Sunday, January 31, 2016

Faux Flashback: How to Be a New York Football Fan In St. Louis

The St. Louis Rams are moving back to Los Angeles after 21 years. It's the right thing to do: The Rams were L.A.'s 1st major league sports team, and St. Louis, while great for baseball and good for hockey, simply isn't a football town.

I never did a trip guide for the Giants or Jets going to St. Louis to play the Rams, even though the Giants went there just last season. If I had posted it, on or around December 14, 2014, a week before the game in question, it would have gone something like this (with updates in Italics):

Before You Go. While the Gateway City can get brutally hot in the summers, this is December. The website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is predicting high 60s for Sunday afternoon and high 40s for the evening. The stadium has a permanent roof, so you will be protected from the elements. But coming out, it could be a bit chilly, so you should bring a jacket.

St. Louis is in the Central Time Zone, an hour behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. While the Cardinals always sell well, even in off years, the Rams are averaging 57,018 fans per home game this season. That would have been over a sellout at the old Busch Memorial Stadium, but at the Edward Jones Dome, it's only 86 percent of capacity. For both average and capacity, only the Oakland Raiders have done worse this season. So getting tickets for a Rams game should not be all that hard, especially against the Giants, who aren't exactly a regional rival like Chicago or Kansas City, or a Divisional rival like San Francisco, Seattle or Arizona.

(In 2015, the Rams averaged just 52,402 fans per home game, just 80 percent of capacity, both NFL lows. A big reason why they moved, but a bigger reason was the lease and the comparative lack of luxury boxes. Unfortunately, now that the season is over, I can't find any reference to St. Louis Rams ticket prices.)

Getting There. It's 953 miles from Times Square to downtown St. Louis, and 948 miles from MetLife Stadium to the Edward Jones Dome. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

If you order tickets from American Airlines now, and you don't mind flying early in the morning on Saturday (the day before the game) and back home Monday, you can get a flight out of Newark Airport, change planes at Chicago, and then to at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, for under $400, maybe even under $300. Otherwise, you're looking at closer to $1,200. (Albert Bond Lambert was a St. Louis golfer and early aviator.)

MetroLink, St. Louis' light rail system, will get you directly from Lambert to downtown. Of course, unless you manage to get a midnight flight back, or are willing to sit in the airport overnight, you should get a hotel. And whatever you do, if you take a taxi out of the airport instead of MetroLink, do not call the dispatcher "a slab of meat with mittens" like Steve Martin did at that same airport in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Bus? Not a good idea. Greyhound runs 8 buses a day between Port Authority and St. Louis, and only 4 of them are without changes. The average time of these trips is around 24 hours, and costs $400 round-trip, although this can drop to as little as $211 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound terminal is at Union Station, downtown at 430 S. 15th Street.
St. Louis' Union Station

Speaking of Union Station, Amtrak is an even worse option. You'll have to take Amtrak out of New York's Penn Station, not Newark's. You could board the Lake Shore Limited at Penn Station at 3:40 Eastern on Friday afternoon, arriving at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 Central on Saturday morning, transfer to the Texas Eagle at 1:45 in the afternoon, and be at St. Louis' Union Station at 7:21 that night. The trip would take 26 hours and 36 minutes. Longer than the bus, but cheaper, and you get to be in Chicago for 4 hours, which is cool. It would be $1,084 round-trip -- maybe 3 times as much as a plane!
Union Station also includes a hotel and a mall.
Great for those things, but you might not feel like doing them
if you came in via Greyhound or Amtrak.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike, and take Interstate 78 West across New Jersey, and at Harrisburg get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which at this point will be both I-70 and I-76. When the two Interstates split outside Pittsburgh, stay on I-70 west. You’ll cross the northern tip of West Virginia, and go all the way across Ohio (through Columbus), Indiana (through Indianapolis) and Illinois. When you cross into Missouri, Exit 9 will be for the Sports Complex.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour in New Jersey, 5 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Illinois, and 15 minutes in Missouri before you reach the exit for your hotel. That’s going to be nearly 17 hours. Counting rest stops, preferably 6 of them, and accounting for traffic in both New York and St. Louis, it should be about 24 hours.

Once In the City. St. Louis, settled by the French in 1764 and named for Louis IX, the Crusader King, the only monarch of France to have been canonized as a Saint, has a history out of proportion to its size. There's a mere 320,000 within the city limits, about half of what it was in 1950. But, like a lot of cities, especially in the Midwest, the "white flight" went to the suburbs, keeping the population of the metropolitan area roughly the same, in this case 2.9 million. Or, roughly, the population of Brooklyn alone.

Market Street divides the city's north and south street addresses, and on the east-west streets, the numbers increase westward from the Mississippi River. The sales tax in the State of Missouri is 4.225 percent, but it's over double that in St. Louis City: 8.49 percent. And St. Louis City is independent of St. Louis County, a confusion we usually don't have, because nobody outside County courthouses and Manhattan Borough Hall refers to Manhattan Island as "New York County."

Metrolink light rail has a $2.25 base fare, and the Metro buses are $2.00.  A Day Pass for the entire system is $7.50. If you're staying for the entire series, a Weekly Pass is $25. Do yourself a favor: Do not, even on Metrolink, go across the river into East St. Louis, Illinois. The joke is that the crime rate has dropped because there's nothing left to steal.
The State Capitol is in Jefferson City, 126 miles west of downtown St. Louis, 147 miles east of downtown Kansas City, and 30 miles south of the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.
The Missouri State House,
on the Missouri River in Jefferson City

ZIP Codes for the St. Louis area start with the digits 630, 631 and 632. The Area Codes are 314 for the city and 636 for the suburbs.

Going In. The address of the Edward Jones Dome is 901 N. Broadway, 9 blocks north of Busch Stadium. Metrolink to Convention Center. If you drive in, parking starts at $8.00.

The 2 main areas for tailgaters are the parking lot north of the Dome and the park across Broadway. The Rams' official tailgate is in the park. The tailgate often has live music, games and food, and is generally family-friendly

North of the Dome is the closest to a true “tailgate” as you’ll find in St. Louis. With parking spread out throughout downtown, the tailgates are also spread out across the area. The lot north of the Dome captures that tailgating feel, with plenty of food and adult beverages being consumed.
The Dome, bracketed by Interstate 44 and the America's Center convention complex

Opening in 1995, it was named the Trans World Dome, after Trans World Airlines, until TWA went out of business in 2001. At that point, it reverted to its planning-stage name, The Dome at America's Center. In 2002, St. Louis-based investment firm Edward Jones Investments bought the naming rights, and still holds them.
You'll most likely be entering the stadium from the south.The field is artificial (it has to be, since it's under a permanent dome), and is aligned north-to-south.
The Dome hosted the NCAA Final Four in 2005 (North Carolina beating Illinois), a soccer game between Real Madrid and Internazionale Milano (a.k.a. Inter Milan) in 2013, a pair of Big 12 Conference Championship Games, and 6 neutral-site football games between the universities of Missouri and Illinois -- with Missouri winning all of them. (Then again, it's in Missouri, so in spite of the tickets being allotted 50-50, how neutral can it be?) It also hosts concerts, and the St. Louis-based televangelist Joyce Meyer hosts her annual Joyce Meyer Ministries Love Life Women's conference there, hosting up to 20,000 women.

Food. Compared to most NFL stadiums, the food at the Edward Jones Dome is cheap. They have the lowest-priced beer in the NFL at $4.50, and a Kids Meal that includes a hot dog, juice, yogurt and a toy for just $2.00. 

Delaware North runs the concessions, leaning heavily on local companies, including Sugarfire Smoke House (which, according to the team website, "takes St. Louis’ traditional barbecue up a notch"; Strange Donuts, Crown Candy Kitchen, Gus’ Pretzels, Bandana's Bar-B-Que, and The Peacemaker, a neighborhood restaurant and oyster bar. Former Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon runs Shire Gate Farm, which provides the stadium's "sustainable, high-welfare hot dogs and burgers."

Unfortunately, the team website has no concessions map.

Team History Displays. The Rams hang banners from all 3 cities at the Dome:

* Cleveland: The 1945 NFL Championship.

* Los Angeles: The 1951 NFL Championship; The 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1955 NFL Western Division Championships; the 1979 NFC Championship (losing Super Bowl XIV); the 1967 and 1969 NFL Coastal Division Championships; and the 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1985 NFC Western Division Championships. (The Rams also reached the 1989 NFC Championship Game, via the Wild Card route.)

* St. Louis: The 1999 NFL Championship (winning Super Bowl XXXIV), the 2001 NFC Championship (losing Super Bowl XXXVI), and the 2003 NFC Western Division Championship.

The Rams are the only team to win NFL Championships in 3 different cities. The others to win them in at least 2 are the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens franchise, and the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. In addition, the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs franchise won AFL Championships in 2 different cities.
The Dome houses the St. Louis Football Ring of Fame, and included figures from the Rams in both Los Angeles and St. Louis (which makes no sense), and figures from the football Cardinals (1960-1987):

* Cardinals in St. Louis: Tight end Jackie Smith, offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf (now better known as a broadcaster), cornerback Roger Wehrli and safety Larry Wilson.

