UConnundrum: Alamo or Gumbo?

April 12, 2004
April 12, 2004

Table of Contents
April 12, 2004


UConnundrum: Alamo or Gumbo?

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."

This is an article from the April 12, 2004 issue Original Layout

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 not spitting up. Moreover, he appears to be,
among Friday-night visitors to the French Quarter, the least

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

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
Carre 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

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.

Incredible? Perhaps. Inedible? Certainly not.


Connecticut's athletic director commuted daily between Final
Fours in a Tex-Mex/Cajun delirium.