Saturday Night In Death Valley


Somewhere in section 228, a middle-aged parent sat, bemused by the student body’s chants and rituals.

There, among the 92,500-plus at Tiger Stadium on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, I hung with my son Alex, his fellow freshman friends Kevin and Eammon, and the latter’s parents.

The Oct. 16 opposition, McNeese State, was also a rookie to the Death Valley experience, the Tiger bait from Lake Charles, La., for Les Miles’s squad.

But maybe it was because Alex and I had wished a momentarily cap-less Miles good luck as he led the squad off the bus into the Stadium on Friday night as we were en route to check out Mike VI in his tiger pen, located across the street from the historic venue…Maybe, it was because LSU just overlooked their neighbors to the west, with an eye toward their big game with Auburn next week…

Whatever the reason, someone forgot to hand the Cowboys the script that read in part: savor your initial Death Valley visit; give those who didn’t make the trip with you a chance to check out the action on FSN Houston; and take home $407,000 for your beat-down by the Bayou Bengals.

Instead, McNeese took the lead twice against the now seventh-ranked Tigers. When the Cowboys  kicked a field goal to take  a 10-7 lead with 11:26 left in the second period, I wondered if Miles, the target of plenty of vitriol from Purple and Gold supporters, perhaps was thinking he wasn’t far afield enough from Mike VI’s enclosed lair.

Once again, Jordan (not George) Jefferson couldn’t move the ball on up the field with any consistency.  Offensive line miscues, turnovers, penalties, a missed chip shot field goal and extra point, all conspired to keep the visitors in the game. But eventually, the Tigers got enough things right, and a late 36-yard TD scamper by Mike Ford pushed the final to 32-10, a score line that belied an uncomfortable feeling throughout the stadium.

Indeed, the lackluster play against the lesser comp didn’t inspire anywhere near the full roar from the LSU faithful — so I was told by Alex and crew and other devotees. Or for that matter, there wasn’t all that much deployment of the pull-out banners distributed by Verizon, the official wireless provider of the Tigers and highlights on the in-stadium Tiger Vision HD screen, sponsored, in part. by regional sports network, Cox Sports Television.

Still, it was impressive to see the students standing throughout the contest and engaging in their choreographed cries (some more than a tad profane) and gyrations. By game’s end, I had the first- and fourth-down moves relatively under control, but I just couldn’t find my groove with the more complicated maneuvers on second (redolent of the warm-up in Remember The Titans) and third (much too rhythmically challenging).

In and around campus on Game Day, there were also many impressive sites and sounds.

On fraternity row, where I parked for relatively easy exit, Eminem’s latest battled with Getting Jiggy With It. On campus, Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love pounded from student government’s speakers, while a country singer warned his wine-toting companion: “don’t touch my Willie, we don’t know each other well enough.”

Tailgating tribes, with names like Rocco’s Raiders, DST (Damn Strong Tailgating) and The 1% Club, erected tents that looked living rooms, lining the perimeter of the parade grounds and spaces amidst campus buildings and parking lots, with or without shade. Generators, DirecTV dishes (sorry Charlie, Dish hardware went undetected) and TV sets of the 19-, 37- and (at least one) 52-inch variety were quite prevalent.

Some parked vehicles revealed modern-day images of tigers, tigers burning brightly, embossed with eyes, stripes, claws and snarling teeth. Their drivers and passengers prepared gumbo, ribs, kebobs, dogs and burgers. Although Miller Lite appeared to be the on-campus choice, one tailgater brandished a bar 20 spirits bottles deep.

Inflatable and stuffed tigers were all abound, including one of the latter with a Cowboy booth dangling from its mouth.

A skateboarding co-ed, wielding tiger ears and tails and MP3 player, eased her way in and out of the crowd. Another sported a T-shirt reading T.I.T.S., the acronym for Totally. Insane. Tigers. Supporter. Unfortunately, the wearer didn’t support hers so well.

The motto, “Love Purple. Live Gold.” could just as easily have been replaced by “Purchase Purple. Buy Gold.” especially on the first floor of the bookstore, where all manner of LSU merchandise and garb was gobbled up quickly.

However, business wasn’t nearly as brisk for former Tiger and Green Bay Packer great Jim Taylor, hawking his book The Fire Within. Maybe, the cover mention of the foreword from former pro teammate and Alabama alum Bart Starr had something to do with that.

I can only imagine how much business and the student section will be booming when Nick “Benedict” Saban and his Crimson Tide and CBS’s cameras roll into Baton Rouge on Nov. 6, perhaps with the SEC West lead up for grabs.

Wish I could be there. Geaux Tigers.