NEW ORLEANS — It is all familiar. I have been here before. NFL banners hang from the rafters, and Dixieland music plays all day long. Fans are swarming through the lobby. Someone wants to sell me a T-shirt for $20. I say no, and head for the house phone. I have been here before.
“Can I help you?” the hotel operator says.
“Don Shula’s room, please.”
“I’m sorry,” she says, “we have no Don Shula listed here.”
I am patient. These things happen. Especially on Super Bowl week. I have been here before.
“Please check again,” I say.
“I’m sorry,” she says.”He’s not here.”
“Walsh,” I interrupt. “Try Bill Walsh. Shula must be at another hotel. Try Bill Walsh, please. San Francisco 49ers.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “No Bill Walsh.”
“Well then, check under Landry, please. Yes. Tom Landry.”
One of them must be here. This is the Super Bowl. Isn’t it the Super Bowl? Yes. It says so on my little press pin, which is shaped like a football. I have been here before. Every January, the sports writers go someplace for the Big Game, and there are always people in funny hats and bands playing loud music in the hotel lobby while you’re trying to sleep. And of course, there are the teams, Dallas, or Miami or San Francisco, or Washington or Pittsburgh or maybe the Raiders. Always. I have been here before. Every January.
“Sorry,” the operator says, “no Landry.” Deja vu, with new faces
Very strange. I wander through the press room. There are hundreds of typewriters. A phone for every chair. I have been here before.
“When do the teams arrive?” I ask a colleague.
“They got here today,” he says.
“Good. I want to catch Marino early.”‘
“Marino?” he says.
“Yes. Or maybe Marcus Allen. Or Dwight Clark.”
My colleague leaves quickly, with his hand covering his mouth.
I wander through the coffee shop. There are muffins shaped like helmets. Celery stacked up like goalposts. I have been here before. A waiter is wearing an oversized T-shirt with No. 72 on it.
“You’re a John Matuszak fan?” I ask.
“Who?” he asks.
“Tooz. You know. No. 72.”
He walks away, with his hand covering his mouth.
I wander to the hotel entrance. The buses are unloading. I have been here before. I look for high rollers from Texas in their cowboy hats. I look for Miami beachniks, with their shirts open to the navel and their white shoes. I look for some California people, maybe. I ease alongside a woman in a mink coat. Why is she wearing a mink coat? Is it that cold in Miami?
“Go Bears,” she says.
“Where should they go?” I ask.
“All the way,” she says. “Super Bowl champs.”
The Bears are in the Super Bowl? The Bears? Don’t they have some lame-duck quarterback? Aren’t they just Walter Payton and 21 guys who sew their thumbs on backward? The Bears?
The woman walks away, with her hand covering her mouth.
Another bus unloads. The people are ruddy-cheeked, wearing down jackets and mittens. Some of them have backpacks and sweatshirts that say “Harvard.” One guy is dressed like Paul Revere, complete with leggings and a three-corner hat.
“Go Patriots,” he whispers.
Patriots? The Patriots are in the Super Bowl? Come on. the Patriots never get out of their own division. The Patriots would stumble just taking out the garbage. The Patriots? Where’s Landry? Where’s Shula? Where is everybody? Montana is out of state
It is late, and I am walking through the French Quarter. I am looking for a Montana. A Theismann. I will take a Randy White. Lyle Alzado. Ray Wersching. I will settle for a Nat Moore or a Ray Guy. But I am getting Lippetts and Tippetts and first names like Garin and Lin and Emery. I am getting nervous. Something is going on here.
I am looking for Dallas or Washington, or maybe Oakland, places where they know about football. But I am getting Chicago, the “Hog Butcher to the World.” I am getting New England, which isn’t even a city. It’s a, no, it isn’t a state either. It’s, uh, what is it, anyway?
I am looking for Steel Curtains and Killer Bees and Too- Talls, but I am getting Refrigerators. There is talk of a video. A video?
I am not sure what is going on, but the league better look into it. Real fast. I have been here before.
But I don’t think anyone else here has.