Veni Vidi Death Valley

November27/ 2011

Veni Vedi (“I came, I saw”) Death Valley  – LSU’s Tiger Stadium.  I was smack dab “on the 50” for this weekend’s LSU v Arkansas game in Baton Rouge.  I’m glad I did.  If you ever have the opportunity, you should.  Was it the most awesome Gameday Experience I’ve ever enjoyed?   No.

I WAS impressed.  It was memorable and very enjoyable.  I appreciate why Tiger Stadium has its reputation as one of BTCFb’s most awesome spectacles.  The Why I can’t put it at #1 goes to the partisan bias that affects pretty much anything in the overtly partisan combat zone of BTCFb.

Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, lies on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River an hour north of New Orleans.   The city has a SMSA of 800,000.  Approaching from the west as we did, one must cross The Huey P. Long Bridge.  “Have to cross the Huey Long Bridge” is a common phrase in Louisiana.  Huey P aka “The Kingfish” left his indelible stamp on lots of stuff in Louisiana.

Huey was the consummate Southern politician – governor of Louisiana from 1928-32.  Huey was a political rascal who played to “the people” in public while manipulating smoke-filled rooms.  Huey was much loved and much hated.  One of the latter assassinated Huey in 1935.  Start asking “how come _____” questions about Louisiana and Huey’s name quickly comes up.

The two most dominant structures in Baton Rouge are the 35-story state capitol and 92,000 seat Tiger Stadium.   Huey was responsible for both.  No one other than a concrete salesman would ever accuse Tiger Stadium of being “among college football’s most beautiful stadiums”.    Describing one’s football stadium as “beautiful” is a backhanded compliment like having your blind date described as “has a great personality”.   Uh oh.  Big and intimidating is what LSU is going for…. and achieving.

Tiger Stadium is located on the southern end of the LSU campus surrounded on three sides by acres of festival parking (like at “a fairgrounds” hint, hint).  92,000 is Kenan & The Carter all in one.  The logistics of accommodating 92,000 fans all coming together for a single purpose is resolved by the quickly apparent fact that these folks have “done this before”.   Everyone involved seems aware of how it’s done.  I was impressed by the relative order of the whole shebang.

Most Tiger games are at night.  This one was an afternoon affair.  THAT plays a bit to the imbibification factor relative to fan conduct.  I took that into consideration in my analysis.

Note: I love everything about “Cajuns” – the music, the dialect, the cuisine, the lifestyle, the general joie de vie associated with these notorious “hillbillies of the bayou”.  That front end appreciation removed any smidge of snoot factor I might have brought with me.   Without that appreciation I can see where an outsider might have experienced a bit of discomfort.   The air was thick with Cajun aromas and Cajun music.  I cannot claim to have seen all 92,000 but I did not see a single navy blazer if you get my drift.  The dominant colors were purple and gold – ECUish – but I doubt any LSU fan would describe it that way.  Nor should they.  Pretty much everyone was “in the colors” excepting the contingent of Arkansas fans in red (and hog hats).

I purchased a purple LSU ballcap to move unobtrusively among the revelers.  Purple cap or not I found everyone VERY cordial.  As I reconnoitered the area I would approach fans with “where” questions just to test their affability.  A+ on affability.  As to the fans themselves, they ran the spectrum of humanity in height, width, weight, attractiveness, # of teeth, eyes, ears, and what gauge of intellect one can make from visible perusal.  No one was wearing a MENSA key nor espousing their SAT score as reportedly happens among some fan bases.  To that point, no one seemed constipated either.  Everyone I observed was in to enjoying himself or herself which I found very appealing.  92,000 people “having a good time” is a good thing.

Note: I did NOT notice any overt hostility towards rival fans.  I was sensitive to that as some “Wannabee Big Time” fan bases think being obscene jackasses is a credit.  It is not.  It is a liability.  With a 3rd National Championship within the past decade in its grasp, LSU fans concentrate more on loving their own team rather than hating the opponent.  I liked that a lot.

