Even the horses drawing Gay 90s carriages through the scenic, narrow streets of the French Quarter of this charming old city were decked out this holiday weekend with crimson hats bearing the letter A, for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide, as Southeastern Conference football champion, is the host team for Monday's 44th Sugar Bowl classic against Ohio State. New Orleans, always a lively town, is agog over this first meeting of two traditional powers and their legendary coaches: Alabama's Paul (Bear) Bryant and OUS's Woody Hayes.
Bryant, with 272 victories, is third on the all-time list; Hayes, with 231, ranks fourth. Only the late Amos Alonzo Stagg (314) and Pop Warner (313) had more coaching triumphs.
There are some fanastic Ohio State partisans here - witness the man seen on Rue Royale this morning in a gray leisure suit, embroidered all over with red "Go Buckeyes" - but they will be heavily outnumbered by 'Bama fans in the crowd of 75,000 at the Louisaina Superdome.
Alabama jackets, hats, buttons, pennants and banners were everwhere as New Orleans celebrated New Year's Eve and Day. The river city was, indeed, engulfed in a crimson tide for Sugar Bowl weekend, a kind of mini-Mardi Gras.
From the wrought-iron balconies overlooking milling crowds on Bourbon Street, Alabama rooters, drinks in hand, sent up firecrackers and rebel yells and generally made a good ole to-do. Leaning out over the street, barricaded to traffic but clogged with partying pedestrians, they led raucous chants of "Roll Tide."
Ohio State fans responded with cheers of "Tide is a detergent," and "Woody's going to trap a bear."
Bryant and Hayes have done their best to pooh-pooh the "coaching-battle-of-the-ages" theme, but the notion persists that this game brings together the greatest commanders seen here since Andrew Jackson directed a hastily raised army of planters, backwoodsmen and pirates to victory over the British in the Battle New Orleans in January, 1815.
Just as that celebrated skirmish had little effect on the War of 1812, this Sugar Bowl won't determine the 1977 national champion of college football unless top-ranked Texas is upset by Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and No. 2 Oklahoma surprisingly stumbles to Arkansas in the Orange Bowl.
Only then would third-ranked Alabama (10-1) have a chance for its fifth national title in Bryant's 20-year reign as head coach. Ohio State (9-2), the Big 10 runner-up, is ranked eighth nationally.
Alabama averaged 31.4 points and 417 yards per game in offense during the regular season, and gave up only 252 yards and 12.1 points.
Ohio State scored 30.6 points per game and averaged 414 yards, 321 of them on the ground. The Buckeye defense yielded only 321 yards per game and 7.7 points, second best in the nation.
General Jackson - who won without the cohesive, experienced units that Bryant and Hayes have - would have envied Alabama's leading rushers: senior Johnny Davis (931 yards, 5.1 average five touchdowns), called by Bryant, "the best fullback I've coached at Alabama," and junior Tony Nathan (642 yards, 6.2 average, 15 TDs), an outside threat when teams key on Davis up the middle. Nathan is also a suberb kick returner.
Ohio State has explosive runners of its own: Junior tailback Ron Springs (1,092 yards rushing, 5.7 average, seven TDs), and senior Jeff Logan (549 yards, 5.8 average, three TDs), one of three fullbacks Hayes can call upon. The others are sophomore Paul Campbell (443 yards, 4.4 average, five TDs), and freshman Joel Payton (349 yards, 4.1 average, 13 TDs), who ranked seventh nationally in scoring.
Junior Rod Gerald, perhaps the most elusive quarterback in the country, directs the attack behind a big, strong offensive line led by 274-pound tackle Chris Ward, a two-mile All-America. Gerald ran for 445 yards and seven touchdowns, and completed 60 of 97 passes for 913 yards and three more scores.
Ironically, Gerald's ball-handling, faking and running ability would make him an ideal wishbone quarterback, but Ohio State runs out of a pro-I formation. Alabama, which has a stronger passer in 6-1, 200-pound junior Jeff Rutledge (64 completions in 107 attempts, 1,207 yards, eight TDs), operates out of the wishbone.
Rutlege will throw more than Gerald, and what makes Alabama a 1 1/2 point favorite is the aerial threat he has in Ozzie Newsome, an All-America split end regarded as the best receiver in Alabama history. A four-year starter, Newsome caught 36 passes for 804 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Senior Ray Griffin, whose older brother, Archie, twice won the Heisman Trophy for Ohio State, and sophomore Mike Guess (six interceptions) are the top defensive backs for Hayes.
The once-suspect Alamba defense came together after a nationally televised 31-24 loss to Nebraska, the Crimson Tide's only defeat. Ohio State's only losses were heartbreakers to Oklaoma, 9-28,and Michigan, 14-6.