The sunny, warm weather was the first tip-off. The six-piece Dixieland band that greeted them at the airport this morning was another. If the Virginia Tech Hokies needed any more clues, the billboards advertising casinos, bars and strip clubs certainly did the trick. They were not in Blacksburg anymore.
As the Hokies arrived in New Orleans to begin preparing for their Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl date with No. 1 Florida State, hints of the attractions--and dangers--of this city were all around them, and Coach Frank Beamer was just as concerned with preparing his players for their extended stay here as he was with preparing for the game itself. After all, keeping 112 men between the ages of 18 and 23 out of trouble in New Orleans for nine days is not exactly a small task.
"The key thing here this week is how to enjoy this great city and enjoy this great bowl, but at the same time concentrate on our preparation," Beamer said. "We're having a meeting tonight with people talking about where they should go and where they shouldn't go, and then the players just have to be responsible for their actions."
Beamer and some of the team's seniors--some of whom were here as redshirt freshmen for Virginia Tech's 1995 Sugar Bowl appearance--have spoken to the younger players about the importance of seeing this as "a business trip," and tonight the players met with representatives of the New Orleans police department. Beyond that, Beamer has not put any specific casinos or clubs off limits--"as long as the guys are legally of age to be in there," he said--although he has given them a curfew.
Tonight, players had to be back at the team hotel by 2 a.m.; that curfew will get earlier as Jan. 4 approaches, rolling back to 11 p.m. on the final two nights before the game.
"I've got some [Mardi Gras] beads with me--everyone here is going to have fun, absolutely, but we're going to be taking care of each other too," linebacker Jamel Smith said. "The seniors are going to have to take some control, and just make sure the guys go to the places that are the most decent. We have to make sure everyone stays out of trouble."
If any of the younger players need guidance on the temptations of New Orleans, they can certainly ask center Keith Short, who was sent home for breaking curfew in 1995. "We sent him home on the bus," Beamer said. "We'll fly you down on a nice, charter flight, but if you don't do right, we'll send you home on the bus. It took him 26 hours to get home."
In addition to their meetings, the Hokies went through a light workout this afternoon. They have another practice scheduled for Tuesday, putting them two work days ahead of the Seminoles, who don't arrive here until Tuesday evening. Still, the extra practice won't change the No. 2 Hokies' status as underdogs, a position the players are milking in order to put pressure on Florida State.
"I'm going to have my camera ready and my autograph book, so I can get those guys' autographs," defensive end Corey Moore said. "It's just an honor to be on the same field with those guys. They're the best team in the nation. They're number one."