Which Tigers Will Geaux?

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October 26th 2019
Published: October 29th 2019
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It was a Tiger-off in the Bayou on Saturday, my first top-10 matchup of the season.

After I bought my ticket for the LSU-Auburn game last week while at Alabama, I had a little bit of buyer’s remorse. Had I made the right choice? For one, Baton Rouge is a little bit further away from my house than I had expected. Second, I had been an Auburn fan at one point, having attended several games at Auburn before I ever attended my first as a UGA student. And lastly, I only knew one person in Baton Rouge, but she said she would actually be out of town for the weekend. Nevertheless, I have wanted to attend a game here for a long time. I would’ve come to LSU last year when UGA played, but tickets were over $200 just to get in the door for that game. No thanks. At any rate, I waffled for a few days, but by Wednesday, I was all in for a trip to LSU.

I think I made the right choice. My car was repaired extensively over the past two weeks (to the tune of $1500, ouch), and I have to say that I was unaware of how bad the situation had become until I drove it back home after those repairs. Quiet engine, no rattling or shaking, and a generally smooth trip. That made the 8.5-hour drive to Baton Rouge so much less stressful. I drove out on Friday, since I had commitments back home until Friday morning. But I left Athens at 11 AM (eastern time) and arrived at my hotel, The Shades Motel, at 6:30 PM (central time). Atlanta was horrible with traffic, and Mobile was also a little unpleasant. Otherwise, though, it was a decent trip with no problems. I even arrived in time to go check out a movie I had been looking forward to, The Current War, before going to the Academy sporting good store a block from my hotel to pick up a $5 LSU cap. As with Alabama, I already had an LSU t-shirt to wear for the game. It’s purple, which is one of my favorite colors.

One of the factors that had interfered with my determination about going to this game was the weather. I’m one of those lucky people who usually brings good weather—at least a lack of precipitation—with him when I travel. I haven’t been to a rainy game so far this season, and that record is still intact after LSU. There was rain overnight, and when I arrived at the campus Saturday morning, the evidence was still markedly on display. Lots of flooded ditches and standing water in general. It is the “bayou,” after all. But other than a little misting for about ten minutes during the first half of the game, there was no precipitation to speak of during the day.

I found a few free parking lots about a mile from Tiger Stadium, so I opted to get there as early as I could. Unlike last week, I arrived with plenty of parking still available. Of course, it was just after 8 AM, so likely many of the attendees were still asleep or just stirring in their homes. I wasn’t sure how early the parking would fill up, which is why I left the hotel early. I probably could’ve waited at least another hour. But it gave me the opportunity to see the campus before the throngs arrived. That’s not to say that people hadn’t already set up their tents and begun grilling. Quite a few had.

The campus of LSU is pretty straightforward and in a grid pattern. At least the parts that I saw were. I made my way to the stadium, an easy landmark from where I began. Then I followed the roads where it looked like the most tents were already set up. I noticed a tall tower that looked photogenic, and it also became an easy landmark around which to navigate: the Memorial Tower. It was a WWI memorial tower, but I think now it is just for all wars. It’s adjacent to the parade grounds, a big green area that looks to be the middle of campus. The bookstore is nearby, as is the big Law School building across from the Tower. The student union is across from the south edge of this green. Not much tailgating was going on here yet, so I made my way north towards the downtown area. I passed through the gates to the college and found several places that reminded me of downtown Athens. There was a massive line out the door to a place called the Varsity, and when I peeked inside, it was just a sports bar with restaurant atmosphere, so I passed. Further down, there were some fast food restaurants, including ye olde Jack in the Box, which we don’t have in Georgia but which I nevertheless passed on. I wanted to try this Wienerschnitzel place, but it didn’t open for another hour. I didn’t plan on hanging out in this area that long. So I opted for Raising Cane's, which we do have in Athens, but which was deep in a relationship with the LSU football coach, Coach Orgeron (or just Coach O). It turns out that Raising Cane's was founded in Baton Rouge, and I had stumbled upon their very first original restaurant, designated #1 and also known as "The Mothership." And I have to say that it was the best food from that chain that I’ve ever had. No regrets about that decision at all.

That was about 10:30 AM. And I didn’t realize until I got back to my hotel at 9 PM, but that was also the last time that I ate for the day.

