During Monday night's beatdown of the New Orleans Saints by the Tennessee Titans, ESPN sideline reporter Suzy Kolber asked Archie Manning one question and he answered it.
There's not much to say in the Crescent City about the Saints and their 0-3 record that can't be said by putting a paper bag over your head, but the old quarterback has tongues wagging.
"He has been quite the buzz around the city," said Grace Wilson of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., who described going to a meeting Tuesday in the French Quarter, where "everyone was fawning all over him, saying what a stand-up guy he is."
All he said was come on down.
Kolber asked, "Year 2 after Katrina, what should people know about where this community stands?"
Manning's answer: "Well, that I think that we're fighting back. I think there's so many people around the country, Suzy, that like to visit here, and they need to know that we're ready for 'em. You know, the hotels, the convention facilities, the restaurants and all the things people seem to enjoy about New Orleans, they can come back.
"And we need 'em back. There's still a long way to go, it's going to be a long time to get back to full strength, but everybody's trying real hard."
"Archie's comments were wonderful and right on target," said Wilson's boss, Lea Sinclair. "We couldn't have scripted them better than what he said."
Manning was traveling and couldn't be reached Wednesday, but his assistant said his comments weren't scripted. She said Manning wasn't working for anyone when he spoke with Kolber. He was just at the game as a former player and talking as a citizen of the city, where he still lives with his wife, Olivia.
I'm guessing a lot of people in TVlandia were surprised by what Manning said. With New Orleans' recovery having slipped from the top of the daily news cycle, I don't imagine that my reaction -- visit New Orleans? now? -- was that unusual.
But New Orleans, for all the devastation that remains, is slowly starting to experience a tourism revival.
Sinclair said the latest stats from the University of New Orleans show that New Orleans had as many visitors in the first eight months of this year as it had in all of 2006, about 3.7 million. Still a far cry from the record-breaking 10.1 million visitors in 2004, the year before Hurricane Katrina, or from the pre-Katrina yearly average of about 8 million, but an improvement.
"I'm not surprised that you're surprised," Sinclair said, "because while we know it, and we say it over and over and over every day in many languages, I just think that hard news tops us every time. So people turn that on, and they see crime and they see nothing but more devastated neighborhoods."
"It's not true," she continued. "I mean, it is true, you understand. It's definitely true. But it's not the whole story."
Tourism is by far New Orleans' largest industry, accounting for 35 percent of the city budget. There's obviously a huge interest in talking it up. So I went to someone I trust, writer and New Orleans resident Cynthia Joyce, one of Salon's original editors, who still occasionally writes for us.
"Manning's not just blowing smoke, not at all," she wrote in an e-mail. "The tourism industry, which centers mostly around food and music, is still viable. Better than that, actually. This has been one of the main challenges for New Orleans, communicating how much help is still needed and yet how it's still an exceptional place to visit."
Sinclair talked up what she calls the new trend of "voluntourism," where people come to town to help build houses in devastated areas for a few days, then go enjoy the French Quarter, which was spared by Katrina.
"Truthfully, if you come down as a tourist and hang out where you normally would, you would never know that Katrina hit," Sinclair said. "Now, that said, if you take the disaster tour and get on a Gray Line bus, you realize from that tour that yes, oh my God, 80 percent of the city is gone. So it really is a tale of two cities."
Joyce wrote that most people she knows who host visitors "offer a sort of 'high-low' tour -- disaster is part of the history of this place now, and most residents I know would be remiss if they didn't also offer a glimpse of devastated areas like New Orleans East, 9th Ward, etc. But again, you could easily stay in the uptown bubble and never deal with any of that."
It's fitting for Manning to turn himself into sort of a freelance ambassador for New Orleans tourism, since sports, along with music and food, are such a big draw. Sporting events, from Tulane football to the Saints to the return of the Sugar Bowl and the hosting of NCAA basketball Tournament games, were also among the first visible signs of recovery after Katrina.
"I can tell you that anytime we get positive comments in national sports shows it's of tremendous benefit to us because so many more millions of people are watching it in a great frame of mind," Sinclair said. "You know, in a relaxed, casual, let's sit back and watch the game, wonderful frame of mind. And that's usually when a lot of decisions are made for trips and such."
And that's why Archie Manning's a hero in New Orleans this week, just as he was on those rare occasions three decades ago when he was able to lead the 'Aints to a victory.
But: "One more caveat," Joyce writes. "The crime problem is real. The town is smaller now, which brings the crime closer. So any fools who come down here thinking they're visiting Disney World do so at their peril."
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Michael Vick just keeps stepping in it [PERMALINK]
The test means Vick will have tighter bail restrictions now, including more drug testing, home confinement, and drug and mental-health counseling. And he has to pay for the monitoring of his home confinement too.
Not much to say about the latest development in this sad case except that it looks like another point in favor of the theory that, for all the complicated sociocultural reasons a man like Vick might risk an incredibly lucrative career by getting involved in something as flamboyantly, obviously career-destroyingly illegal as an interstate dogfighting operation, the best explanation for Michael Vick's otherwise inexplicable behavior is that he's just a straight-up idiot.
That little cost-benefit analysis we all do all the time, even if we don't call it that -- should I tell that 6-foot-8 drunk guy who appears to be packing heat that I didn't like it just now when he stepped on my foot? -- Michael Vick doesn't do that.
It might be a little late for this suggestion, but: He should really look into doing that.
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Barry Bonds to auction self to highest bidder [PERMALINK]
Now that the San Francisco Giants have said they won't be re-signing Barry Bonds, something for which I've been pining for years because I wanted my favorite team back, let's vote on where he should go.
Hey, if it's good enough for a ball, it's good enough for a ballplayer. I vote we do with Bonds what designer Mark Ecko, who bought Bonds' 756th home run ball, announced Wednesday that visitors to his Web site have decided to do that with the famed spheroid.
Let's stamp him with an asterisk and send him to Cooperstown.
Actually, I'm hoping Bonds signs with the Oakland A's, who are also, ironically -- at least I think that's irony -- a favorite team of mine, because I think that would be a fabulous middle finger by both the A's and Bonds, who are suddenly allied in not enjoying happy thoughts about the Giants.
My appreciation of a well-played middle finger outweighs my loyalty to my favorite team. I realize this makes me a bad person. I am comfortable with that.
But really I'm just trying to do my part to make "stamp him/her/it with an asterisk and send him/her/it to Cooperstown" an all-purpose exclamation along the lines of "Slap my ass and call me Sally."
What's that you say? Barry's going to sign with the Minnesota Twins? The Minnesota Twins?!
Well, stamp me with an asterisk and send me to Cooperstown!
OK, maybe not.
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