Oh, sweet Bourbon Street, raucous path to Victory Dreams, how you tempt these wholesome football players from the safe confines of their hotel suites to the sultry French Quarter to dance and dally!
How you entice he-men of steel and discipline, Fridge and Danimal, Mongo and Sweetness, Spaceman from Planet X and Super Yuppie, Samurai and Iron Mike, to meander into the rays of a full moon . . . past a WLS-Chicago truck blasting rock 'n' roll outside Toney's Spaghetti House . . . past the midget who promises 3-2 odds to guess "where you got your shoes" (on your feet on Bourbon Street, ha-ha, pay up, sucker) . . . on past Le Booze (one of 3,700 licensed bars in a city that never sleeps and proudly claims America's first cocktail) . . .into the woozy darkness of the Old Absinthe House . . . Pat O'Brien's rowdy patio, where an ugly mob sucks up potent Hurricanes and chants, "GOBEARSGOBEARSGOBEARS" . . . into a joint touting an amusement titled "The Orgy," where a Creole stripper in pasties and G-string shouts, "WOOF, WOOF, WOOF."
All of it this side of yet another bar flashing its name in yellow lights: DESIRE.
But to teams and tourists, fans and fan dancers, the Night Life of the Squads is crucial pregame warm-up to Super Bowl XX. Pros pushing a Bourbon Street Winners Theory wink that the Bears had it wrapped up six nights before kickoff, when several invaded Pat O'Brien's to sample Hurricanes (Jim McMahon stuck to Heinekens), and William (The Refrigerator) Perry moved on to gorge on oysters and gumbo.
"Seen it all before," laughs Bubba Mason, Pat O'Brien's night manager. "The players who get let out with no curfews and no strings, they win. Oakland partied right up to game time" when they beat an uptight Philadelphia five years back. "Went in and blew 'em away."
The party boys win in the Sugar Bowl, too -- and in the local version of The Game of Life in a wonderfully decadent city that calls itself "The Big Easy," buries its dead above ground and celebrates a rambunctious history of riverboat gamblers, pirates and prostitutes with year-round parades.
"Georgia and Alabama know it works," says Mason. "The ones the coaches let loose down here, they're more relaxed, usually play a helluva game. We've seen a lot of Patriots fans, but no players, no hoopla. Chicago outnumbers the Patriots in here five to one."
"It's all Chicago," agrees Terry Lee Ryder, 30, doorman at the Silver Frolic, where male and female strippers cavort on separate stages. "The Refrigerator was in here with his wife the other night. He watched the females and she watched the males. I joked with him, 'You're gonna turn our girls into a deep freeze.' "
The Patriots, perhaps restrained by a team ethic reflecting New England's conservative streak, hang back. Ryder frowns: A possible wrinkle in The Theory. Tony Eason, the Patriots' quarterback, dropped in, too, he remembers. "Drank a Coke, said, 'Remember what happened to Larry Holmes. Said he could never be beat. Then along came Spinks. We don't run our mouth, we just play ball.' Worried me. I'm thinking about putting $20 on the Patriots."
But Chicago is out and about. "You got to go out," shrugs Tyrone Keys, the Bears 270-pound defensive end who hunkered down with the Refrigerator at Dooky Chases for dinner. "We're Chicago. That's our image."
For starters, the Fridge ordered oysters. Ate four dozen, says Keys. Then he scarfed a bowl of gumbo. A big bowl. "That's a meal for a lot of people," cackled Leah Chase, 63, the chef.
"The lid is not on," says Keys, a French Quarter veteran who has been packing away beer and oysters with the Fridge. "We've never had a curfew. The coach trusts us."
But William Perry, all 300 pounds, worried him the other night: He ordered orange juice from room service. Three glasses. "I said, 'What's wrong? You sick?' Then I saw his six-pack of Coors Lite in the corner." The juice was for Lester Frazier, his roommate. Fridge was fine.
"It's nothing for him to drink 10 Coors the night before a game," shrugs Keys. "He bounces back real quick."
But the Fridge has had to scrap to open up holes on Bourbon Street. Fans mob him. "We just can't go out there anymore," says Keys. "They're following him like Gandhi."
"Our team has enjoyed New Orleans," winks Gary Fencik, a 31-year-old Yalie, who polished off a mere 18 oysters at Felix's and "a lot of beers." He considers Bourbon Street a required drill after hearing horror stories from Philadelphia players who blame their rigid rules -- and no way to blow off steam -- for their Super Bowl loss.
