Tagged, Bagged and Baked in Death Valley


Another dispatch from Baton Rouge. Hopefully, not my last. This time, it was LSU-Florida on Oct. 12 from the still being transformed Tiger Stadium—the luxury boxes and new seats that will push the faithful count to 100,000 are works in progress.  

Outside the old building, the sea of purple and gold milled and mingled, many of the moshers sporting Game Day T-shirts that featured a Tiger throttling a Gator, flanked by the words “Tag ‘em, Bag ‘em.”

And that’s what LSU did to Florida on a sun-drenched, 90-degree Saturday afternoon that baked four happy northeastern onlookers in the bleachers (thank, Amy!), as my daughter Sam, nephew John and his buddy Brian also made the pilgrimmage to see my son Alex, now an LSU senior, and the Tigers. The Bayou Bengals administered a 17-6 beating more in tune with  the 2011 club's defensive savagery and power running game than the wide-open play displayed by Zack Mettenberg, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron throughout this season.

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For the first time in the 2013 campaign, LSU exerted continual pressure. The Tigers made eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy had three balls batted down at the line and was sacked four times.

Jeremy Hill, still saddled by LSU’s running back rotation, put up 120 yards on the ground. But LSU largely reined in its vertical passing game and Mettenberger’s second-quarter fumble while trying to make a quick throw deep in Gator territory kept the Tigers from breaking things open early.

The second half was a slugfest, with Tiger Stadium repeatedly rising to full roar as LSU finally bagged the Gators with Kendell Beckwith’s sack of Murphy to ensure a 17-6 win, a chomping measure of revenge for last year’s  14-6 loss at The Swamp.

Afterward, no one spotted Coach Les Miles eating any grass, but the Mad Hatter was in Milesian musing mode during the postgame press conference, saying LSU-Florida “was not a hammer and nail relationship.” Huh?

Mike The Tiger, active in his lair, was a sideline no-show. Something, Alex's friend Nate said, about previous PETA protestations concerning  the use of sedatives to get Mike to enter his rolling circus cart.  Without the prescription prodding, Mike VI decided whether he wants to work or not. Unfortunately, Mike VI didn’t want to take the short ride to Tiger Stadium on Saturday. But if you've seen his posh enclosure, you can certainly understand why.

With losses by Stanford, Georgia and Oklahoma, and a narrow win by Texas A&M's Johnny Football over Ole Miss, LSU should move up several spots from its No. 10 ranking.  If the Tigers take care of business versus the Rebels next Saturday, (Alex and crew enjoy your road trip to Oxford) and at home versus Furman the following week , the Tigers' Nov. 9 trek to Tuscaloosa will be rife with BCS implications.

But let’s not leave this past Saturday behind just yet—because if you’ve been to Baton Rouge on Game Day there’s always much to chew and remember.

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Isn’t it about time that someone fund an LSU research and statistical department study on footwear figures?  There needs to be a tally of what percentage of co-eds wear cowboy boots to the ballgames, and the number of guys in boat shoes versus sandals. A special entry is also needed to calculate those rocking walking boots.

Perhaps the first inquiries should be made at the massive on-campus Barnes and Noble that serves as a Purple and Gold bazaar, where one can pick up Fighting Tiger cowboy boots for $399. Logo-embossed flats are available for $54, while a plastic tiger head will set you back $34.

Our tailgate (sorry about the $10) spanned four tents and a big bubble on a shady nook on the Parade Grounds.  Miller kegs and plastic cups made for a nice complement to a tasty gumbo, cornbread, and an ashy red beans and rice.

Across the sidewalk, a wooden sculptured tiger guarded a time capsule, housing items from the sesquicentennial of LSU in 2010 (Alex's freshman year). That tailgate soiree had a tint of Legends restaurant at Yankee Stadium: bags of crackerjack, cheetos (alas no Goldfish) and Mardi Gras beads were there for the grabbing.

Conversations with Alex and his boys Kevin, sporting a head cam for his Go Pro video series, Murph, Nate and Dom centered on football and how their almost four years in Baton Rouge had flown by. Kevin's parents, the Gazzales, reminisced about how we had met a couple of times on prior pigskin occasions. My son and his girlfriend Rachel talked about their post-LSU northern excursion plans (we can hope). Sam regretted how she should have come to an LSU football game earlier, or went to a big school, sentiments echoed by John and Brian. As for me, there were more bittersweet thoughts about time passing, tempered by how I didn't want to be the bad luck guy: Earlier Death Valley trips had earned victories over McNeese State and Auburn, and a heart-breaking loss to the hated Nick Saban's Bama. I certainly didn't want to wind up with a .500 average for my in-person, LSU football-watching career.

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Amazingly, group photos were interrupted by a middle-aged guy in purple-and-white camouflage overalls, pulling two young lovelies on carts via a small tractor.  

After the game as our entourage strode past the Pete Maravich Assembly Center toward Buffalo Wild Wings, I spotted another T-shirt, espousing this LSU treatise: "Because it's everything Bama isn't, Better than Tulane, a Southerner's dream and a northerner's Wish, The pride and joy of the great state of Louisiana, Mike the Tiger, I bleed purple & gold, Tiger Stadium on a Saturday Night, Ole Miss's worst nightmare, and a place that can get in your blood and stay forever."

Thanks for our bit of forever. Geaux Tigers.