And 20 years later, the Big Easy as good as ever

ragostini@modbee.comJanuary 28, 2013 

    alternate textRon Agostini
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports
    Bio: Ron Agostini has served as a sports reporter and columnist for The Bee for more than 35 years. His stories and columns have won state-wide, regional and national awards and he's a board director and past president of the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association. He's a graduate of Fresno State.
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NEW ORLEANS — The airport shuttle hummed through the narrow New Orleans streets toward the Convention Center Monday night, and a few people hummed along to "My Girl" by the Temptations.

It was a quiet night, the quiet before the storm, but the vibe already was good. Soon, the Big Easy will be jumping as it always does for big events.

They come no bigger than the Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

The interaction is under way. I met a cousin of Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, a pass-catcher who might give the 49ers major matchup problems.

"I want him to win so bad," the cousin said, "and I'm rooting for Ray Lewis too."

The connecting flight from Dallas to New Orleans featured a VIP in first class — Deion Sanders, riding into town for his work on the NFL Network. Prime Time, decked out in sunglasses and Under Armour gear, was protected in Baggage Claim by three New Orleans policemen. Meanwhile, I was on my own.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of my first trip to New Orleans. I remember it well, not all for good reasons.

The assignment was heavenly--columns from the NCAA Final Four at the Superdome, followed by a trip to Augusta, Ga., for the Masters. A few hours after Saturday night's semifinal games were completed, I felt my stomach doing backflips. Something I had eaten did not agree with me, and I will not supply any more information other than to say I was bedridden until Monday morning.

Here's where the goodness of New Orleans, years before Hurricane Katrina altered the city's geography but did not touch its soul, came to my rescue. A kindly woman from the front desk of my hotel brought medicine to my room, and so began my recovery.

Still not 100 percent, I pushed myself back into the dome Monday night and witnessed Chris Webber calling the infamous timeout his Michigan team did not have. The Fab Five handed Dean Smith and his North Carolina Tar Heels the NCAA title while I watched--complexion slowing returning to my face — from the third media row.

Six days later, Chip Beck laid up at 15, thus assuring Bernard Langer another Masters victory. The week was incredible, though I was just glad I survived.

The promise of this week rolls out like one of those French Quarter parades. Can Turlock's Colin Kaepernick keep delivering in only his 10th career start at quarterback? Will the 49ers make it 6-for-6 in The Big One? Will I stay healthy?

Question No. 3 trails the first two in importance by about 1,000 degrees. Here's my personal wish for the week: I would love to meet that goodhearted samaritan who helped me 20 years ago. The best I could do back then is leave her a note of thanks.

And, as the saying goes, pay if forward.

Follow Ron Agostini all week long, including updated blogs and Tweets throughout the day, as he takes in the sights and sounds of New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII.

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