Dinner and a show.

That’s the standard date night, right?

While New Orleanians will discuss the dinner part ad nauseum (or, more precisely in our land of culinary delights, ad digestum), the show aspect has more space to explore.

My vote for best show (and bang-for-buck) in town? Newman Varsity Football.

Granted, it takes a special plus-one to sign up for high school football on a hot Louisiana night. But for $10/ticket, just tell her to get another round at the pre-game dinner. 

Jen has been a good enough sport (and sporting fan) to be dragged along at least once. Last week, though, I settled on a date with my dad — not a bad consolation prize. He turns out to be an even cheaper date.

And the show itself? It can’t be beat. Primarily because Arch Manning rarely can be.

The next-of-his-name quarterback wears the Newman #16 well. He is a Texas commit, but we can overlook slight indiscretions for hours of inspiration.

And last Friday, he didn’t take long to supply some.

If you’ve never been to Newman’s campus — parking near the cemeteries and walking through the Jefferson-Napoleon-bounded neighborhood — it feels a lot like home. A very nice home, mind you, but homey still. It’s a little like an over-sized backyard.

Another way to put: if Tad Gormley can fit 25,000, Newman feels more like 250. When we happened to show up on Homecoming Night, the squeeze got even tighter.

Amazingly, though, there were still seats available to see the best show in town. I found ours just where I like ‘em: between the two sides. Newman’s bleacher section was divided from opponent Riverside’s by two bungee ropes. Uptown to our left; Reserve, La to our right. It wasn’t exactly Downton Abbey comes to Fright Night Lights. But it wasn’t exactly not, either.

Riverside was coming off a blow-out win against Hammond’s St. Thomas Aquinas High, driven by its running back Elijah Davis. The ULL commit carried a decent stat line to Danneel Street: one game, seven touchdowns, three hundred yards. Immediately Davis announced he was ready to cancel — or at least postpone — the Manning show, taking a third-down carry up the right sideline for a sixty-five-yard, six-point scamper on the game’s opening drive.

No matter Davis’s impressive performance — two more touchdowns brought him to double digit scores for the season — the opening act could not spoil the headliner. Arch Manning had entered the stage.

Responding to a seven-point deficit, Manning rolled right, flicked his wrist, and dropped a GPS-perfect pass for a touchdown. The stat sheet might have read a thirty-five-yard play, but as the crow flies, the ball coasted at least fifty yards through the air.

And crows were the only avian subjects around. Arch, apparently, has not met a duck. It took him two series to throw an incompletion — a scramble-drill heave, steps away from his intended target fifty yards away in the endzone. He followed that blemish with another. An out-route slip from his receiver led to another incompletion. But what an incompletion! The receiver, stumbling to his feet with ball already destined to its proper spot, was struck flat in the facemask. For a moment, I thought it would embed itself in the faceguard. “It wasn’t a completion, but it sure was accurate,” a Newman fan reflected.

Riverside kept it close through the first half, but Arch’s lasers proved too much. Five touchdowns will do that to a team. The visitors from Reserve took it all in stride, even while protesting their perceived big-city treatment. Flag here, heat and humidity break there, parent-led cheers everywhere. One of our right-side neighbors allayed the pain by grabbing his phone, sliding it open — beyond the deer antler wallpaper — to make a call to a “J Boy.” Newman fans, instead, queued up for the post-game networking session.

No matter the clash of cultures, Arch provided the memories.

After a rare Newman offensive penalty, I found myself entering into a prime-Drew Brees mindset. Back us up fifteen yards? Our Super Dome neighbors would call out: “You know what that means. More stats for Drew!”

More stats for Arch! (He did indeed throw for a first down on the next play.)

Arch answered every question — but he left me with a few. Specifically: where is everyone? The greatest show in town performs weekly at a sardine-sized field, and still, it’s not standing room only?

Joe McKnight, Leonard Fournette, Rico Gathers, the 2011 St. Aug basketball team. I like to make my prep pilgrimages. Maybe it’s time to make yours.

Arch has got a few games left with us.

-30-

This college-created song — ‘scuse me, ballad — didn’t make a lot of Louisianians too happy. LSU fans memorably made their own spoof of the ditty. But Arch’s naming inspiration was a pretty good athlete in his own right. Stay tuned if anyone recommends an Arch run for president.