* Rams in Los Angeles: Quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin; running back Eric Dickerson; receivers Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, Tom Fears and Jack Snow (later a broadcaster into the St. Louis years); guard Tom Mack; offensive tackle Jackie Slater; defensive ends David "Deacon" Jones and Jack Youngblood; defensive tackle Merlin Olsen; and linebacker Les Richter.

* Rams in St. Louis: Running back Marshall Faulk.

Aside from Snow, all of these men are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So is safety Aeneas Williams, who is not yet in the Ring of Honor. Dan Reeves, the man who moved the Rams to Los Angeles the 1st time, is also honored in both the Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor. (He was not related to the Dan Reeves who was a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, and later coached the Denver Broncos, the Atlanta Falcons and the Giants, and who, perhaps unfairly, is not in the Hall.)

Carroll Rosebloom,who bought the Rams from Reeves' heirs, and his widow Georgia Frontiere, who moved the team to St. Louis, are also honored in the Ring of Honor, as is Dick Vermeil, who coached them to their Super Bowl XXXIV win. None of those 3 is in the Hall yet.

The Rams have retired 8 numbers: Waterfield's 7, Faulk's 28, Dickerson's 29, Olsen's 74, Jones' 75, Slater's 78, Youngblood's 85, and the number 80 of Isaac Bruce, who, until the 2016 NFL season starts, remains (as a result of not retiring until 2007), the last active former Los Angeles Ram. Despite having caught over 1,000 passes for over 15,000 yards, he is not yet in the Hall.
Not honored by the Hall of Fame, or the Ring of Honor, were defensive tackle Rosey Grier (Number 76) and defensive end Lamar Lundy (Number 78). With Jones and Olsen, they formed the Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line of the 1960s. All 4 went into acting and music. Olsen starred on NBC's Little House On the Prairie and Father Murphy, and was a color analyst on NBC's NFL broadcasts. Jones appeared in several Miller Lite beer commercials, and Grier appeared on several 1970s TV shows, including playing a bounty hunter on 2 episodes of Kojak and reflecting his real-life role as a community activist on Quincy, M.E. Now 83 years old, Grier is the last surviving member. He was also a member of the 1956 NFL Champion Giants and a graduate of Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, Union County, New Jersey.

The St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame is located at Busch Stadium, 7 blocks away at 700 Clark Avenue. It honors 10 football Cardinals: Dierdorf, Smith, Wehrli, Wilson, Williams, quarterback Jim Hart, running back Jim Otis, receiver Mel Gray, kicker Jim Bakken, and coaches Don Coryell and Jim Hanifan. It honors 9 Rams: Faulk, Bruce, Vermeil, quarterback Kurt Warner, receiver Torry Holt, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, defensive tackle D'Marco Farr, and defensive end Kevin Carter. It also includes baseball Cardinals, Blues Hawks, University of Missouri sports legends, and local high school stars who made it big elsewhere.

There is a Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, but it's all the way across the State in Springfield.

Lane, Jones and Olsen were named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994. They, Hirsch and Dickerson were named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999. Hirsch, Van Brocklin, Lane, Jones, Olsen, Dickerson, Faulk, and St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner were named to the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010.

Stuff. The Rams Team Store is on the Dome's lower level concourse, behind Section 152, at the stadium's south end. The usual team-related items can be found there, as can caps with ram horns on them.

Unlike the Cardinals, who have had entire forests chopped down to make the paper for the books that have been written about them, books about the Rams are few and far between. The Post-Dispatch sports staff commemorated the Super Bowl XXXIV win with On Every Play Eleven Men Believed: The Story of How the St. Louis Rams Rose from the Cellar to the Super BowlIn 2009, Robert Mullen invoked the nickname of that era's Ram team in the title of his book: The Greatest Show on Turf: The Story of 99-01 St. Louis Rams. The NFL has also released a commemorative DVD of the Rams' Super Bowl triumph.

For their 1st Los Angeles era, pickings are slim: Amazon.com mentions Joseph Hession's book The Rams: Five Decades of Football, and this even includes their Cleveland era -- but was published in 1986.

I suspect that the move will result in new books, including looks back on the original L.A. Rams.

During the Game. Because of their Great Plains/Heartland image, Rams fans like a “family atmosphere.” They don't much like New York, but they won't bother Giants and Jets fans just for being Giants or Jets fans. They will not directly antagonize you. At least, they won’t initiate it. But don’t call them rednecks, hicks, hillbillies or (to borrow a term from British soccer) sheep-shaggers.

An October 18, 2015 Thrillist article listed Rams fans in the bottom half of on a list of "The Most Obnoxious Fans in the NFL" -- in other words, the less obnoxious half. But it didn't exactly praise them: "Rams fans are basically people from St. Louis with nothing to do when the Cardinals aren’t playing. Either that or you just enjoy watching football in a Costco. Minus the noise and energy." 

The Rams hold auditions for singing the National Anthem, instead of having a regular singer. The L.A. version of the Rams had a classic fight song, but the St. Louis version has tried a few, with awful results. The biggest fan chant at the Dome? Probably "Kroenke sucks!"

Since 2010, the team's mascot has been Rampage the Ram. He wears a Number 1 jersey, and doesn't look much toward either extreme: He's neither especially cuddly to appeal to kids, or intimidating to appeal to hardcore football fans. Indeed, splitting the difference was intentional: According to Kevin Demoff, the Rams' current executive-vice president of football operations, Rampage "has the coating of a stuffed animal, but the build of a superhero."
The team is taking Rampage with them to Los Angeles. In the last few years in Anaheim, they had a mascot named Ramster, but he was never accepted by the fans, who seemed to think he looked more like a rat than a mature male sheep with weaponized horns.

After the Game. St. Louis has a bit of a crime problem, but since the arena is right downtown, this will probably not affect you. As I said, leave the home fans alone, and they'll probably leave you alone.

The Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, across I-44 at 999 N. 2nd Street, includes Ozzie's Sports Bar and Grill, owned by Cardinal Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith. Mike Shannon's Steaks and Seafood, owned by the 1960s Cardinal right fielder and longtime broadcaster, is at 620 Market Street at 7th Street, 2 blocks north of Busch Stadium. Joe Buck's, a restaurant owned by the Cardinals and Fox broadcaster, is at 1000 Clark Avenue, halfway between the arena and the ballpark -- but why would you want to go to a restaurant associated with him?

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, Bar Louie is the home of the local Giant fans. 14 Maryland Plaza at Euclid Avenue, on the West Side. MetroLink to Central West End, then a short walk. The local Jet fans' hangout is BoBecks, but it’s 20 miles south of downtown St. Louis, across the River in Waterloo, Illinois. 1234 Jamie Lane. MetroLink to 5th & Missouri, then switch to 2X bus, then walk a mile south.

If your visit to St. Louis is during the European soccer season, which we are now in, the best place to watch your club is at the Amsterdam Tavern, 3175 Morganford Road, in the Tower Grove South area, about 6 miles southwest of downtown. Bus 30 to Arsenal Street and Morganford Road. (However, don't be fooled by that street name: Fans of London club Arsenal meet at Barrister's, 7923 Forsyth Blvd., about 9 miles west of downtown. MetroLink to Clayton.

Sidelights. St. Louis likes to think of itself as a great sports city, and as "the best baseball town in America." Yeah, right. But check these sites out:

* Busch Stadium. Busch Stadium I (named Sportsman's Park from 1909 to 1952) was well north of downtown. Busch Stadium II (Busch Memorial Stadium) was right downtown, and St. Louis' greatest icon, the Gateway Arch, built right before the stadium was, could be seen over its left-field fence, and the idea was incorporated into the park's design, with an arched roof that gave the stadium a very distinctive look that separated it from the other multipurpose concrete circle/oval stadiums of the 1960s and '70s.
Busch Stadium II in its football setup.
Looks like they just set off some fireworks.

Busch Stadium III has a brick look on the outside that suggests an old factory -- or perhaps a brewery. And the Arch is visible beyond straightaway center field, much more so than it was in the preceding stadium, due to the new one's open outfield.

But there is one other notable structure that can be seen from the park: The Old Courthouse can be seen beyond the left field fence. This was where two of the most infamous court cases in American history began, both later settled unfairly by the U.S. Supreme Court in decisions that were overturned by Constitutional Amendments: Dred Scott v. Sanford, in which a slave sued in 1846 to be declared free after his master took him into a State where slavery had already been abolished; and Minor v. Happersett, in which a woman sued in 1872 to be allowed to vote.

The new Busch Stadium hasn't yet hosted football, but it hosted a soccer game between English clubs Chelsea and Manchester City in the summer of 2013, and a 6-1 U.S. soccer victory over St. Vincent & the Grenadines this past November 13. 700 Clark Avenue at 8th Street.

Busch Memorial Stadium, home of the Cardinals from 1966 to 2005, the NFL Cardinals from 1966 until 1987 when they moved to Arizona, and the Rams for 3 games in 1995 because the new dome wasn't ready, was across Clark Avenue from the new stadium.

While it was never a major venue for football -- unless you count those "Bud Bowl" commercials during Super Bowls, where the arched roof of old Busch was easily recognizable -- there were 6 World Series played there, with the Cardinals winning in 1967 and 1982. But only in 1982 did they clinch there; the Detroit Tigers clinched there in 1968, and the Boston Red Sox did so in 2004, with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon filmed by the Farrelly Brothers in their improvised rewritten ending to the U.S. version of Fever Pitch, with Major League Baseball giving them permission to film on the field after the game.

