. “I’m not sure what that means.”
That was about the mix in the tailgate lots around the Superdome, which were dominated by purple and gold. While the one-sidedness of the party was to be expected given that LSU is a virtual home team, there was something more at work than just geography, according to John Boatman, the Tigers convert who now lives in suburban Mandeville, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain.
Southeastern Conference fans are different, he said, “a lot more passionate” than their brethren in the Big Ten Conference.
“I moved here 19 years ago. I went to my first LSU game 15 years ago. That was it,” the younger Boatman said. “As far as I was concerned, there was no other football on the planet.”
His dad, wearing Ohio State colors, was inclined to agree.
“They do a lot of tailgating in Ohio, but not to the extent these guys do,” Lou Boatman said, looking around and shaking his head. “This is hardcore.”
White and her group of friends were enjoying themselves at a parking lot on the other side of the Superdome, sitting in lawn chairs outside the 36-foot RV owned by Sal Calcagno.
“It’s just an opportunity to get everybody together,” Calcagno said in his home on wheels, between sips of a coozie-covered beer. “We get down here and have our home away from home. It makes it really easy when you’ve got your kitchen, your bathroom and everything else with you.”
Outside, his brother-in-law, John Boylan, was in charge of a giant grill set up on the back of a pickup truck. He had a camouflage LSU apron tied around his waist. Even his footwear, purple Crocs trimmed in gold, revealed where he stood on Monday night’s game.
He flipped a huge rack of ribs and pulled back the tinfoil on a spicy batch of jambalaya.
“I missed my calling,” said Boylan, who makes his living as a plumber. “I should have been a chef.”
Calcagno, who bought his RV less than a year ago, was asked if he had any regrets about doling out all this money to show his support for a football team.
He paused, but just for a second.
“Maybe once the party’s over and the bills come in, you say, ‘Wow, do I really want to keep doing this?'” Calcagno said. “But no, it’s worth it. It’s worth every penny of it.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.