The Ragin' Cajuns football team’s invitation to the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl — one promised on a blog here on Oct. 17 — is becoming more inevitability than speculation each day. There’s a chance that the much-anticipated bid may come as early as Saturday evening.
Two different Sun Belt Conference officials and one representative from the New Orleans Bowl have confirmed that they will be in attendance for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game against UL Monroe. Others could also be there for the regionally-televised affair.
If the Cajuns should win over their in-state rivals in this season’s Cajun Field finale, improving to 8-2, the idea has been floated by at least one UL athletic official that the invitation might come right after the final horn, right on the field, while much of what should be another good crowd is still in the seats.
That scenario obviously isn’t definite, but it makes a world of sense.
Since its inception a decade ago, the New Orleans Bowl has never had a chance to make such a splash with the extending of an invitation. Usually the bid to the Sun Belt representative has wound up taking place well after games, either in locker rooms or in student unions and other facilities, with schools battling to get a representative showing of bands, cheerleaders and fans for the official announcement.
On Saturday, should the Cajuns wrap up an unbeaten home season, the league and the bowl game has the chance to make its invite in front of another in the series of large crowds this year. They’d stick around, especially if they got a fourth-quarter prompt to remain after the game for a “special announcement.” (The rest would be hurrying to get comfortable in front of the TV for the LSU-Alabama game, which should start about 90 minutes after the Cajuns and Warhawks finish up.)
The invitation could come in front of more fans than have actually attended the bowl game itself in some years, and it’s a chance that might not come along for the New Orleans Bowl folks again. There would be fans that would go immediately to their computers or phones and order game tickets and make hotel reservations; after all, they’ve been waiting 40 years for the chance to do that.
The athletic department announced that it's already taking $30 deposits toward the purchase of bowl game tickets, at whichever bowl the Cajuns end up playing. Those deposits may be made at the Cajundome box office, the UL ticket office in front of the Moore Field baseball park, or through a mail-or-FAX-in form available at www.ragincajuns.com.
Online isn’t available for the $30 deposit, but it will be once bowl tickets officially go on sale. There is a form on the web site that isn’t functional yet, but the event date on that work-in-progress page is Saturday, Dec. 17 — which just happens to be the day of the New Orleans Bowl.
The fact that they’re taking the $30 deposits speaks volumes. If UL hadn’t already received assurances that the bowl invitation was imminent, that wouldn’t be happening. The one thing the athletic department doesn’t want to do is return deposits and tell fans, sorry, no bowl game, maybe next year.
That’s not going to happen, and those deposits are almost assuredly going toward tickets in the Superdome. New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante, who has strong family ties in Lafayette, has been grinding his teeth for years, waiting for the time when the nearest Sun Belt Conference team to his game would finally be worthy of that trip.
The fact that UL is averaging 29,420 fans — legitimate numbers, not like the travesty of last Saturday’s crowd announcement in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for the UL-Middle Tennessee game — is music to the ears of Ferrante and the rest of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. That’s the parent group of the bowl game, a group that’s worked hard to find creative ways to draw crowds to their game.
Now, their game and the Crescent City is on the verge of a Cajun explosion during the middle week of December — a time when tourism in New Orleans is historically low. UL and its long-suffering football fans are about to give that tourism a boost.
Just like it was three weeks ago, it’s just a matter of when they’re going to let us know for sure. Should the Cajuns win over ULM, don’t be surprised if it happens while the final horn is still echoing on Saturday.