Busch Memorial Stadium hosted 7 games by the U.S. national soccer team, and the Stars & Stripes were undefeated, winning 5 and tying 2.

With the NFL having left St. Louis, here are the closest teams: The Kansas City Chiefs, 241 miles to the west; the Indianapolis Colts, 241 miles to the east; and the Chicago Bears, 296 miles to the northeast.

* Scottrade Center and site of Kiel Auditorium. Since 1994, the NHL's Blues have played at this arena, adjacent to Union Station. The arena opened as the Kiel Center, in honor of the previous building on the site, and then the Savvis Center, after a company that would go bust in the tech bubble, before Internet stock-trading company Scottrade took over.

The building also hosts the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, known as "Arch Madness" instead of "March Madness." It hosted the NCAA Frozen Four in 2007.

The previous building was built in 1934, as the Municipal Auditorium, and in 1943 was renamed for the late Mayor Henry Kiel, who got it built. St. Louis University played its home basketball games there for its program's entire existence, 1934 to 1991, before moving temporarily to the Arena and then to the Scottrade Center, before opening its new on-campus Chaifetz Arena in 2008.

The NBA's Hawks played there from their 1955 move from Milwaukee until their 1968 move to Atlanta, winning the Western Conference title in 1957, '58, '60 and '61 and the NBA Title in 1958.Elvis Presley sang there on January 1, 1956; March 29, 1957; September 10, 1970; June 28, 1973; and March 22, 1976.

1401 Clark Avenue, 7 blocks west of Busch Stadium. The stretch of Clark outside the arena is also known as Brett Hull Way. Union Station and Civic Center stops on Metrolink.

* Site of Sportsman's Park. From 1866 onward, several ballparks stood on this site, including the one used by the Cardinals, then known as the St. Louis Browns, when they won 4 straight Pennants in the old American Association from 1885 to 1888.

Those Browns were owned by Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant (as were thousands of people in St. Louis at the time), and he was an outsized personality owning a baseball team decades before George Steinbrenner or Gussie Busch were born. "Der boss president of der Browns," as he called himself in his accent, built one of the first amusement parks, adjacent to the ground, and a beer garden which could be called the first sports bar -- though this is disputed by Bostonians stumping for Michael "Nuf Ced" McGreevy's Third Base Saloon, which also opened in the 1880s. But the ballpark burned down in 1898, and von der Ahe was ruined. The new owners moved the team to Robison Field.

The team's name became the Cardinals with a change in uniform color in 1900, and the American League's Browns arrived in 1902, after spending the AL's first season in Milwaukee. The AL Browns set up shop at the existing Sportsman's Park, and built a new one on the site, the last one, in 1909.

The ballpark was home to St. Louis' 1st 2 NFL teams, the All-Stars, who played only the 1923 season; and the Gunners, who played from 1931 to 1940.

Those Browns remained until 1953, when Bill Veeck realized that Gussie Busch's purchase of the Cards meant the Browns simply couldn't compete. The Cards had moved back to the site in 1920 and by 1926 had set the tone: The Browns were the landlords but legendary losers, while the Cardinals were the tenants but wildly successful. Ten World Series were played in that ballpark, from 1926 to 1964, including the all-St. Louis "Trolley Series" of 1944, when the Browns led the Cards 2 games to 1 but the Cards won the next 3 straight to take it, ruining the Browns' best (and perhaps last) chance to take the city away.

Gussie knew that his Cards -- and the NFL's Cardinals, who played there after moving from Chicago in 1960 -- couldn't stay in a 30,804-seat bandbox tucked away on the North Side with no parking and no freeway access, so he got the city to build him the downtown stadium. Sportsman's Park, the first Busch Stadium, the home of George Sisler, the Gashouse Gang and Stan the Man, was demolished shortly after the Cards left in 1966. The Herbert Hoover Boys Club is now on the site, and, unlike most long-gone ballpark sites, there is a baseball field there.

Oddly, the two teams had different addresses for their offices: The Cards at 3623 Dodier Street, the Browns at 2911 North Grand Blvd. Metrolink to Grand station, transfer to Number 70 bus. Definitely to be visited only in daylight.

* Site of Robison Field. Home of the Cardinals from 1898 to 1920, it was the last mostly-wooden ballpark in the major leagues. Moving out was the best thing the Cards could have done, as -- hard to believe, considering what happened to them over the next quarter-century -- they were the town's joke club, while the Browns were the more-regarded team. It was torn down in 1926 to make way for Beaumont High School, which still stands on the site.

3836 Natural Bridge Avenue, at Vandeventer Avenue. Six blocks north and two blocks west of the site of Sportsman's Park. Again: Do not visit at night.

* Site of 1904 World's Fair and St. Louis Arena. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was held at Forest Park in honor of the centennial of the start of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark heading out from St. Louis to explore the Louisiana Purchase.

It is remembered as the birthplace of the hamburger, the hot dog, iced tea, peanut butter, cotton candy and Cracker Jacks. While they may have all been nationally popularized at that place and at that time, all of these claims of origin are dubious at best, except for Cracker Jacks, which are definitely a St. Louis creation. Equally dubious was the 1904 Olympics, which were essentially a sideshow of the World's Fair; it wasn't until London in 1908 that they became an institution in and of themselves.

Very little of the Fair remains. The Administration Building is now Brookings Hall, a major building of Washington University. The Palace of Fine Art is now the St. Louis Art Museum.

The Arena opened in 1929 across Oakland Avenue from Forest Park. At 14,200 seats, it was then one of the largest arenas outside the Northeast Corridor, and in terms of floor space only the recently-built "old" Madison Square Garden was larger.

It was the home of several minor league hockey teams until the NHL expansion of 1967 brought in the Blues. In 1977, the Arena had been expanded to 17,188 seats, and with Ralston Purina then being majority owners of the Blues, their "Checkerboard Square" logo was plastered everywhere, and the building was renamed the Checkerdome until 1983.

It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1973 (Bill Walton hitting 21 of 22 shots for UCLA over Memphis State) and 1978 (Jack Givens' Kentucky defeating Mike Gminski's Duke); and the hockey version, the "Frozen Four," in 1975.

It was the home of the Spirits of St. Louis in the American Basketball Association's last 2 seasons, 1974-75 and 1975-76, before folding with the league, and were not absorbed into the NBA. That team featured Marvin Barnes and future Basketball Hall-of-Famers Maurice Lucas and Moses Malone, all 3 of whom were later named to the ABA All-Time Team. The Spirits were also the 1st major league sports team for whom Bob Costas broadcast.

The Arena was seen as being inadequate for a modern sports team, and the Blues moved out in 1994. It was demolished in 1999, and apartments and a Hampton Inn are on the site today. 5700 Oakland Avenue at Parkview Place. Metrolink to Central West End, then Number 59 bus.

On May 12, 2014, The New York Times printed a story that shows NBA fandom by ZIP Code, according to Facebook likes. Being between several NBA cities but not especially close to any of them (243 miles to Indianapolis, 284 to Memphis, 295 to Chicago, 498 to Oklahoma City), the St. Louis area divides up its fandom among the "cool" teams: The Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat. However, not far into St. Louis' Illinois suburbs, you begin to get into solid Bulls territory. (As yet, there is no hockey version of this article.) If St. Louis had an NBA team, the city would rank 22nd among league markets.

Elvis also sang at the Missouri Theater on October 21, 22 and 23, 1955, at the intersection of N. Grand Blvd. and Lucas Avenue, a block away from he Fox Theatre. Parking is on the site now.


In addition to the preceding, Elvis sang in Eastern Missouri in 1955 at the National Guard Armory in Sikeston on January 21 and September 7; at the Armory in Poplar Bluff on March 9; at the B&B Club in Gobler on April 8 and September 28; and at the Arena Building in Cape Girardeau on July 20.

* Chaifetz Arena. The aforementioned home of Saint Louis University basketball (they always spell "Saint" out, never abbreviate it as "St.") is at 1 S. Compton Avenue, at the southwest corner of Laclede Avenue. Across from it, at the southeast corner, was Stars Park, home of the Negro Leagues' St. Louis Stars, Pennant winners in 1928, 1930 and 1931 -- just like their white counterparts.

SLU's teams are called the Billikens. Along with another Catholic school known for basketball but not football, Washington, D.C.'s, Georgetown Hoyas, this is one of the odder nicknames in college sports. In 1911, a local sportswriter said that the school's football coach at the time, John R. Bender, resembled a "Billiken," a charm doll popular at the time, resembling a Buddha with pointed ears. His team became known as Bender's Billikens, and the name stuck. Bender's predecessor as SLU football coach, Eddie Cochems, was the 1st coach to legally utilize the forward pass, in 1906. MetroLink to Grand.

