On a trip they have repeated frequently this year, Tulane football coaches and players boarded buses on campus Monday afternoon and headed for Poydras Street. Only this time, the ride ended with a six-member brass band playing and attendants draping beads around their necks.
Instead of arriving at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — a regular practice venue — they went to the Hilton Riverside Hotel for the beginning of a five-night stay before facing Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday night in the New Orleans Bowl.
Since Tulane has not been to any bowl game in 11 years, the experience was a first for just about everyone.
“It was real nice just come in and see everybody smiling and excited to be in this situation,” senior running back Orleans Darkwa said. “Usually in December, I’m heading home and getting ready to watch the bowl games on TV.
“Three years in a row I had to do that, so to be greeted like this is really exciting. Just to be here participating is a tremendous feeling. It’s a blessing to have this opportunity to play in December and play in New Orleans and play in the Superdome.”
Second-year coach Curtis Johnson and his wife, Angel, were the first two people off the front bus. Soon after getting his gold beads with a white medallion that read “R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl,” Johnson praised the bowl’s setup.
The fact that the hotel was only about 15 minutes from campus did not faze him.
“It’s a good deal when somebody invites you to be somewhere,” he said. “We’re here, we’re at home and our guys are very excited. It’s going to be a great game. These people are fantastic. The accommodations are fabulous.”
Less than an hour after arriving at the hotel, the Green Wave planned a trip to the nearby World War II Museum, but the week is not only about having fun. Tulane (7-5) will practice Tuesday afternoon at the Superdome and then work out in the morning Wednesday and Thursday.
UL-Lafayette (8-4), which has won the New Orleans Bowl two years in a row, arrives Tuesday.
“The evolution the team has been going through this season and the two years we’ve been with Coach C.J. have been great,” Tulane senior defensive tackle Julius Warmsley said. “It’s another opportunity to change the mindset. We’re just ready to play football.”
After losing three of the last four to close the regular season, everyone around the program wants to reverse that trend. The Wave also remembers the 41-13 beating UL-Lafayette administered at Cajun Field last season.
With that in mind, Johnson insisted the Green Wave would have a happy-to-be-here mentality after ending its long bowl drought. The players sported a different look for the occasion, wearing new gray sweat pants and shirts as they got off the bus.
Winning their final game would be a new look, too. In addition to the long period between bowl appearances, the Green Wave has lost its last regular-season game for 10 consecutive years.
“(The seniors) have all come to me and given the little nudge (of thanks),” Johnson said. “I’ve said we don’t want to hear that until after the game. We are going to do all the celebrating after the game. They have the opportunity to go out a winner for the first time.”