Subdued Cardinals, Gators fans enjoy New Orleans

The streets of the French Quarter were flooded with the color red on Wednesday, with shouts of “C-A-R-D-S” yelled eagerly across Bourbon Street between passing groups of fans.

Louisville supporters seemed out in larger numbers in the holiday weekend leading up to the Sugar Bowl, but on game day, Florida Gator blue and orange was more evident.

Even so, the color red appeared to dominate, whether a speck of a shirt beneath a jacket, or a full leather ensemble, down to the red cowboy boots.

Cynthia Samuel, a lawyer who has been painting faces in the city for 25 years, said that compared with other high-profile games, the rivalry on the street level was surprisingly tame. There hadn’t been any fighting, she said. The numerous Louisville fans were “a little more subdued,” and not as aggressive as compared with some other big games, Samuel said. They hadn’t gotten especially wild, “or festive as we call it in New Orleans,” she said.

Joined by her daughter, Athena, Samuel said there were three generations of face-painters in the family, and she continues to paint because she loves the excitement and atmosphere of a big game day.

At the end of game day, however it was Cardinal fans who claimed victory, 33-23 .

Kenny Lodgson, a Louisville grad from Jacksonville, said that his girlfriend was a Florida fan and once they knew both teams were in the Sugar Bowl, they decided to make the trip.

They’d been having fun with the rivalry the entire time, Lodgson said, starting with Lodgson putting a Louisville magnet on his girlfriend’s car at the beginning of the drive. He said a group of friends who are Florida fans passed them on the road and immediately texted his girlfriend bringing the offense to her attention. Lodgson said he drove as long as he could, but as soon as they stopped the Cardinals magnet was replaced with a Gator.

Lodgson said it was a good-natured competition, and while he remained realistic about his team’s odds, he was always quick to remind his girlfriend that the last time the two schools met — in basketball — it was the Cardinals who emerged victorious.

With highs reaching just barely above 50 degrees, Kelly Usery, who was working in a daiquiri shop, said business was good but not what it would be if the temperatures were higher. Still, she was ready with custom daiquiris for each team: red “Cardinal Cooler” and orange “Gator Fuel.”

Usery agreed that the opposing teams were surprisingly kind to each other this year. “Everybody this year is very nice,” she said. “Everyone’s just excited about the game.”

Louisville fan Samuel Basden said he was not surprised at the massive turnout of Cardinals fans, attributing it to the school and its teams being the “heart and soul of the community.”

And, it was an entirely new experience for Cardinals fans, unlike Gators fans, who have been to the Sugar Bowl nine times.

For many fans from both teams, the trip was also just a good excuse to come to the city for a party.

For recent Florida graduate Drew Byrd, it was a memorable New Year’s Eve experience. “It’s different than any place I’ve been before — you can’t stay long, though — the body can’t handle it.”

Byrd said the game was particularly big because he had several friends who were playing their last season as seniors at Florida. And regardless of the outcome, he said New Orleans is just “a good place for a bowl game.”

Sipping a hand grenade, Louisville alum David Burnett said that as underdogs, Cardinals fans are at an advantage in that “Our expectations are just to have fun — we have nothing to lose.”