 * St. Louis Walk of Fame. Honoring famous people from the St. Louis area, including from across the river in southern Illinois, these plaques run from 6150 to 6699 Delmar Blvd. Of the 128 current honorees, 25 are connected to sports: Cardinals figures Rickey, Hornsby, Dean, Musial, Schoendienst, Gibson, Brock, Ozzie Smith, Caray, Garagiola, Buck and Costas; the Browns' Sisler; the Negro Leagues' Bell; St. Louis native and New York baseball legend Berra; football Cardinals Dierdorf and Jackie Smith (as yet, no Rams); Hawks Pettit and Macauley (as yet, no Blues); boxers Henry Armstrong and Archie Moore; tennis stars Dwight Davis and Jimmy Connors; track legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee; and bowler Dick Weber. Metrolink to Delmar station.

At 6504 Delmar is Blueberry Hill, the rock-and-roll-themed restaurant where St. Louis' own Chuck Berry, 89 years young, still plays about once a month. He, of course, has a plaque on the Walk of Fame, as does his pianist Johnnie Johnson.

They are 2 of the 15 musical personalities on the Walk, including both Ike and Tina Turner, ragtime inventor Scott Joplin, jazz superstars Josephine Baker and Miles Davis, and opera singer Robert McFerrin, father of "Don't Worry Be Happy" singer Bobby McFerrin.

* Gateway Arch.  Built on the traditional founding site of the city, on the Mississippi River, on February 14, 1764, the Arch, 630 feet high with its legs 630 feet apart at ground level, represents an old city. But it is, surprisingly, not an especially old landmark, opening to the public in 1967.

An underground visitors' center leads to a tram that takes you to the top, which is higher than any actual building in town, and serves as St. Louis' "observation deck." Like the Empire State Building, it has lights cast on it at night in honor of various occasions. Admission is $10. 200 Washington Avenue at Market Street, access via Walnut Street.

The Arch is treated as the tallest "building" in the State of Missouri, but the tallest real building in town is One Metropolitan Square, built at Broadway & Olive Street in 1989: 593 feet tall. The tallest in the State is One Kansas City Place, at 624 feet. In each case, ordinary, by New York's standards.

* Brewery. The world's second-largest brewery is the Anheuser-Busch plant on U.S. Routes 1 & 9, across from Newark Liberty International Airport. The largest is A-B's corporate headquarters, south of downtown. Public tours of the brewery are available. 1 Busch Place, Broadway and Arsenal Street. Number 30 or 73 bus.

* Museum of Transportation. A rail spur of the old Missouri Pacific Railroad (or "Mopac," later absorbed by the Union Pacific) enabled this museum to open in 1944. It houses trains, cars, boats, and even planes. From a New York Tri-State Area perspective it has one of the last 2 surviving New York Central steam locomotives, one of the last 2 surviving Delaware, Lackawanna & Western steam locomotives, an Erie Lackawanna diesel locomotive, and the 1960 DiDia 150, a.k.a. the "Dream Car" made famous by New York singing legend Bobby Darin.

3015 Barrett Station Road in Keyes Summit (though St. Louis is still the mailing address), west of downtown. Bus 58X to Big Bend & Barrett Station Roads, then a 15-minute walk north on Barrett Station.

* Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. The closest the St. Louis area comes to having a Presidential Library, this park was built on land owned by the family of Julia Dent, the wife of the Union General and 18th President who is on the $50 bill.

7400 Grant Road, Grantwood Village, St. Louis County, southwest of downtown. It's tough to reach by public transportation: You'd have to take Metrolink to Shrewsbury station, transfer to the Number 21 bus, ride it to Walton and Grant Roads, and walk a little over a mile down Grant Road.

The Democratic Party had its 1876 Convention at the Merchants Exchange Building, at 3rd Street between Chestnut and Pine Streets, nominating Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York for President. The building stood there from 1875 to 1958.

The St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall stood from 1883 to 1907, and was the site of the Conventions for the Democrats in 1888 (renominating Grover Cleveland) and 1904 (nominating Alton Parker), and the Republicans in 1896 (nominating William McKinley). It stood at the southeast corner of 13th and Olive Streets.

The St. Louis Coliseum stood from 1908 and 1953, at the southwest corner of Washington Blvd. and Jefferson Avenue. The Democrats held their 1916 Convention there, renominating Woodrow Wilson. It also staged boxing.

The Washington University Field House has hosted Presidential Debates in 1992 (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot), 2000 (George W. Bush and Al Gore) and 2004 (George W. and John Kerry). 330 N. Big Bend Blvd. Metrolink to University City-Big Bend.

According to the best source I can find, there have been 7 TV shows set in St. Louis. The only recent one is Defiance, a postapocalyptic show now entering its 2nd season, for which a damaged Arch is a landmark. So if you're looking for locations in the city that have been on TV, guess what, the Arch itself and Busch Stadium are your best bets.

*

As for that last New York football team trip to St. Louis (possibly ever), the Giants beat the Rams, 37-27.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bobby Wanzer, 1921-2016

A New York/New Jersey basketball legend has left us, and you may have never heard of him.

Robert Francis Wanzer was born on June 4, 1921 in Brooklyn, and grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan -- "when it was poor," according to his son Bob. Despite growing to only 6 feet even, he got a basketball scholarship to Seton Hall University in South Range, New Jersey. In 1942-43, he helped the Pirates to a 16-2 record. Then he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, made the Armed Forces All-Star basketball team, and served during the occupation of Guam.

He returned to Seton Hall after The War, and in 1946-47, under former Hall star Bob Davies, and alongside former Seton Hall Prep star Frank "Pep" Saul, the Pirates went 24-3. From 1939-40 to 1947-48 -- with the program suspended for 3 seasons due to The War -- Seton Hall's "Wonder Five" won 113 games and lost just 14, for a winning percentage of .890.

Bobby Wanzer, nicknamed "Hooks" for his hook shot, was drafted by the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League in 1947. They had been founded 2 years earlier by Lester Harrison, who owned and coached them, and got them to the NBL title in only their 1st season, 1945-46. Bob Davies had played for that team, while also coaching The Hall (you could do that without running yourself ragged in those days), and recommended Wanzer and Saul.

Davies and Wanzer formed the NBL's best backcourt. In 1949, Harrison was among the men who brokered the merger between the 1937-founded NBL and the 1946-founded Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association. (The NBA officially traces its lineage to the founding of the BAA in 1946, making this year its 70th Anniversary.) The Royals maintained their excellence, and won the title in 1951, the only team to become NBA Champions between 1949 and 1954, other than the Minneapolis Lakers. They beat the Knicks in a 7-game Finals.

Hail the 1951 NBA Champion Rochester Royals: Number 3, guard Frank Saul; Number 7, forward Paul Noel; Number 9, guard Bobby Wanzer; Number 10, forward Jack Coleman; Number 11, guard Bob Davies; Number 12, forward Arnie Johnson; Number 14, center Arnie Risen; Number 16, guard William "Red" Holzman; Number 19, forward Bill Calhoun; Number 20, center Joe McNamee; and team founder, owner and head coach Les Harrison.

Davies and Holzman had previously won the NBL title with the 1946 Royals; since there was no BAA/NBA yet, this made them, them, technically, 2-time "World Champions." Saul would be traded to the Minneapolis Lakers, and make it 4 straight NBA titles with 2 different teams: 1951, '52, '53 and '54. Risen would win a title with the 1957 Boston Celtics, Coleman with the 1958 St. Louis Hawks. Holzman, of course, would coach the Knicks to the title in 1970 and 1973.

The Royals were unusual in that their players didn't wear single-digit uniform numbers. So Wanzer actually wore "09," Saul "03" and Noel "07."
Wanzer played his entire career with the Royals, retiring after the 1957 season. That was the team's last season in the Flour City. The NBA was growing to the point where the mid-size cities where so many pro basketball teams had started were no longer big enough.

The 1957 season was also the last for the NBA in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as the Pistons (whose name did make sense there, as it was a major auto-parts-building center) moved to Detroit. In 1949, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, based in the Moline, Illinois/Davenport, Iowa region (now better known as the Quad Cities), moved to become the Milwaukee Hawks, then the St. Louis Hawks in 1955, and the Atlanta Hawks in 1968.

The Oshkosh All-Stars, NBL Champions in 1941 and '42, knew the game was up, and declined to join the NBA in 1949. Another Wisconsin team, the Sheboygan Redskins, 1943 NBL Champions, joined the NBA in 1949, but left a year later. The year after that, the Iowa-based Waterloo Hawks bit the dust. The Royals' geographic rivals, the Syracuse Nationals, hung on until 1963, when they moved to become the Philadelphia 76ers.

Wanzer was a 5-time All-Star. In 1951-52, he became the 1st NBA player to shoot over 90 percent from the free throw line in a season. He was the Royals' player-coach their last 2 seasons in Rochester, then served as their 1st head coach as the Cincinnati Royals in 1957-58. The team became the Kansas City Kings in 1972 (having to change their name because Kansas City already had the baseball Royals), and the Sacramento Kings in 1985. The Kings still hang the Royals' 1951 NBA Championship banner, 55 years and 3 cities later.

In 1962, Wanzer was hired as the 1st head basketball coach at St. John Fisher College in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford. He coached there for 24 season,and also served as athletic director.

He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987. His Royals teammate Holzman would also be elected, for his coaching of the Knicks. Wanzer was also elected to the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, which is located at Hall of Fame inductees will be enshrined in the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico, Virginia. Other inductees include baseball legend Ted Williams, 2-time Olympic decathlon champion Bob Mathias, former Heavyweight Champion Ken Norton Sr. and golf legend Lee Trevino.