"You practice hard, you party hard," he says. "You go out, you stay loose."
"They've done it all season long," says Coach Mike Ditka. "Out on Wednesday and Thursday nights, in on Friday and Saturday before a game. I don't see any problem here ."
But what about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights? And who knows what they did last night and just might do tonight?
"Back at the hotel all the Patriots' fans had their breakfast menus out on their doorknobs when I left," smirked actor-comedian Bill Murray, a Bears fan in a Raiders cap.
But one veteran stuck up for the Patriot wallflowers. Former Redskin quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, legendary for breaking both passing records and curfews with equal vigor, wistfully said he'd have been born again had he ever had a chance at the Super Bowl.
"I'd have slept for a game like this," he said.
He wouldn't have gone out in New Orleans?
"Heavens, no!" he said. "I played 18 years and didn't get that chance. I wouldn't have abused the opportunity."
"You just can't explain the effect this city has on some people," says Beverly Gianna, public relations director for the New Orleans Tourist Commission. "For 200 years, we have been a party town. We were founded on frivolity. When Louis XVI opened up the prisons, he sent the French party girls here."
Here is now flooded with almost 100,000 fans for the Super Bowl, a warm-up for Mardi Gras, a week later. Packed into 26,000 hotel rooms, RVs and riverboats, they are expected to drop $100 million in a few days, much of it on Bourbon Street and into the garter belts of strippers like Dawn, 23.
"Don't care who wins the Super Bowl as long as we make lots of money," she shrugs, warming herself by a fire after dancing for a crowd at the joint advertising "The Orgy."
What's the most outrageous thing Gianna has ever witnessed on Bourbon Street? Her eyes twinkle. "What's outrageous to us may not be outrageous to you." She was a 19-year-old student from Tulane, with red nails and blue eyeshadow and Jim McMahon on her mind. "I love his tight end -- with or without needles," said Karen Guss of Potomac, Md. She was gussied up in turquoise sweatshirt and black stirrup pants with ROZELLE headbands around her thigh. "He makes me want to change my major to sports medicine so I can unwrap his bandages."
But she was not particular. She'd settle for almost any Bear, she said. And might even take Joe Theismann.
"Meet 'Jim Bob,' " says Steve Wheeler, 36, a Patriots fan from Connecticut who drags a defiled teddy bear on a leash down Bourbon Street. "Say hi to the man, Jim Bob. You feel everyone's walking all over you?"
It is a nasty bear, indeed. Jim Bob has been stomped and kicked up and down the street. New England fans have wiped their feet on him. His pants are falling off. There are holes where his eyes used to be.
"Run out for a pass," he says, dropping back to toss Jim Bob like a football. He throws. Smash. Into a gutter. "Too bad, Jim Bob," he says. "Incomplete."
But across the street, Dave Senser, 32, was more upbeat hawking Hotlites, battery-powered "Go Bears" buttons that lit up. He wore 50 buttons himself, pinned to a jacket designed by his father. He was hawking the buttons at $5 apiece, along with "Rozelle" headbands made famous by renegade quarterback McMahon.
He virtually glowed when he walked, a salesman from Arlington Heights, Ill., with one blond on each arm. He'd driven them 18 hours in his van. "I've been disappointed by the Cubs and the Sox," he said. "We haven't had a real winner in 50 years. But this is the year."
Where had they met? "He was in the bar where we work selling the buttons about a week ago," said Laura Giovannetti, "and he asked us if we wanted to go to New Orleans and sell buttons."
Of course. She wore her "Born to Rock and Roll" pin, alongside rhinestone broaches that spelled Paris and L.A. "So far, he's been a real gentleman," she said.
Several Patriots were happy to lay back and let fans like Wheeler advance the good times they aim to have once the game is over. "Bourbon Street is not my kind of place," says Julius Adams, 37, a Patriots' defensive end as big as a tank.
But what about the Bourbon Street Winners Theory, Julius? The Bears are Out There, having a ball. "I used to do that as a young player," he says. "But as you get older, certain things hinder you."
"I hate Bourbon Street," says offensive tackle Steve Moore, 25, content with the Patriots' 11 p.m. curfew. "It's a meat show, with everyone tugging on you." But he wished the Bears a "great time," and said he couldn't wait to test the Bourbon Street Theory on the Superdome astroturf. "My idea of fun is coming off the field as the world champion Sunday," he said.