Yesterday, I met my buddy, Jeff, at the Avron B. Fogelman Arena in Devlin Fieldhouse at Tulane University, where the Green Wave were taking on Jeff’s UCONN Huskies. I think everyone just calls the place the Devlin Fieldhouse, though while getting drinks with Jeff the week before, some guy heard us talking and yelled, “It’ll always be Fogelman to me!” So, do with that what you like.
I learned the arena/fieldhouse was finished in 1933 with funds earned from the football team’s 1932 Rose Bowl appearance! I had no idea the Tulane Green Wave were ever in the Rose Bowl! They went 11 – 0 in that regular season, but – despite setting a record for yards gained in a Rose Bowl — lost to that year’s national champion, USC, in the bowl game.
Jeff, decked out in his Huskies t-shirt – the zipper of his hoodie down low enough to display the husky logo – met me outside. It was a cold day, but it was sunny and the air was crisp. Tulane fans filed inside and we made our way to our seats.
“You hungry?” I asked as we passed the concessions area.
“Nah, I can’t imagine the food’s great here.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll wait.” Within 30 minutes, I was eating nachos.
For my part, I would say it’s more of a fieldhouse than an arena, which means – no matter where your seats are – you’re close to the action. But Jeff got us some REALLY close seats.
UCONN got out to a 13-2 lead before Tulane’s coach, Mike Dunleavy Sr., called a timeout.
“Is Tulane gonna get smashed?” I asked Jeff.
“Nah, watch, UCONN always does this. They’ll go five minutes without scoring now.”
Nostradamus strikes again. A few minutes later it was 13-11 and the place was rocking. Because most students are still home on their break between semesters, the crowd had a higher percentage of old dudes than I imagine it normally does. Also, because of that break, the KIPP Booker T. Washington marching band filled in for the Tulane pep band. And they were awesome.
I googled Booker T. Washington High School on my phone. “It says, back in 1942, it was the first high school to serve African Americans in Uptown!” I yelled to Jeff over the solid curtain of brass sound that is so unique to New Orleans music.
That reminded me of a speech by President Gerald Ford I listened to earlier in the day. I was surprised, again, to learn that, in 1975, President Ford had announced the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in the fieldhouse Jeff and I were now sitting!
But the speech was a lot more than that. As Booker T’s band wailed, it reminded me how true our former President’s words continue to ring today.
New Orleans is more, as I see it, than weathered bricks and cast iron balconies. It is a state of mind, a melting pot that represents the very, very best of America’s evolution, an example of retention of a very special culture in a progressive environment of modern change.
The speech left me amazed. I had never listened to Ford speak, but mostly I was amazed at how progressive a Republican agenda could be. That this man is from the same political party as our current President seems hard to believe.
The full transcript of his speech is here. He starts with a painfully corny story.
As we came into the building tonight, I passed a student who looked up from his book and said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins but with a single step.”
To indicate my interest in him, I asked, “Are you trying to figure out how to get to your goal in life?” He said, “No, I am trying to figure out how to get the Super Dome in September.”
Hardy har har, Gerald.
But his next words – first uttered in this tiny fieldhouse, in Uptown, New Orleans – were the ones that changed this country.
On January 8, 1815, a monumental American victory was achieved here – the Battle of New Orleans. Louisiana has been a State for less than three years, but outnumbered Americans innovated, outnumbered Americans used the tactics of the frontier, to defeat a veteran British force trained in the strategy of the Napoleonic wars.
We, as a Nation, had suffered humiliation and a measure of defeat in the War of 1812. Our national capital in Washington had been captured and burned. So the illustrious victory in the Battle of New Orleans was a powerful restorative to our national pride.
Yet, the victory at New Orleans actually took place two weeks after the signing of the Armistice in Europe. Thousands died although a peace had been negotiated. The combatants had not gotten the word, yet the epic struggle nevertheless restored America’s pride.
Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam, but it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.
And, with that, the crowd in Devlin Fieldhouse erupted. Just like it did now, as Tulane chipped away at the University of Connecticut’s lead.
With those words, our country was changed. And it happened in this unassuming gymnasium many New Orleanians probably have no idea exists.
Because I like them – and because I think they remain relevant — I’ll end this post with Ford’s closing remarks.
I pledge, as I know you do, each one of us, to do our part. Let the beacon of lights of the past shine forth from historic New Orleans, and from Tulane University, and from every other corner of this land to illuminate a boundless future for all Americans and a peace for all mankind.