Seton Hall has retired Number 8 for Wanzer, Number 3 for Saul, and Number 11 for Davies. They've also retired 5 for 1950s player Walter Dukes, 12 for 1950s player Richie Regan, 24 for 1990s player Terry Dehere, 34 for 1970s player Glenn Mosley, and 44 for 1960s player Nick Werkman. These numbers are posted on a single banner at the Prudential Center in Newark, but, aside from Dehere, most fans my age and younger don't know any of them, with the possible exception of Davies, whose 11 has been retired by the Sacramento Kings.
Bobby Wanzer remained in Pittsford, and married a local woman named Nina. They had 3 children: Mary, Beth and Bob. He died at his home in Pittsford on January 23, 2016. He was 94 years old.

With his death, Saul and Calhoun are the only living players from the '51 Royals.

"I owe basketball a lot," he liked to say, "because I never had to get a real job."

Leo Roth, who covered the Royals and is still writing for Rochester's paper, The Democrat & Chronicle, wrote this week: "Bobby Wanzer — player, coach, teacher, husband, father, grandfather, friend — had just given us a 94-year clinic on how to live."

Walt "No Neck" Williams, 1943-2016

Walt Williams was a Yankee, but he was not a Yankee Legend. He wasn't even a Bronx Bomber -- not because of any lack of power, or any perception thereof, but because he never played a home game in The Bronx.

He's best known for a nickname. It wasn't a flattering one. But he should be remembered for more than that.

Walter Allen Williams was born on December 19, 1943 in Brownwood, in central Texas. Shortly thereafter, Brownwood was flooded. The federal government gave injections to prevent the spread of the disease typhus. But, even as a baby, Walter was so muscular that the only place where they could find a vein was in the back of his neck. As a result, he developed a crick in his neck, which stiffened and shrank. As a result, he grew to be only 5-foot-6, and 165 pounds, and received the nickname "No Neck."

The family moved west, and he graduated from Galileo High School in San Francisco. This is the same school that produced the DiMaggio brothers, late 1940s-early 1950s Yankee Bobby Brown, former Levi Strauss & Company and Oakland Athletics owner Walter Haas, basketball pioneer Hank Luisetti, and football legend turned American disgrace O.J. Simpson and his best friend, former teammate, and driver Al Cowlings.

The Houston Colt .45's, forerunners of the Astros, signed him as a free agent in 1963. An expansion team, they tended to move players up quickly -- fielding the youngest lineup in history for their 1963 finale, average age 19 -- and on April 21, 1964, just 20 years old, he made his major league debut, at Colt Stadium, the temporary structure they put up as the Astrodome was being built next door. Wearing Number 28, he was a defensive replacement for Jim Beauchamp in left field, and didn't come to bat. The Colts lost to the Cincinnati Reds 10-4.

After just 10 games in a Houston uniform, he was selected off waivers by the St. Louis Cardinals. But he would not play as they reached the 1964 World Series, since, unlike the Colts/Astros, they could afford to let talent develop in the minors. In 1965, with the Tulsa Oilers, he won the Texas League batting championship, with a .330 average. He hit .330 the next season as well. But with an outfield of Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Carl Warwick, with Roger Maris obtained for 1967, Walt wasn't going to see much action. So the Cards traded him to the Chicago White Sox.

Wearing Number 3 and playing both left and right field, he remained with the South Siders through their 1967 and 1972 Pennant races, and also through their awful season of 1969, though he batted .304. He struck out only 33 times, and grounded into only 5 double plays. (He struck out only 211 times in 10 seasons, despite being known as a free-swinger.) But that was to be his only major league season with at least 400 plate appearances.

Still, in a very inconsistent era for the Pale Hose, he became a fan favorite. He played the entire 1971 season without committing an error, put the ball in play, was renowned as a bunter, and hustled. According to The New York Times:

Like Pete Rose, he played with a caffeinated enthusiasm, running out every batted ball, hustling to his position for the start of an inning and even sprinting to first after receiving a base on balls, although that did not happen too often.

In addition, he reached out to the community, volunteering to talk to first-time drug offenders as part of Cook County's drug abuse prevention program. This helped to build the Sox up among young fans, at a time when the Cubs hardly had a hammerlock on the hearts and minds of Chicagoans and suburbanites.

After the 1972 season, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians. That off-season, he was playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, when his 2-year-old son died from spinal meningitis. His 1st marriage ended in divorce, and he later married a woman named Ester Lacy. He brought 2 sons to that marriage, Deron and Walter Jr., while she brought a son and a daughter, Gary and Sherry Barron.

Walt his career highs in 1973 with 8 home runs and 38 RBIs. With 1 out to go, he broke up a no-hitter by former Chicago teammate (and former Yankee) Stan Bahnsen on August 21 of that season.

On March 19, 1974, a complicated trade brought him to the Yankees. The Indians also sent the Yankees Rick Sawyer, the Detroit Tigers sent the Yankees Ed Farmer, the Tigers sent the Indians Jim Perry (where he was reunited with his brother Gaylord), and the Yankees sent the Tigers Jerry Moses.

The original Yankee Stadium was being renovated, so the Yankees played the 1974 and '75 seasons at Shea Stadium. Like Alex Rodriguez after him, Walt switched to Number 13 because hecouldn't wear Number 3, which had been retired for Babe Ruth. He was only the 5th Yankee to wear the number, known (perhaps unfairly) as being unlucky. (Spud Chandler had worn it in 1937, Lee Stine in 1938, Cliff Mapes after the 3 he was wearing was retired for Ruth in 1948, and Curt Blefary in 1970 and '71.)

Walt didn't hit well in 1974, but rebounded in '75, batting .281 as a part-time outfielder, filling in for Roy White and Lou Piniella in left field, Elliott Maddox in center and Bobby Bonds in right. The Yankees were in the American League Eastern Division race most of the way, but faded in September, finishing behind the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.

The Yankees then traded Bonds for Mickey Rivers to play center (and Ed Figueroa to pitch), let Maddox go, and committed to White in left and Piniella in right. On January 27, 1976, 40 years ago yesterday, they released Walt Williams. Not only did he not get to play home games in the renovated Yankee Stadium, he never played in the major leagues again

He did go on to play professionally in Japan and Mexico, and played in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989, for the St. Lucie Legends, alongside his former Yankee teammate Graig Nettles -- ironically, at the spring training home of the Mets.

His career batting average was .270. He hit 33 home runs and had 173 RBIs in 10 seasons, and committed just 19 errors.

He worked as the Sports Director of the Brownwood Community Center in his hometown. He was brought back to the White Sox, was made their 1st base coach in 1988, and managed in their minor-league system. He occasionally appeared at Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers' Day.

His nephew, Derwin Williams, was a receiver for the New England Patriots, and played in Super Bowl XX (a Super Bowl the Patriots didn't have to cheat to reach). He is now a football official, working Conference USA games. Derwin's son, Mason Williams, debuted for the Yankees last year, as an outfielder, but hurt his shoulder and missed most of the season. He was the 1st player to wear Number 80 in a major league game.

Walt Williams died on January 23, 2016, in Abilene, Texas. He was 72 years old.

He was something of a "cult figure," popular among White Sox, Indians and Yankee fans of a certain generation, just before my own. Growing up, all I knew about him was that he had a weird nickname, and that he was one of the guys the Yankees got rid of before they started winning Pennants again -- a list that also included Bonds, Maddox, Fritz Peterson, Doc Medich and so on. This led me to believe that he was part of the problem, not part of the solution.

This was a bit unfair. Walt Williams, scrunched neck and all, was a good ballplayer. The Yankees could use a player with his good eye, good glove and hustle.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In New Orleans -- 2016 Edition

This Saturday night, the Brooklyn Nets will be in what has been called "America's only foreign city," to play the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center, in a 7:00 PM Eastern Time start -- 6:00 PM local time. The New York Knicks will visit on March 28.

Before You Go. The game will be played indoors, but that doesn't mean the weather won't be a factor before or after the game. New Orleans is a semi-tropical city. Fortunately, this game is being played in the middle of the autumn, so heat and humidity probably won't be a factor. Check Nola.com, the website for the city's newspaper, The Times-Picayune, before you leave.

Indeed, the current weather forecast for New Orleans for next Sunday suggests, by our standards, unseasonable warmth for late January: Low 70s for daylight, high 50s for night. But they're not predicting rain.

New Orleans is in the Central Time Zone, so set your timepieces back an hour. However, in spite of that "foreign city" stuff, and the Confederate chapter of its past, you won't need a passport. You might think you'll need it, especially while there, but you won't. You won't need to change your money, either. But the ability to speak fluent French, while hardly required, might help.

Tickets. The Pelicans are averaging 16,697 fans per home game, about 97 percent of capacity,and slightly above last season. That's pretty good, considering the Pels are only 16-28 at this writing. So getting tickets might be an issue. And, with New Orleans' reputation as a city of, among other things, con men, I wouldn't trust a scalper any further than I could throw him. (I know, I know: "Well, with your bad knee, Mike, you shouldn't be throwing anybody.")

