Long before Yulman Stadium even received its name, questions of how football games would impact the neighborhoods around Tulane University dominated discussions about the return of college football to the Uptown campus.
On Saturday, those questions were finally answered: On-street parking may have been tough to find, but traffic was relatively light, and many neighbors were thrilled to revive the front-yard parties associated with memories of the old Sugar Bowl stadium.
“Going to the Dome spoiled my football experience at Tulane. I’m so glad, 40 years later, that we’re back, and I’m shocked at how quiet Audubon Boulevard is,” said Seph Dupuy, a 1970 Tulane graduate as he attended a small gathering there. “I’m pleasantly surprised how well controlled and easy it is to get around.”
The university was successful in coaxing the majority of the game-day mania onto campus, where the main quads designated as official tailgating zones were brimming with Green Wave fans partying under tents with tables laid with all kinds of grilled food, tossing bean bags while bands played on a small stage.
The closest residential street to the stadium, Audubon Boulevard, was the center of much of the opposition to the stadium when it was first announced, but it was largely quiet on Saturday, perhaps even moreso than usual. Tulane fans walked in small groups down the sidewalk toward Willow Street, but virtually no traffic passed on Audubon, where printed signs politely “reminded” against tailgating in the neutral ground.
The corner of Hickory Street and Audubon Boulevard, where the edge of Yulman Stadium rises over the rooftops, had a dozen or so residents and their guests sitting in lawn chairs and grilling on the front porch. The residents — many of whom had moved onto Audubon Boulevard within the last year or so — were pleased with the way the first game unfolded.
“We’re excited about the stadium, but the construction process was tough,” said Audubon Boulevard homeowner Christian Chauvin.
The boulevard was only accessible to residents or their guests with parking passes, with police and parking attendants posted at each entrance to it, in keeping with a promise university officials had made to residents before construction began.
“It’s actually nicer on this street with the game going on,” said Madelaine Feldman, a guest at the gathering near Chauvin’s house.
Another new resident of Audubon Boulevard, Joel Waltzer, took advantage of the festivities grilling bratwursts on his front porch.
“Just having the stadium back Uptown, it’s big deal for the city, and big deal for Tulane,” Waltzer said. “I’m not even a Tulane grad. I’m just enjoying the spirit of it all.”
Robert Ramelli Jr. also bought his home on Audubon Boulevard after the stadium was announced, moving from State Street about two years ago. As kickoff approached on Saturday, Ramelli pushed his 1-year-old son Robert III down the block to visit the gathering outside the Chauvin’s
“I was pretty excited about it,” Ramelli said of the stadium, but he had decided to stay home for the game. “I kind of want to see how it’s going to be at my house.”
In the residential streets around the campus — Broadway and State, Palmer and Calhoun — on-street parking was hard to find, but the neighborhoods were otherwise largely quiet as fans quickly walked to the on-campus festivities. Initial estimates by city officials showed that the Department of Public Works wrote 284 parking tickets and towed 17 vehicles, said Deputy Mayor Emily Arata.
“Based on our initial assessments, the plans put in place to move traffic and to protect quality of life in the neighborhoods worked well,” Arata said.
One group of four friends parked on State near Ursulines Academy for actual tailgating before the game, gathering for drinks around the back of a gray Toyota Tacoma pickup. All four used to work in the IT department at Baton Rouge General Hospital decades ago, and they have fond memories of the old Sugar Bowl stadium, so they decided to reunite for Tulane’s home opener.
“We’re the old cats,” said Mark Theriot.
“We’re all LSU fans, but we want to be part of history,” said Paul Triche. “We will be pulling for the Greenies today.”
Another small party gathered on a back porch alongside South Johnson Street, which dead-ends off Calhoun near the stadium. About half a dozen women — all married to athletic trainers and coaches associated with local football programs — joked about how their gathering was fodder for reality TV.
“We’re ‘The Football Wives of New Orleans,'” said Jody Price, laughing as they prepared to head to the stadium. “We’re just so excited to finally have it open.”
The sense of calm extended to the cluster of small businesses on Calhoun Street, to the slight disappointment of some owners. Several had increased their staffing in anticipation of the crowds or even set out extra seating outside, but orders were actually lower than usual for a Saturday afternoon of college football at Bayou Hot Wings, for example.
Although parking for customers was readily available in the lot outside, Bayou Hot Wings owner Allen Nguyen said regular customers may have had a hard time reaching the area with the road closures. As kickoff neared, Nguyen said he hoped he caught some of the crowds after the game.
“We’re loaded and ready to go,” Nguyen said. “They might come in afterward. I have my hopes.”
On South Claiborne near Calhoun, Oliver Delery Jr. was part of a group of Tulane graduates in the front yard of a home bought by one of their fraternity brothers for his own Tulane-bound son a few years back. Knowing that the return of on-campus football was imminent, they hung on to the house just steps from the entrance to the stadium, and were all making great use of it on Saturday.
Delery called the stadium’s reopening part of “the rebirth of Tulane,” and predicted that enthusiasm for Green Wave would only grow over time.
“It’s so exciting to see all these people,” said Joyce Delery, his sister. “There’s so much spirit.”
Delery said his family’s season tickets to Tulane date back to the 1940s, but their attendance fell way off when the games were held in the Superdome.
“You lost that intimacy. You lost the Tulane experience,” Oliver Delery said. “Now that’s it back, I think the Uptown community will end up embracing it. It will be a little warm, but I’d much rather have it on campus and have this atmosphere.”
By 3 p.m., when the game was scheduled to begin, Audubon Boulevard was completely empty. The partiers were gone to take their seats in the stadium, their lawn chairs empty and the pedestrians gone from the sidewalk. All was quiet — until the sudden roar of Tulane fans celebrating their first touchdown in Yulman Stadium.