New Orleans, host of Super Bowls and Sugar Bowls and Final Fours, is where America goes to see who's No. 1. But it's also where America goes to do No. 1, to judge by the official visitors' TV channel—available in the city's hotels—on which a genteel voice-over implores guests, "Please, by all means, use public restrooms and not the streets or the sidewalks."
Stepping out of the hotel—into equatorial heat, into lavatorial streets—one is struck (almost physically) by an infant being wheeled, shortly before midnight, down Bourbon Street, the stroller cleaving the crowd like the cowcatcher on a locomotive. (The baby is the one nor spitting up. Moreover, he appears to be, among Friday-night visitors to the French Quarter, the least breast-obsessed.)
Every resident of Connecticut, including yours truly, faced the opposite of Hobson's choice last weekend: to go to New Orleans (and watch the UConn women in their Final Four) or go to San Antonio (and watch the UConn men in their Final Four). In Connecticut interest in basketball is compulsory, apathy unacceptable, and one's choice of Final Four trips—gumbo or Alamo, NOLA or �hola!—says something about the chooser. An 81-year-old Connecticut man explained late one night on Bourbon Street that he generally prefers women's basketball to men's because, among other reasons, the ladies wear less jewelry.
A few Connecticuters, like Joe Segal of South Windsor, had two hotel rooms and two sets of tickets and commuted the 540 miles between N.O. and S.A., changing planes every time in Houston. It sounded oddly illicit, like maintaining separate families in separate states, and very nearly as exhausting. Said Segal, "I really haven't seen much of either city." This wasn't a complaint.
What is singular about Connecticut is not that its citizens subsist, throughout the long winter, on a diet of UConn basketball. It's that we do so literally. Or can, anyway. With annual angioplasty—and a biennial bypass—I could survive by eating, exclusively, Husky-brand foodstuffs. Stores carry Husky tortilla chips and Husky salsa, Husky potato chips and Husky pretzels, Husky bottled water and six flavors of Husky ice cream—including ChampionChip and Nothing But Vanilla—not to mention something called Jim Calhoun Coach's Pride Caramel Nut Clusters, a mouthful in every sense of the word.
It would be exceedingly easy, in short, for a Husky fan to become a husky fan. Obsessives can enjoy Husky chocolate bars and eat Husky pasta in the shape of Huskies. MAN BITES DOG every day in the Nutmeg State. Next year, women's coach Geno Auriemma will open an Italian restaurant in Hartford not far from men's coach Calhoun's sports bar. Those of us who live in the state really can eat and drink (if not yet sleep) UConn basketball.
Last Saturday night in New Orleans, I mostly drank UConn basketball. Throngs of gold-clad Minnesota fans, orange-shirted Tennessee fans and empurpled LSU fans strolled through the Vieux Carr� like benign street gangs. But Huskies fans were holed up in bars and restaurants and hotel rooms to watch the men's semifinal against Duke. Periodically, heads popped from storm-shuttered hotel windows—they belonged to fans doing call-and-response cheers (someone shouting " UConn!" and someone else replying "Huskies!")—turning the French Quarter into a living cuckoo clock.
Like swallows to Capistrano, alumnae of UConn's women's teams—players from four national champions—return to the Final Four every spring. On Saturday evening many of them ate in a joint that featured a blind pianist and, more important, a wall-sized TV showing the UConn-Duke men's game. When the ladies lingered long after dinner, the manager, eager to reuse the table, ousted them in the only way he knew: by pulling the plug on the TV. It was a rare breach of politesse in a city that thanks you for the smallest of courtesies, such as not peeing on the sidewalk.
No matter. When the UConn men's team won in the final seconds and advanced to Monday night's final, jubilant heads again emerged from shuttered French Quarter windows. The scene called to mind, uncannily, the opening segment of Laugh-In. At first blush—and you will blush more than once in New Orleans—the Bourbon Street burlesque house that advertised 101 POSITIONS appeared to refer to the number of players in the two Final Fours, give or take a few. Turns out, the sign meant nothing of the sort. Still, in the 22 years that there had been two tournaments, only one school ( Duke) had advanced to the men's and women's finals in the same year. That was 1999, when the Blue Devils lost both games.
Of course, the women would have to win on Sunday if UConn were to become the second school—with a chance to distinguish itself further in the two finals. And so athletic director Jeff Hathaway commuted daily between Final Fours in a Tex-Mex/Cajun delirium, one day in the land of Davy Crockett (tragic Alamo hero), the next in the land of Willnett Crockett (Huskies sophomore reserve). As it happens, the latter Crockett proved instrumental in the UConn women's semifinal victory over Minnesota on Sunday night. With both preseason No. 1s still playing on the final day of their respective seasons, UConn had, improbably, intensified its stranglehold on the state, as writers struggled to describe, in a single word, the Huskies cultural phenomenon.