N.O. Bowl Update – Friday, 12/16, 2:30 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS – Darren Sharper’s regular message when he speaks in public is probably aimed at perseverance — and it should be, considering his now-legendary NFL career began with very little notice.

But even if that isn’t part of his normal banquet speech, the former New Orleans Saints standout hit Friday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Luncheon right on the head — much like he did opposing ball carriers in his 14-year career.

Sharper was the guest speaker at the luncheon, one that featured both the Ragin’ Cajun and San Diego State teams in attendance, and he talked about his own perseverance (to achieve UL coach Mark Hudspeth jargon, substitute “holding onto the rope” for the big word).

Sharper was vilified in his early years in the NFL after coming out of a small program at William & Mary. “A headline called me the worst safety in the NFL,” he says. “One paper said that I needed to be cut immediately.”

Fast forward over a decade later, and Sharper’s got a Super Bowl ring from the Saints’ world title, and he’s in the conversation for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He also spoke about his adopted home town, and what it took for the Crescent City to survive the ravages and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“I never gave up,” he says, “and this city never gave up. And we both came back.”

Sharper may not have realized it, but then again maybe he did. Both of the teams in Saturday’s 8 p.m. contest in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome have persevered.

SDSU’s Aztecs, despite their more nationally-known name than the home-team Ragin’ Cajuns, have never been to two straight bowl games. That streak ends in just over 24 hours.

The UL squad has never appeared in any Division I bowl game. That drought gets washed away Saturday.

“I never got to play in a bowl game in college,” Sharper says, “so I want to make sure all you guys do this: take time to appreciate it, and cherish it. You won’t be out there with all your other guys very many more times, and it goes by quick. I played 14 years in the NFL, and it seemed like it went by before I realized it.”

The folks putting on the New Orleans Bowl luncheon always try for something memorable, and they accomplished that in the first few seconds after noontime Friday. First, the full San Diego State band, dance line, cheerleaders and that bowed-up Aztec dude surrounded the table area and blared out several numbers before they hit the exits. At the same time, UL’s Pride of Acadiana marching band, cheerleaders and Ragin’ Jazz made their entrance and also encircled the ballroom while playing UL’s traditional stadium songfest.

Loud doesn’t describe two bands in close proximity in a roofed ballroom, but nobody was complaining, especially the group of ladies who were shoving people aside to get their picture taken with SDSU’s buffed-up and only-partially-clothed Montezuma mascot.

The meal was good, too. Too much fun. It’s a shame we have to go play football sometime soon.

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