Pelicans tickets are cheap by NBA standards. Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, can be had for $170 between the baskets and $61 behind them. In the upper level, the 300 sections (the 200s are all season-ticket club seats), they're $44 between and $20 behind.

Getting There. It's 1,340 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown New Orleans. Unless you really, really like driving, you're probably going to fly.

Google Maps says the fastest way from New York to New Orleans by road is to take the Holland Tunnel to Interstate 78 to Harrisburg, then I-81 through the Appalachian Mountains, and then it gets complicated from there.

No, the best way to go, if you must drive, is to take the New Jersey Turnpike/I-95 all the way from New Jersey to Petersburg, Virginia. Exit 51 will put you on I-85 South, and that will take you right through Charlotte and Atlanta, to Montgomery, Alabama. There, you'll switch to I-65 South, and take that into Mobile, where you'll switch to I-10 West, which, under the name of the Pontchartrain Expressway, will take you into New Orleans.

You’ll be in New Jersey for about an hour and a half, Delaware for 20 minutes, Maryland for 2 hours, inside the Capital Beltway (Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia) for half an hour if you’re lucky (and don’t make a rest stop anywhere near D.C.), Virginia for 3 hours, North Carolina for 4 hours, South Carolina for about an hour and 45 minutes, Georgia for 3 hours, Alabama for 4 hours and 45 minutes, Mississippi for an hour and 15 minutes, and Louisiana for 45 minutes before reaching downtown New Orleans. Use Exit 235B for downtown and the Superdome/Smoothie King Center complex.

So we're talking about 23 hours. Throw in traffic in and around New York at one end, Washington and Atlanta in the middle, and New Orleans at the other end, plus rest stops, preferably in Delaware, and then one each State in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, and it’ll be closer to 28 hours. Still wanna drive? Didn’t think so.

Flying? You could get a round-trip fare from Newark to Louis Armstrong International Airport for a little under $900, but it won't be nonstop. The airport is west of downtown, in Kenner, and the E-2 bus will get you to downtown in 45 minutes for $2.00.

The bus doesn't sound much better. It takes 34 1/2 hours, counting the time change, changing buses in both Richmond and Atlanta. You'd have to leave Port Authority by 10:30 PM on Thursday night to get there by gametime -- or else take your chance with a bus that gets there at 5:30 PM on Saturday, half an hour before tipoff. Greyhound charges $456 round-trip, but it could drop to as little as $354 with advance purchase.

The train may be the best option. Certainly, it's the least complicated and the least annoying. Amtrak's Crescent leaves Penn Station at 2:15 PM every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station in New Orleans the following evening at 7:32 PM (30 hours and 17 minutes). So you could leave on Thursday, arrive on Friday, and have a Friday night and a Saturday afternoon in Party Town U.S.A. before the game on Saturday night.

But you'd have to spend a 2nd night in New Orleans, and then get up really early (never an easy thing to do there -- "Big Easy," yeah, surrrre!) to catch the Crescent back at 7:00 AM on Sunday, arriving back in New York at 1:46 PM on Monday. Round-trip fare is $354, and this is one of the exceptions to the rule that Greyhound is cheaper than Amtrak. It's considerably faster, too, and might even be faster than driving.

Union Station, now the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, handles both bus and train traffic. It is at 1001 Loyola Avenue, at Howard Avenue, a 5-minute walk from the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center.
It's not especially old, only going back to 1954. It may just be the least interesting major building in the city, even if, in the pre-Amtrak days, it was the southern terminus for the Illinois Central Railroad's morning-launching train to and from Chicago, made famous in Steve Goodman's 1970 folk song "The City of New Orleans"; and its Panama Limited, made famous in Jimmy Forrest's 1951 rhythm & blues instrumental "Night Train." (The former is best known by Arlo Guthrie; the latter, James Brown, and it gave legendary football defensive back Dick Lane his nickname.) The City of New Orleans ran from 1947 to 1972. Amtrak kept the night-launching Panama Limited going, but in 1981 renamed it the City of New Orleans.

Once In the City. Founded in 1718, the French named the settlement after Philippe II, Duc
d'Orléans, nephew of King Louis XIV and Regent for the child King Louis XV, governing with considerably more liberality than his uncle until the King's majority, at which point the King named the Duke Prime Minister, but he died shortly thereafter.

Known as the Crescent City, for its shape in a bend of the Mississippi River, New Orleans would be governed by the French from 1718 until the settlement of the French and Indian War in 1763, Spain from 1763 to 1802, France again from 1802 to 1803, the U.S. from the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 to 1861, the brief Republic of Louisiana after secession in 1861, the Confederate States of America in 1861 and 1862, and the U.S. again from 1862 onward.

The city's port status has long made it, though no longer the largest, easily the most important city in the American South. As a result, it was a major battle area of both the War of 1812, elevating Andrew Jackson to hero status, and the American Civil War, which ended its status as the largest slave market in North America. But it also had more free black and mixed-race people than any other American city to that point -- indeed, there were some light-skinned black people wealthy enough to own other, darker-skinned, black people as slaves.

By 1820, the French had become a minority in the city. As late as the dawn of the 20th Century, 3/4 of the population could speak French, and 1/4 spoke it first or even exclusively. Today, the main legacy of the French is in not just the many street names, but in the Creole patois of black New Orleanians.

New Orleans' status as the birthplace of jazz led to the naming of its 1st 2 major league sports teams: The NFL's Saints in 1967, after the city's unofficial anthem, "When the Saints Go Marching In"; and the NBA's Jazz in 1974, although they moved to Utah in 1979. The ABA's New Orleans Buccaneers were named for Jean Laffite, a privateer who aided Jackson during the 1814-15 Battle of New Orleans.

As late as 1950, New Orleans' population was 660,000, putting it in America's top 20 cities. White flight led to a drop to about 484,000 people within the city limits in the 2000 Census. After Hurricane Katrina, it dropped to 230,000, losing over half its people in one fell swoop. According to a recent estimate, it's back up to about 384,000. But the metropolitan area has just 1.45 million people, making it the 3rd-smallest metro area in the NBA, ahead of only Memphis and Oklahoma City.

And the poverty issue, so pervasive before the hurricane, is worse. Unemployment remains a high 9.4 percent. And crime is definitely an issue. The sales tax in the State of Louisiana is 4 percent. Orleans Parish (Louisiana calls its Counties "Parishes") adds a 5 percent sales tax, so the total sales tax is 9 percent, even higher than New York City's rate of 8.875 percent.

Because the Mississippi River bends so much, the city doesn't have a North Side, East Side, South Side or West Side. Canal Street traditionally divides Uptown from Downtown. It, and the river, are essentially the "zero points" for street addresses.

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) runs buses and historic (or at least historic-style) streetcars. The fare is just $1.25.
Going In. The address for the Smoothie King Center is at 1501 Girod Street. Adjacent is the Louisiana Superdome -- rebranded as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2011 -- at 1500 Sugar Bowl Drive. Parking in the deck under the Superdome costs $11. But if you don't get a space in the deck, you're screwed, because, otherwise, parking in downtown New Orleans is insanely expensive.
The Smoothie King Center in the foreground,
the Superdome behind it, downtown New Orleans behind them

Founded as the original Charlotte Hornets, this franchise moved to New Orleans in 2002. Having to play their 2005-06 season in Oklahoma City led the NBA to decide to let a team move there -- the Seattle SuperSonics, as it turned out.

The old Hornets became the Pelicans in 2013, taking the name of the city's former minor-league baseball team, itself taken from the State bird. The new Hornets, formerly the Bobcats, have been assigned this franchise's 1988-2002 records, so the NBA counts the Pelicans as having started in 2002, as the New Orleans Hornets.

The arena opened in 1999 as the New Orleans Arena, and seats 18,500. The court is laid out east-to-west -- or, more accurately, northwest-to-southeast. It was once home to a minor-league hockey team called the New Orleans Brass, and an Arena Football League team called the New Orleans VooDoo. Smoothie King, a fruit drink retailer based in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, bought the arena's naming rights in 2014.
It's hosted 2 NBA All-Star Games in its not-so-long history, and 2 NCAA Women's Final Fours. ZZ Top played the 1st concert there, and in the past year both Stevie Wonder and Rihanna have played it.

Food. There are many great food cities in America. New Orleans considers itself special in this regard. If you like spicy food, you will enjoy yourself. If not, you might still enjoy yourself. The arena's website has a chart with a link to show you where everything is.

Team History Displays. Since the NBA considers the new Charlotte Hornets to have begun as a franchise in 1988, and hasn't yet assigned the Seattle SuperSonics' history away from the Oklahoma City Thunder to a new (or moved) team, the Pelicans are, in a way, the youngest franchise in the league. But even if you count the old Hornets as part of their history, only once have they won their Division. That was in 2008.

The Pelicans have retired 1 number, and it's for a man who played in the city, but not for this team: 7, for "Pistol Pete" Maravich, the Louisiana State University star who played for the New Orleans Jazz before they moved to Utah. The Jazz have retired his number, even though he only played briefly in Utah. When the Hornets came to New Orleans in 2002, they retired his number, even though the franchise didn't play its 1st game until after he died in 1988.
This display also includes the Number 13 of Bobby Phills,
which has been returned to Charlotte for the new Hornets.
The Pelicans have returned it to circulation.

