Beignets and House of Blues, Mardi Gras and mausoleums, or tarot and Tchoupitoulas? A comprehensive cultural tour of New Orleans must be measured in months, never days. My hometown is the birthplace of jazz and Cajun cuisine – much of modern American music and Southern cooking are derivatives thereof. I grew up in an environment where musical talent was expected and following in your parents’ footsteps was not. We are innovative by nature. We bore easily. We never do the same thing twice.
This, a sharp contrast to the two years I spent in Charlotte post graduate school. Every shopping district was anchored by a big box store, flanked on either side by nation chain restaurants. Questioning Carolinians about their favorite local eatery often drew blank stares. Charlotte’s most distinctive style of architecture, Colonial, is not its own. Even the famed Wright Brothers they so proudly display on their license plates are Ohioans by birthright. Carolinians are conformists.
These two distinct cultural veins that permeate these cities naturally spill over to the football teams. The Saints, while far from perfect, are improvisationalists. Our successes and mistakes come from venturing into the unknown, trying something that’s never been done. The Panthers, however, mirror their constituency in their quest to perfect that which already exists. Though “Riverboat Ron” may fancy himself a risk taker, these “risks” come in the form of the tried and true, the safety of a fake punt from the 40 while ahead by four points. Sean Payton, on the other hand, with the waters of the Mighty Mississippi running through his veins, is truly willing to do the unthinkable when it is all on the line.
This Sunday, watch for two specific moments. Watch for the Panthers to be conservative at a time in which a bold move could have swung the pendulum in their favor. And watch for the Saints to dig deep into the playbook when everyone is expecting the mundane (perhaps on a second and five or a third and two). At these moments, the men on the field must ask themselves, who are we? Architects or contractors? Artists or art historians? Writers or editors? For us, the answer is easy: we are jazz, we are the Who Dat Nation, we are the cradle of American creativity. The Panthers, I surmise, will once again find themselves a team struggling to find its identity as it attempts to represent a region that has none.