For a town that rocks through Mardi Gras every year, hosts the Super Bowl every three years and four months ago was the site of the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks championship fight, having the college football game for the national championship here New Year's Day doesn't cause much of a ripple.

This is the big spenders' party town. Making people happy is its business.

"Tourism is the second biggest industry here next to the Port of New Orleans," said Jay Handleman, a spokesman from Mayor Ernest Morial's office. "This town survives on people coming here and leaing money."

Practically every hotel room in the city is filled, it's difficult even to get into the better restaurants and there are goggle-eyed tourists everywhere.

Welcome to New Orleans.

"The Sugar Bowl is a fixture here and it's always important, but this one is particularly big because it is between the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country," Handleman said.

"That means our city will get a lot of free publicity and that will certainly pay off in the long run, but as far as real dollars now are concerned, this crowd will leave a lot of money here, but not like a Super Bowl crowd or the Ali crowd.

"The Penn State and Alabama people are real tourist types: The fight crowd and Ali people are more affluent and they leave money all over town."

Money certainly is the name of the game, not only to the city of New Orleans but to ABC, the network televising the game (2 p.m. Monday, WJLA-TV-7); and to the schools involved.

"We believe we will set a record for the size of the checks to Alabama and Penn State," said Charles Gluek, Sugar Bowl publicity director. "We are expecting that the amount will be somewhere between $950,000 and $1 million."

Alabama will wind up with about $200,000 after sharing its bowl revenue with the nine other Southeastern Conference schools. Penn State is an independent and will keep its entire check.

There were more than 750 requests for media credentials to cover the game, by far the greatest number in the history of the Sugar Bowl. Many sports information directors here for the game say it is also probably the greatest number of requests for any college football game.

Superdome press box can only accommodate about 300 working press people, so others will be seated in the stands and several hundred requests had to be turned down.

"It's incredible, just incredible," said Glueck. "An I love it."

One Penn State supporter and his wife two weeks ago called Le Ruth's, one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, requesting a reservation for dinner for this evening. He even sent a $20 deposit.

No luck, the restaurant told him. "We're booked."

The influx of fanatical rooters for both sides isn't expected in town until late tonight or New Year's Eve, so most of the out-of-towners here now are the calm conservative types. The Penn State rooters seem to be more subdued. They are friendly, but usually don't speak unless spoken to.

But the Alabamians come right out with, "And who are you for, sir?" almost the minute they see you.

A young woman, who said, "just call me Judy," said shw is a veteran tourist, watcher and "makes her living dealing with them.

"Usually I don't even know who is playing in which game or for what," she said. "I do this time, though. It's Notre Dame amd Alabama, right?"

Close.

"All I know is that the people who come here for the Sugar Bowl do a lot of talking and a lot of blushing and it's the Super Bowlers who spend the money."

Penn Stete is headquartered at the Hilton Hotel and arrived Tuesday. Alabama is at the Hyatt Regency and didn't arrive until Thursday.

The Hilton is decorated to look like Rec Hall on the Penn State campus, resplendent with banners and pennants proclaiming, "We're No. 1."

Many of the players had Christmas trees with presents under them in their rooms and some were given chocolate statuettes of Nittany lions.

Even the hotel employes who don't know a football from a boxing glove and speak little English are wearing Penn State pins. If you say hello some of them sanswer, "Pin State, number one."

The Hyatt has the air of a mini-Tuscaloosa with Alabama drawls, houndstooth Bear Bryant hats, the color red eveywhere.

The football game isn't the only sporting event staged by the Sugar Bowl committee. There is a basketball tournament which Alabama won, beating Virginia, 71-69, in the final Friday night. There is also a Sugar Bowl tennis tournament and a Sugar Bowl sailing regatta.

The national championship is not at stake in any of them, however.

There was a move earlier by the Sugar Bowl committee to see if the teams could play a sudden-death overtime if the game should end in a tie. This would prevent another team, ramely Southern California, from beating out Penn State or Alabama for No. 1.

Nothing came of it, but the subject of sudden-death playoffs in bowl games is on the agenda of the NCAA Special Events Committee, the body that governs the bowl games, when that group meets early next year.

Tennessee football Coach Johnny Majors is here writing a news analysis on the game for the New York Times.

"Can you write?" he was asked by reporters.

"Probably better than any of you can coach," he said.