No one who has played for the 2002-present Hornets/Pelicans franchise has yet been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Nor were any of them named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players, which, of course, happened before 2002. Maravich, however, was.

Stuff. Supposedly, there is a Pelicans Team Shop somewhere in the arena. However, the team website doesn't say where it is.

As such a new and unsuccessful franchise, don't count on any team videos being available. Not many books, either: In August 2014, Zach Wyner published the Pels' entry in the NBA's On the Hardwood series; in January 2015, Shane Frederick published their entry in the NBA's A History of Hoops series.

During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Pelicans' fans as 29th, one level above last. It's not that they're bad, it's that they aren't especially engaged, due to the franchise's ineptitude. 

I don't agree. Pelicans fans are Louisianans. Due to the multiracial and multiethnic nature of New Orleans, they have to get along, and, with the help of their teams -- the Pelicans, the Saints, and LSU -- they do. The fans have no interest in starting violence. Respect them as home fans, and they'll respect you as visiting fans.

This Saturday night, the Pelicans will be hosting a Military Night promotion, so expect to see tributes to the troops. An active-duty soldier, sailor, airman/woman or Marine may sing the National Anthem.

The Saints do not have a regular National Anthem singer, instead holding auditions. Their mascot is Pierre the Pelican, his name tying in with the city's French heritage. Introduced before the 1st regular-season game under the Pelicans name, on October 30, 2013, his head scared some children, and had to be redesigned.
As you can see, I'm not kidding. Apparently, the woman on the right thought
she was going to the New Orleans Jazz' home opener in the Autumn of 1974.

On February 11, 2014, the revised Pierre debuted. He still looks kind of creepy.
And that's not even the creepiest mascot they've ever had. The King Cake Baby debuted with the Pelicans name as well. According to one explanation:

King Cake is a ring-shaped doughy cake that's commonly associated with Mardi Gras. The baker hides a plastic baby inside the cake and whoever finds it in their slice either receives good luck, gets pregnant or has to bake next year's cake, depending on how you opt to interpret the process.
That explanation may be even creepier than what it's explaining.

The team's theme song is "Roll With It" by Powersurge -- not to be confused with the Steve Winwood song of the same title. Their fan-interaction team is called the Swoop Troop. And, yes, the "Who Dat?" chant is borrowed from the Saints: "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Pelicans?" It just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

After the Game. New Orleans has had a crime problem for almost 300 years. Jean Laffite wasn't the only pirate there, and, at times, the city has seemed ungovernable -- especially since it's also got white-collar crime, both in business and in municipal government.

This is rampant throughout Louisiana, where Edwin Edwards ran to get back to the Governorship against former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke with the slogan, "Vote for the crook. It's important." Edwards won. He also publicly bragged, "The only way they're going to get rid of me is to catch me with a dead girl or a live boy." He served from 1972 to 1980, 1984 to 1988, and 1992 to 1996. He was finally nailed on racketeering charges in 2001, and served 9 years in prison. He's now out, 88 years old, just a few days younger than Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson.

But the Superdome/Smoothie King Center complex is probably the best-policed place in the entire South. The only crime you're likely to get besieged by is drunk and disorderly conduct, nothing violent. As long as you don't start anything, neither will anyone else.

Nola.com posted a list of 7 New Orleans restaurants to try before or after a Saints game. Presumably, they are also worthy of a post-Pelicans visit. These include Emeril Lagasse's home base of Emeril's, at 800 Tchoupitoulas Street at Julia Street. Mike Serio's Po-Boys & Deli, at 133 St. Charles Avenue at Tulane Avenue, is festooned with Saints and LSU memorabilia, and as the owner's name suggests, they are serious about New Orleans-style sandwiches. Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar, a Baton Rouge and LSU institution, recently opened a Superdome affiliate at 1009 Poydras Street at Rampart Street. All of these are within a mile of the Superdome.

Cooter Brown's Tavern & Oyster Bar has been hailed as the best sports bar in the State of Louisiana. 509 S. Carrollton Avenue, off Leake Avenue, near the Tulane and University of New Orleans campuses. (Campii?) St. Charles Streetcar to S. Carrollton.

Perhaps the most famous of all New Orleans drinking establishments is Pat O'Brien's Bar, in its current location since 1942. The name was in place well before the actor Pat O'Brien, famed for playing the title football coach in the film Knute Rockne, All-American, became famous. Due to wartime difficulties in importing scotch, they experimented with easier-to-obtain rum, coming up with a recipe that they poured in a glass shaped like a hurricane lamp, and the hurricane cocktail was born.

718 St. Peter Street off Royal Street, in the heart of the French Quarter, just 2 blocks from iconic St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, home to the statue of Andrew Jackson, a copy of the one in Lafayette Square across from the White House in Washington.

There doesn't appear to be a New Orleans bar that caters to New York sports fans. I looked up "New York Giants fan bar in New Orleans," then plugged in the Yankees and the Mets, but got nothing concrete, other than to read postings that some of the bars around Tulane University show games, due to a contingent of students from our Tri-State Area. There has been an official New Orleans Jets Fans club since 2011, but they don't yet have a regular gameday meeting place.

If your visit to New Orleans is during the European soccer season, which we are now in, there is only one place in town that is sure to show your game: Finn McCool's Irish Pub, at 3701 Banks Street, in the Mid-City neighborhood, about 3 miles northwest of downtown. Streetcar 47 or 48 to Canal and Telemachus.

Sidelights. History? Atmosphere? Sports? Debauchery? N'Awlins has got it all. To paraphrase John Dos Passos talking about New York, If you can get bored in New Orleans, you're a sad case.

* Superdome. As I said, the building formerly known as the Louisiana Superdome and now as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is part of the same complex as the Smoothie King Center. Opening in 1975, it has seen a lot in its 40 years: The good, the bad, and the ugly; the sublime and the ridiculous.

It's hosted more Super Bowls than any other building (7), 5 Final Fours, the annual Sugar Bowl and Bayou Classic college football games, some major championship fights, Tulane University home football games from 1975 to 2013, the NBA's New Orleans Jazz from 1975 to 1979, the 1988 Republican Convention that nominated George H.W. Bush for President, and even the occasional exhibition baseball game. It is 1 of 4 sites that will be chosen to host either Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, or Super Bowl LIV in 2020, so it's got a 50-50 chance of hosting one of them.(Update: It wasn't chosen for those, or for Super Bowl LV in 2021, but that makes it almost certain to be chosen for Super Bowl LVI in 2022 or LVII in 2023.)

The Final Fours: 1982, Dean Smith's North Carolina over Georgetown; 1987, Bob Knight's 3rd Indiana title, over Syracuse; 1993, Smith's other title, over Michigan; 2003, Jim Boeheim's Syracuse over Kansas; and 2012, John Calipari's Kentucky over Kansas.

It was meant as a haven for the dispossessed of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but instead turned into a house of horrors. Its renovation cost, even with inflation factored in, much more than its original construction bill. But it reopened better than ever in 2006, and the Saints won the Super Bowl in the 2009-10 season.

* Yulman Stadium and site of Tulane Stadium. Tulane University's football team, the Green Wave, played at the 81,000-seat Tulane Stadium, "the Queen of Southern Stadiums," from 1926 to 1974. The stadium was built on the site of a sugar plantation, hence the name of the game, and the stadium itself was nicknamed the Sugar Bowl.

The Saints played there from their 1967 founding to 1974, and it was the site of Tom Dempsey's record-setting 63-yard field goal in 1970. The Sugar Bowl was played there on (or close to) every New Year's Day from January 1, 1935 to December 31, 1974. In 1975, the Sugar Bowl, the Green Wave and the Saints all moved to the Superdome.

Tulane Stadium hosted Super Bowl IV in 1970 (Kansas City over Minnesota), Super Bowl VI in 1972 (Dallas over Miami), and Super Bowl IX in 1975 (Pittsburgh over Minnesota), which was its last major event. It continued to host high school football before being demolished in 1979. Willow Street and Ben Weiner Drive.

In 2014, the Green Wave moved into Benson Field at Yulman Stadium. The field was named after the Saints' owner, and the stadium for Richard Yulman, the former chairman of bed manufacturers Serta. Both are major donors to the University, and Richard and his wife Janet (for whom a nearby on-campus street is named) donated $15 million toward the stadium's construction.

The opener, a loss to Georgia Tech, had a listed attendance of 30,000 (roughly capacity), making it the best-attended Tulane sporting event since they abandoned the old stadium for the Superdome. A block up Ben Weiner Drive from the old stadium site, at Barrett Street. Turchin Stadium, Tulane's baseball facility, is just to the north. Number 16 bus, or Number 12 St. Charles streetcar.

* Municipal Auditorium. Built in 1930, this old music hall was home to the New Orleans Buccaneers of the ABA, before they moved to Memphis in 1970. The NBA's New Orleans Jazz played their 1st season here, 1974-75, before moving to the Superdome, and then to Utah in 1979.
Elvis Presley sang at the Municipal Auditorium on May 1, 1955 and August 12, 1956. He also sang in New Orleans at Jesuit High School on February 4, 1955, and at Pontchartrain Beach on September 1, 1955. In his return to the stage, 1969 to 1977, Elvis would sing in Louisiana in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lake Charles, Alexandria and Monroe, but never again in New Orleans.