But it was back to the campus for me. Since I didn’t have anyone I was meeting, it really was my own schedule. I walked into a place called Bengals and Bandits before going back onto campus. It’s a local LSU swag store, and this is where I heard for the first time that I might need to be wearing gold instead of the purple that I was currently sporting. I hate that. First off, purple is a much better color to wear than gold. But for me, when you wear something gold with purple letters on it, it looks a little tacky. Not so, the other way around. At least in my book. So I did what I always do, and always a little too late: I checked the hub of narcissism to find out if gold was indeed the color to wear. Twitter told me that it was.

So I made my way to the campus bookstore to see what I could find. Unlike with Alabama, I actually considered getting a few of the items in there. I found lots of gold stuff, but I decided to go with the cheapest one I could find: the standard “Welcome to MY House” t-shirt with the stadium on the back and a listing of the seating capacity (102,321). Once I got outside, I pulled off my purple shirt and replaced it with the gold. It turns out that I shouldn’t have wasted my money. Despite being a “gold out” and even saying so on the physical tickets, the stadium had about as much purple as it did gold. Bummer. I don’t exactly have a lot of money to be throwing around on shirts that I probably won’t wear again. And at halftime during the game, it was chilly enough to warrant putting on my purple shirt over the gold one, too. So I guess I’m glad I had an extra layer for that purpose.

I spent the next hour in the student union. They had televisions set up to broadcast different college football programs. In the lower levels, there are several fast food chains and a larger area for TV watching, so I watched the first quarter of the Mississippi State-Texas A&M game before heading over to the stadium. It supposedly opened at noon, and it was now just past that time.

On my way, I saw some dogs with LSU sheared into their sides, a lot more tailgates, and even a wedding atop an LSU party trailer. That was different (and I saw that even ESPN made mention of it on their website). I heard the Garth Brooks song “Calling Baton Rouge” several times, and people really get into it here. They even play it between the third and fourth quarters in the stadium.

I had intended just to make my way to the stadium and see what there was to see, but I came across a road that was lined with people on both sides, blocked off with metal fences at the edge of the road to keep the people from blocking it. This was where the LSU team and then the marching band would be dropped off and enter the stadium. I got there about thirty minutes early, and it looked like I had prime real estate at the top of the hill. So I leaned against a fence and waited. The crowd got bigger, and I met some interesting people. One guy (and his friend) who apparently does a little like I do, picking a fun atmosphere to attend a game every once in a while. He was talking about how he had been to Michigan, Notre Dame, etc. But he’s not doing it every week this season; those were from past years. It was their first time at LSU, just like me, though.

And then finally, the team was dropped off. Coach O came through, suited and beaming, definitely enjoying the fan attention. Then the players started walking through, and Joe Burrow, the LSU quarterback and my bet to win the Heisman this year, stopped right in front of me when all the players stopped to await further instructions. He kept on his mobile device, ear pods in, so as not to be distracted. After a minute or two, they were off again, and then we waited for about five minutes before the marching band came through. They were fun, too.

Then it was time to go into the stadium. My ticket was a mobile ticket, and it had no indication of which gate I needed to enter. I was quite lucky that I picked the right one. But then we had to get on several escalators to get up to the nosebleed section. There were stairs, but they were restricted for some reason. So up we went, probably up six escalators, two per level. At least I wasn’t out of breath when I got to the top.

I will admit that I didn’t have that same “cathedral” feeling like when I walked out and saw Alabama’s stadium for the first time. But with the open space in one of the end zones, this stadium would dwarf Alabama’s in terms of seating capacity if they filled it in. There’s nothing left to fill in at Alabama. I also didn’t feel like I was up so high here, as I did at Alabama. Granted I wasn’t at the top of the section, but even then, it didn’t feel like I was so far away from the field. (I was, but that’s beside the point.) They call it Death Valley, but since Clemson also calls theirs Death Valley, and is also the Tigers, I think they need to have a different kind of Tiger Off than the one I witnessed here for naming rights. Until then, this should be Death Valley West, and Clemson should be Death Valley East. But I digress. I was thirsty at this point, so I got my stadium cup ($7 with a FREE refill) and then headed to my seat to await the game.

