NEW ORLEANS - The top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will funnel onto a chartered jet at the Columbus airport tomorrow morning and land here about two hours later.
It is the first visit to this delta city the powerhouse football program has made in 10 years, so there is not a lot of familiarity with the area, the culture, or the Louisiana Superdome, the site of next week's BCS national championship game against
No. 2 LSU.
But Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is hopeful that more than a month of study and research and detailed preparation will make this less than a foreign land.
The acclimation process started almost immediately after the Buckeyes learned that they would be facing LSU for the big trophy, and Ohio State has schooled itself not only on the Tigers, but also on the area that is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina more than two years ago.
"Our guys are excited about it," Tressel said. "Many, many of them haven't had a chance to visit the city. They heard so much about the city over the course of the last couple of years. They're really excited because they know how the city of New Orleans loves football and they take great pride in hosting this BCS title game."
Tressel, who has the Buckeyes in the championship game for the third time, said that the Ohio State coaches and players are eager to get a first-hand look at New Orleans.
"I think New Orleans grabbed the emotion of our whole country as it battled through its adversity," Tressel said. "Our kids are really looking forward to being in that place that they've heard so much about, and this happens to be for the national championship, which makes it even greater."
As the Buckeyes take in the sights and sample the local fare, they'll be constantly reminded that this is Louisiana, and they are facing the home state team, which is based in Baton Rouge, just 80 miles away as the pelican flies but much nearer and dearer to the hearts of the locals. The arrangement is akin to facing the Buckeyes in a bowl game played in Dayton.
"It's LSU's home base, but I guess that'll make the electricity even stronger," Tressel said. "That's what you hope for, you hope to be in those games that are just full of that electricity. But I'm not sure I would have set it up that way for our sake."
Tressel said the Buckeyes will have pockets of free time while in New Orleans, once all of the mandatory appearances in the community and the media obligations have been satisfied, and that he leaves it up to his seniors to set the limits on how that time is spent.
"The thing we've always done with our players' schedule in bowl games is that we'll meet with the seniors and we'll allow them to set the curfews and things like that after you fill in the blanks with all the different functions that you go to," Tressel said.
"We're only there a short time, and I think it'll probably be very structured. But there's a lot our kids will have an opportunity to do, and we want them to have the chance to experience the great city. I'm sure they'll make very logical curfews and represent Ohio State and the Big Ten well while they're in New Orleans."
Ohio State junior wide receiver Brian Hartline, who has close relatives in this area, said there is some trepidation about seeing post-Katrina New Orleans.
"It's definitely going to be another humbling experience," Hartline said. "It's been a couple of years now, but I still think with all the family I have down there, just getting a chance to talk to them, it's not completely where it wants to be or done by any means. For us to get down there and see what this game or any sports event at all can do for that city, obviously it will help."
Hartline said he is optimistic that hosting the BCS national championship game will not just demonstrate for the whole country that New Orleans has made significant strides in its recovery from Katrina, but also give the city renewed momentum to sustain that resurgence. He cited the first post-Katrina NFL game in the Superdome as a significant milestone in the New Orleans recovery story that produced a comparable result.
"I can remember when the Saints had their first home game after the tragedy, and just watching how uplifting it was for the whole city to get those fans to come back there," Hartline said. "I just hope we can have somewhat of a similar effect."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.29.95369 -90.07771