The Municipal Auditorium was seriously damaged by the hurricane, and its future is currently in doubt. 1201 St. Peter Street at Essence Way, in what is now Louis Armstrong Park, just off the French Quarter.

Elvis sang in Louisiana many times in his early days, particularly as part of tours with established country singers like Hank Snow (who had Colonel Tom Parker as manager before Elvis did).

He sang in New Orleans at Jesuit High School (4133 Banks Street) on February 4, 1955; 3 shows at the Municipal Auditorium on May 1, 1955; and on Ponchartrain Beach on September 1, 1955. But he never sang in New Orleans in his 1969-77 return to the stage.

He sang in Shreveport at the Municipal Auditorium as part of the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show in 1954 on October 16 and 23; November 6, 13 and 20; and December 4, 11 and 18; and in 1955 on January 8, 15, 22 and 29; February 5 and 19; March 5, 12 and 26; April 9; May 21 and 28; June 4, 11 and 25; July 2, 16 and 23; August 13, 20 and 27; September 10 and 24; October 1 and 29; November 5, 12 and 26; and December 10, 17 and 31; and in 1956 on January 7 and 21; February 25; and March 3, 10 and 31. Because his fame exploded in 1956, the show had to be moved to the larger (9,000-seat) Fair Grounds Youth Center for his show on December 15.

He also sang in Louisiana at the Lake Cliff Club in Lake Cliff on November 19, 1954; at West Monroe High School on February 18, 1955; at South Side Elementary School in Bastrop on February 24, 1955; at the Jimmie Thompson Arena in Alexandria on March 11, 1955; at Baton Rouge High School on May 2, 1955; and at the Plaquemine Casino Club in Baton Rouge on July 1, 1955.

And at the Monroe Civic Center on March 4, 7 and 8, 1974; and May 3, 1975; at the Lake Charles Civic Center on May 4, 1975; at the Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport on June 7, 1975 and July 1, 1976; at the Rapidas Parish Coliseum in Alexandria on March 29 and 30, 1977; and at the Louisiana State University Assembly Center, now named for Pete Maravich, on June 17 and 18, 1974; July 2, 1976; and May 31, 1977.

* Zephyr Field. The New Orleans Zephyrs, formerly the Denver Zephyrs and the Denver Bears, play in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League (geography is no longer the league's strong point), at this 10,000-seat stadium, opened in 1997.

The Zephyrs, currently a Miami Marlins farm club and a Mets farm team in 2007 and '08, won Pennants at Zephyr Field in 1998 and 2001. The ballpark was used to film some scenes in the baseball-themed film Mr. 3000. 6000 Airline Drive, in suburban Metairie. E-2 bus, the same bus that goes between downtown and the airport. The right to the ballpark takes about an hour.

The closest Major League Baseball team to New Orleans is the Houston Astros, 347 miles away. Houston is also home to the closest MLS team, the Dynamo. There is no professional soccer team in town. The closest NHL team is the Dallas Stars, 508 miles away. And since the city's population would still rank its metro area dead last among MLB markets, you can forget about the Crescent City getting a team anytime soon.

* Maestri Field at NBC Park. On the campus of the University of New Orleans, on Lake Pontchartrain, the Zephyrs played here from 1993 to 1996, when it was known as Privateer Park. But, at 2,900 seats, it was too small for Triple-A ball. 6801 Franklin Avenue. Number 55 bus.

* The Baseball Pelicans. The baseball version of the New Orleans Pelicans played from 1887 to 1959. After that, there was no professional baseball team in New Orleans, at any level, except for a brief revival of the Pelicans at the Superdome for the 1977 season, until the Colorado Rockies were expanded into existence, forcing the Denver Zephyrs to move for the 1993 season.

For most of their existence, the Pelicans played in the Southern Association, and on the same site, in a series of ballparks culminating in Heinemann Stadium, a.k.a. Pelican Park, built in 1915. They won 12 Pennants: 1887, 1889, 1896, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1915, 1918, 1923, 1926, 1927 and 1934. Their star players included Shoeless Joe Jackson, Joe Sewell, Dazzy Vance and Bob Lemon.

Pelican Park was demolished in 1957, and a Burger King now stands on the site of its infield. Tulane Avenue and S. Carrollton Avenue. Number 39 bus.

* Tad Gormley Stadium. Originally City Park Stadium, this 26,500-seat stadium was built by the Works Project Administration in 1937, and is New Orleans' premier high school football venue. It hosted the old baseball Pelicans in their last 2 seasons, 1958 and 1959. It's also a major concert venue, having started by hosting the Beatles on September 16, 1964. Other bands playing there include Journey, Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine.

5400 Stadium Drive, in New Orleans City Park, across from the New Orleans Museum of Art. Number 48 Streetcar.

According to an April 2014 article in The New York Times, the Yankees are the most popular baseball team in New Orleans, with about 23 percent of locals calling them their favorite team. The Red Sox are 2nd, with around 14 percent. The Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves are 3rd and 4th, each getting around 10 percent. This is despite the closest MLB team to New Orleans being the Houston Astros, 348 miles away.

* Museums. I've already mentioned the New Orleans Museum of Art, the city's version of our Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their answer to the Museum of Natural History is the Tulane Museum of Natural History, not on the Tulane campus but at 3705 Main Street in Belle Chase, 12 miles south of downtown. Not easily reachable by car.

Confederate Memorial Hall bills itself as Louisiana's Civil War Museum. 929 Camp Street at Andrew Higgins Street. It's next-door to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, at 925 Camp.

A better museum, because it's to a war was fought by a united America, is the National World War II Museum. It's in New Orleans because the city built a lot of the landing craft used on D-Day, June 6, 1944, which, as you might guess, is one of the central exhibits of the museum.

Admission is $24, plus $5 additional for each for the films Beyond All Boundaries, narrated by Saving Private Ryan star Tom Hanks; and Final Mission: The USS Tang Experience, about the most successful submarine of the war. 945 Magazine Street at Andrew Higgins Street.

The WWII Museum, Confederate Memorial Hall and the Ogden Museum are all a mile away from the Superdome, a 20-or-so-minute walk. From the French Quarter, Number 10 or 11 bus, or the Number 12 St. Charles Streetcar.

The French Quarter is centered on the corner of Orleans and Bourbon Streets. The French Quarter Visitor Center is on the riverfront, at 419 Decatur Street at St. Peter Street, 3 blocks from Pat O'Brien's. Preservation Hall, at 726 St. Peter Street off Bourbon Street, doesn't look like much from the outside, but it serves as the unofficial capital of jazz. The Cabildo was the seat of New Orleans' government, and the Louisiana Purchase was signed there. It is now the Louisiana State Museum. 701 Chartres Street off Jackson Square.
The Audubon Zoo, names for naturalist John James Audubon, who lived in New Orleans for much of his life, is at 6500 Magazine Street in Audubon Park. Number 11 bus. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is closer to downtown, on the riverfront at 1 Canal Street. Number 2 Riverfront Streetcar.

* Baton Rouge. The State capitol is 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, and can be reached by Greyhound, but not by Amtrak. It's home to Louisiana State University, home of the LSU Tigers, and the historically-black Southern University, home of the Jaguars.

Louisiana has never produced a President. As a young man, Zachary Taylor lived in St. Francisville, 32 miles north of Baton Rouge and 112 miles northwest of New Orleans. But he's much more identified with Virginia, where he was born; and Kentucky, where he lived the last few years of his life.

The tallest building in the State of Louisiana isn't much to look at, typical of 1960s and '70s urban architecture. One Shell Square, opened in 1972 at 701 Poydras Street, 8 blocks from the Superdome, is 697 feet tall.

Films set and/or filmed at least partly in New Orleans include the Jean Lafitte biopic The Buccaneer (made twice, in 1938 with Frederic March and Hugh Southern as Andrew Jackson, and 1958 with Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston), The Flame of New Orleans, the Elvis movie King Creole, The Cincinnati Kid, Easy Rider, the football-themed film Number One (starring Heston as an aging quarterback), the James Bond film Live and Let Die, Pretty Baby, Cat People, Tightrope (in which Clint Eastwood played a differnt kind of cop, admitting, "Dirty Harry might not even like this guy"), The Big Easy, Blaze, JFK, Anne Rice's Interview with the VampireDouble Jeopardy, RED; the John Grisham-based legal thrillers The Pelican Brief, The Client and Runaway Jury; and, perhaps most iconically, A Streetcar Named Desire, the film version of Tennessee Williams' play that launched Marlon Brando to stardom.

TV shows that have been set in New Orleans include Bourbon Street Beat, Longstreet, Frank's Place, Treme, and, currently, NCIS: New Orleans and the Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals. While True Blood is set in Louisiana, it is set in a fictional town in the north.

*

New Orleans is a city that celebrates the spiritual and the surreal. Certainly, the New Orleans Pelicans (with their location difficulties, name changes and whacked-out mascots) have seen some surrealness. A visit to the Knicks-Pelicans or Nets-Pelicans game could be fun, and, despite it being in "America's Most Haunted City," you won't meet up with any ghosts, goblins, vampires, werewolves, or any other supernatural creatures.

Probably.