Normally, a man in a dress is a non-story in New Orleans. Cross dressing isn't a taboo there; it's a tradition.
But Sunday will be a special day in gender confusion — a former NFL quarterback with 11 years in the league is scheduled to lead a large troupe of men in frills on a parade into the French Quarter. That's what Bobby Hebert gets for moving from Atlanta back to his home state.
"This thing has grown unbelievably," Hebert said earlier this week. "They were talking about hundreds of guys doing it. Including those who actually like to cross dress."
A longtime Saints quarterback, Hebert had his one Pro Bowl season his first year after signing with the Falcons (1993). He played in Atlanta until 1996 and lived here for nearly a decade before plunging full time into the New Orleans sports talk radio market.
Buddy Diliberto was Hebert's predecessor at WWL radio. It was his promise to parade down Bourbon Street in a dress if that woebegone franchise ever made the Super Bowl.
Diliberto didn't live to see the day, dying in 2005. Taking his spot behind the mike, Hebert also inherited the vow. He'll make good on it as part of a pep rally-style celebration Sunday before the Super Bowl scene shifts to Miami.
As of earlier this week, Hebert was unsure of the style of dress he would be modeling. His daughter Cammy, a Greater Atlanta Christian grad who works in the fashion industry in New York, was going to help him with the design. It is just so hard to find something to complement the figure of a 49-year-old one-time quarterback.
It is a team effort. His wife, Joan, is a makeup artist and will handle all the lipstick and rouge.
Hebert was taking it all in good humor, although he did have his limits. "Some people want to make this an annual parade," he said. "It's a just a one-time thing for me."
At least he'll have the comfort of knowing he contributed one of the first distinctly only-in-New-Orleans moments of Super Bowl XLIV. There should be many more.
The next week, climaxing with the game next Sunday, promises to be one epic party in a town that already operates on an excess-based economy.
"You know the Super Bowl is in Miami, but New Orleans will be the place to be," said Nancy Romano, general manager of that venerable Crescent City music hall, Tipitina's.
Coinciding with the Carnival season, with Mardi Gras coming up the next week, Super Sunday will supercharge an already absurdly festive time of year.
"It's going to be a month-long parade," Hebert said. "You're going to think you're in Rio de Janeiro or Trinidad or something."
"I am," fretted Hebert, as he anticipated the celebratory carnage to come, "too old for this."
Part of the Super Bowl hustle involves a migration of fans to the host city, despite having no visible means of securing a ticket to the game.
Yet, in this case, there is a difficult choice to be made: South Beach or Bourbon Street?
With no other big conventions in town, New Orleans hotels reported nearly an 85 percent occupancy rate for the NFC championship weekend, said the city's visitors and convention bureau spokesman, Mary Beth Romig. She expect even more crowds on Super Bowl weekend, with many folks in town just to experience the vibe.
And, speaking for the locals, noted New Orleans restaurateur John Besh said, "The passion you'll find in the corner joint will be much more valid than in the corporate-sponsored, if not somewhat heartless, celebrations surrounding the Super Bowl."
Hebert will be in Miami for the buildup to the game. But, saying "the fans wanted us back in New Orleans," he will return home to broadcast on game weekend. The station has a spot all set aside at the corner of Iberville and Dauphine.
"The party's not in Miami," he said. "It's in New Orleans."
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