Once people started to fill up the section, I came to realize that I was in an area mostly for Auburn fans. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the entire section behind me was the Auburn student section. The row behind me and on my row to the right of me was basically a single group of Auburn guys. And then a lone LSU guy, who happened to be standing next to me. I don’t remember how, but we got to talking about LSU and actually became decent acquaintances by the end of the game. His name is Chris. And the guy in front of me would chat with us occasionally and also taunt the Auburn people. His name is Jordan, and though he was wearing purple, I later found out that he’s an Alabama fan. And speaking of Alabama, this one nutjob came to the game wearing an Alabama jersey (with Jalen Hurts’s name), 2011 Alabama national championship cap, and crimson shorts with the Alabama A embroidered all over it. He would loudly “boo” the Auburn people when they would enter the section. Not just before the game, but throughout the entire thing. We yelled at him to stop and shut up, and when he said he was on ‘our’ side (LSU), I gently reminded him that he couldn’t be on either team’s side in the stadium if he was wearing those colors. He took a lot of heat from everyone, and it’s a good thing he was a good sport about it all. He didn’t get hit, but people did throw peanuts at him.

As far as the game goes, it was pretty good. My first top-ten matchup didn’t disappoint. LSU is known for its great offense and terrible defense, but the defense showed up today. And Auburn’s defense showed up, too, keeping LSU to its lowest point total of the season so far. But it was enough. The game really went back and forth, with Auburn scoring a field goal early, and LSU answering with a touchdown early in the second quarter to take the lead. Then the two teams switched that pattern, and the score was tied at 10 at the half. There were a lot of odd plays, including turnovers and LSU going for it on 4th-and-1 and not making it. But the first half was chilly, and I was regretting not bringing a hoodie for this game. No rain to speak of, but that wind was brutal. I also participated in the Chinese Bandits cheers, which I frankly find a little racist. I don't know if there are any words, but it involves a lot of bowing (which I did), and at the end, everyone chants "L-S-U!" I did that part. If there are racist lyrics to this song, please let me know so that I can feel rightfully ashamed.

During the half, the sun finally came out, but it was just a tease. A few seconds here, a minute there. By and large, it was overcast for the whole game. The third quarter was a lot like the first: another Auburn field goal early, answered by an LSU touchdown (with a missed PAT) to make the score 16-13 at the end of the 3rd. It was funny to hear the Auburn students trash talk their own team, especially coach Gus. It was the kind of talk you hear when guys are preparing for their team to lose but hope they can pull it out just in time. Early in the 4th quarter, LSU scored another touchdown to go up by 10 points, basically putting the game away. There was still a lot of game left (over 13 minutes), but it was the largest margin in the game so far, and there was no reason to think Auburn could score at least twice more. They offered two consecutive three-and-outs on their ensuing drives, at which point most of the Auburn fans started leaving. LSU had done the same, but with the lead and with time on their side, they didn’t have to do anything major except keep Auburn from scoring. With three minutes left in the game, Auburn decided to try and make things interesting by scoring a touchdown. New score: 23-20. LSU fans held their breath when Auburn went for the onside kick, but it was recovered by LSU, who basically had to simply keep the ball and run out the clock and thus dash Auburn’s dreams of a comeback. And it was so.

The number-two team had survived, beating its third top-ten team this season. In my mind, this was the clear number-one team in the country based on record. I had a great time and made some new friends, too. I also probably lost a few of my Auburn friends, but I hope not.

But after the game, ugh. It was a bit of a clustershag getting out of the stadium. Mainly because we were leaving through the same gate as the Auburn band, and then the Auburn fans were next to the team buses, awaiting the arrival of the team before departing. So that clogged up the works. Once out of the stadium, getting to the car was a cinch. But then that traffic. Oh. My. God. I now have a new champion for worst post-game traffic. It took 90 minutes to get back to my hotel. Ten miles away. Most of that was in the first two miles, probably over an hour just in that part. It was the happiest I’ve ever been getting to a cheap motel.

The ride home to Athens was also uneventful, though I did wait until the next morning to make the drive. The only thing noteworthy is that I stopped at a Milo’s restaurant outside Montgomery, Alabama. I’ve had their sweet tea before, but I wasn’t really aware of their food. It was pretty good, though the way their Milo’s sauce affected me the day after my trip makes me question whether I’ll ever eat there again. Nevertheless, Geaux Tigers. If Georgia doesn’t make it to the playoffs this year, I’m pulling hard for these Bayou Bengals.

*****No corndogs were smelled in the making of this travel blog.*****

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