NEW ORLEANS — If New Orleans had a middle name, “Distraction” should be it.
Look one way, there are restaurants and bars everywhere. Look another, you’ll see mimes, artists and musicians entertaining hundreds of people at a time. Look down Bourbon Street, and well, you might want to shield the eyes of anyone under 18.
People jam the streets like it’s Mardi Gras all the time. And as Jan. 3 approaches, it will only get crazier as Michigan and Virginia Tech football fans continue to flood the city for the Sugar Bowl.
So for the Michigan football team, which arrived in the Big Easy on Wednesday, one of the biggest challenges will be remaining focused amid all of the hoopla surrounding the game.
For the first time this season, the players don’t have to worry about classes or finishing their homework in the little free time they have outside of football.
They’ll actually have some free time — which can be a scary thing for a head coach.
“With 115 of them, sometimes you worry about (the distractions),” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
The distractions have already affected the Wolverines’ opponent. Virginia Tech kicker Tyler Weiss was sent home Thursday for failing to abide by curfew the previous night.
The Hokies will now have to rely on third-string kicker Justin Myer, who is 0-for-2 on field goals in his career.
Naturally, Hoke doesn’t want any of his players to have the same fate as Weiss. But for a head coach in charge of 115 players, at some point, it comes down to one thing.
“Really, you trust,” Hoke said. “You trust them that they’re gonna make good decisions.
“There’s some things that you want them to experience and enjoy about this great city and this great bowl game, and they’ll obviously have some events that they’ll do.”
During the days, the players will have many opportunities to stay busy aside from their practice and film responsibilities.
The team will be traveling to a nearby hospital to visit with patients on Friday. On Sunday, some of the players will participate in the Allstate Fan Fest, a gala sponsored by the company. On Monday, the day before the game, the players will take part in a pep rally downtown in the French Quarter.
And aside from the planned events and potential distractions that New Orleans may bring, some players also will be seeing their families for the first time in months.
Sophomore receiver Drew Dileo, a Greenwell Springs, La. native, will have over 50 family and friends coming to see him play in New Orleans, less than a two-hour drive from his hometown.
For others, the extra free time presents an opportunity to catch up on something that they’ve been lacking for the last few months.
“I balance (the free time) by sleeping most of the time,” junior defensive end Craig Roh said, laughing.
But as game day approaches, the free time will continue to become less about having fun and more about getting ready for the Hokies.
Ever since Michigan found out it would be playing in the Sugar Bowl, Hoke and his echoed the same message about their trip to New Orleans: winning the game comes first.
And that’s not about to change now.
“It’s time to focus down and get more concentrated on the game,” said fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk. “Because that’s what we’re here for. It’s a business trip.”