Location: Port Allen, LA
States Visited: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana
Note that this posting was really supposed to be split into two, but it’s been an extremely busy time here at Road Games HQ, so it’s all going to come down in one.
The first person I spoke with on Saturday morning closed our conversation by telling me, “You’ll see a lot of characters here.” He didn’t know how right he was.
I did not have much of a plan on Friday and spent most of the day working and conducting phone interviews. Right as I was set to try to hit the town and see what’s what, the skies opened up and a long torrential downpour battered the area. I decided it was not the appropriate time for me to drive around trying to find a place where I could buy a pair of waterproof pants. The rain died down just a little and I headed across the Mississippi River to see what I could see on the campus. I was really just wandering around in my car, trying to get a feel for the place. I probably should have stopped and tried to find a bar somewhere, but again, the weather was awful and people generally didn’t seem like they were out and about. I did finally manage to get some waterproof pants, but along the way, I spotted a liquor store whose sign read, “BOURBON TASTES LIKE FOOTBALL.” I knew I would have plenty of opportunity to party on Saturday.
The temperature climbed well into the 90s on Saturday which, coupled with the rain from the day before, made for a pretty sticky day. By 10am, it was already nearly unbearable. This meant that when I stopped to chat with people, I made sure I spent as much time in the shade as possible. Luckily, the on-campus tailgates were all shrouded in trees so that was an easy proposition.
When people found out I was from Chicago, they immediately tried to see what I could handle. First it was boudin (pronounced “Boo-dahn”) which is kind of like dirty rice made into sausage form. Salty and spicy, it was right up my alley. At my next stop, I was handed and oyster shooter. The raw oyster, vodka, and tobasco sauce was kind of hard to take down in one shot, but I managed. It wasn’t exactly a way to savor the oyster, but I’m sure my stomach liked it. Local flavor was on display all day long. I sampled Jambalaya, Pastalaya and other Cajun delicacies. I also had some excellent kebabs. Whenever someone in Hokie gear would pass by a tailgate, the LSU fans would growl and shout, “Tigah bait!” It honestly scared the hell out of me the first time I heard it. I was munching on some boudin and talking to a guy in his 50s, and he suddenly yelled, “Come on! RRrraarrrrrrrr! Tigah bait!” Until he said the tigah bait line, I had no clue what was going on and thought he had momentarily gone insane. The best thing about this process is that as soon as they are done berating the opposing fans, they invite them in for drinks and food. At halftime of the game, I asked one of the Hokie fans what they thought about it and they said, “Yeah, it gets a little old after a while, but it’s a lot better than what they could be yelling.” Seriously, they could have been Rutgers fans.
The folks at LSU have a lot of axes to grind. With no natural rival, they create the hate where they can get it. Lots of people wore anti-$aban t-shirts, but the bigger ire was directed at USC. One gentleman asked me where I was going next, and upon learning that it is Nebraska vs USC, he shouted, “I hope they beat the fuck out of USC. Fuck USC!” That was par for the course whenever USC was mentioned. The Tiger fans are still not over the 2003 split title, and root against USC every week. Though they would love nothing more than to meet them in the National Championship game this year. And based on how solid LSU looked Saturday night, I’d say they very well may end up there. The LSU tailgate scene is quite the party. The main goal of all tailgaters is to live it up. Between the food and the drinks and the music, it’s a full on party. College students mingle with alumni and swap stories and beverages. I’ll put it this way. This was not the only eight-person funnel I encountered. The LSU athletic department treated me extremely well. They not only gave me a press pass, but I was also able to interview one of their Athletic Directors, a game marshal, and a man who’s been working one of the gates there for over fifty years. After spending my day beating the heat, I made my way up to my assigned place in the press box. I am not going to say that I didn’t belong there. I write a column of SI On Campus and I am working on a book about college football. That makes me a journalist, even if I’m not a properly trained one. But when I arrived at my spot, I found I was placed between Steve Megargee of rivals.com and Matt Hayes of the Sporting News. To Matt’s left: Stewart Mandel (SI.com), Dennis Dodd (cbssportsline.com) and Pat Forde (ESPN.com). Let’s just say that all of those gentlemen have more distinguished writing careers than I do. At least at this point. So it was a bit surreal being up there, and seeing how things operate. The most notable thing is that all of these guys are college football fans just like the rest of us – save for the fact that they have to be objective. But they were all keeping eyes on the other games going on and chatting with each other about big plays (one let out an “Oh Colt” when McCoy threw a pick-six to TCU) and surprising upsets (“South Florida took the lead!”). Until the LSU game kicked off, the scene wasn’t that different from any of us hanging with our friends and watching football. Once the game began, I didn’t spend much time in the booth as I’m trying to meet fans, and while the journalists certainly are fans – they’re not exactly the kind of fans I’m seeking. Fifteen minutes before kickoff, I bolted for to join the crowd. In the elevator, I rode down one floor with New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. Then, upon arriving at the field level, the first thing I saw was Chicago Bull Tyrus Thomas.
But I was there to get the fan experience. I can safely say this was the loudest stadium I’ve ever been in. With all due respect to Clemson, which was extremely loud in its own right, Tiger Stadium is otherworldly in terms of volume. Fans screamed their heads off the entire game, even after it turned into a blowout. In the second half, I moved to a seat where a kid behind me who must have been eight years old was hollering his brains out. I was totally impressed. Again, I go back to the fact that Michigan crowds should be much, much louder. There is no excuse for our lack of volume. I wanted to hit the bar scene a bit, but after another extremely long day in the heat, I figured it was best to get back to the hotel room and get some notes taken. I want to give a shout-out to my friends at Tiger Pimp Nation who provided me food, drink, and tales.
Finally, I have to say that while I’m glad that the rain held off for the most part on Saturday, it appears that I missed out on all kinds of soaked shenanigans that go down when the weather is worse. LSU tailgates, jackass style:
Nebraska/USC is up next. See you there!