Like pretty much every school, LSU does a player gauntlet walk to the stadium.  The LSU players wear coats and ties ….. and headphones.  I deducted style points for the headphones.   The fan rope line was ten deep on both sides with cell phone cameras in abundance.   Even the referees arrive by police escort with sirens aroaring.   There is a campus street leading to the stadium where the band, cheerleaders and Mike The (Real) Tiger perform for the multitudes an hour or so pre-game.   Not a lot different from other stadia except that 92,000 people ups the overall feel of the moment.

Entering the giant concrete monolith, I headed straight for a concession stand to buy an alligator sausage.  It “tasted like chicken” but I figured I had to try it.   The concession staff was courteous and very efficient.   Moving up the ramps with a tide of humanity, I again noted the orderly deportment of the multitudes.  Our seats where, as noted, on the 50 in the upper deck.  I could see The Mississippi River a half mile away.   At this point, the overall experience started drifting into the “very good but not great” level.

Jumbotron:  Two antiquated boards mounted on either end.  Both were 60% corporate ads.  I estimated the age of the board technology to be early 2000s.  If a stadium is going to go with Jumbos – do it right.  Wake Forest’s new Jumbo puts LSU’s to shame.  Former Duke AD Joe Alleva must have used the same Jumbo guys at LSU that he had at The Wally.

Suites:  There are rows of suites along both sidelines above the lower level.  No end zone suites.  I did not have the opportunity to appraise the suite hospitality services.  I’m betting jambalaya is an offering.

The LSU Band:  The Golden Band From Tigerland was large but otherwise unremarkable.  I’m betting its at best the #3 college band in the state behind Grambling and Southern.  The band’s pre-game entry is nothing.  It assembles in one end zone and just does the usual band stuff.  I expected much more.  Ohio State has A REAL BTCFb band.

Team Entry:  Just the usual smoke and fireworks and run out of a tunnel ….. yawn.  Not sure what else can be done, but I expected something special.

Fan Conduct:  I was expecting full maniac mayhem for four quarters – nope.  Yes, it was loud and very enthusiastic.  Much more so when LSU started making a rout of the score.  There were Arkansas fans sprinkled around us and no one hassled them when they were doing hog calls in the early goings.   A common board monkey myth says “real fans stand up and are obnoxious for the whole game”.  If that’s so, then LSU fans are not “real fans”.  The stray fan around us who stood up for no reason was strongly encouraged to sit his *ss down by those behind him.  No one threw beer cans or threw up around us.  No one did anything that I would consider “stoopid”.  LOTS of pride in their team for obvious reasons but nothing out-of-the-ordinary.

RVs and Flatscreens:  We left in the 3rd quarter as the game got out of hand.  Passing thru the RV lots we noticed many groups enjoying the game on large flatscreens mounted on the sides of RVs with tents full of tailgating fans who never bothered to go into the stadium but got the best of both experiences – being “at the game” but watching it on TV.  I’m betting that practice will become increasingly popular across college football.  I’ve seen it at The Carter on several occasions.

Conclusion:  Gameday at LSU IS an experience I encourage any BTCFb fan to do if given the chance.  It is a bucket list item ….. but for sheer “WOW” I put it no better than 5th on my list.  The Official BobLee Gameday Experiences I Have Seen In Person Top Five is:

#5:  LSU
#4:  Notre Dame
#3:  Texas
#2:  Clemson
#1:  Ohio State

My criteria will differ from yours.  I look for signature elements that are unique to that stadium.  I also look for fan pavlovian reaction to a single band note.  Getting 90,000+ fans to “do something” like spell out O-H-I-O is very cool.   100,000 fans singing “The Eyes of Texas” is VERY cool.   Notre Dame’s Irish Brigade leading their band is very cool.   And I am always awed when I walk into Clemson’s Death Valley with the way the stands are right on the field and everyone but visitors in bright orange.  And The Howard’s Rock entry is totally unique.

My weeklong Thanksgiving Trip was quite remarkable in its entirety for reasons to be covered in two future columns – “Elbow Up – A Night With The Detmers” and “Just A Coach”.   I hope I can do them justice.

BE ADVISED ….. I am flying home Monday AM.  I will respond to any/all comments Monday PM.

And New Rimshots:

UNC v Duke:
…… I wasn’t there.  If St Butch The Divine and his toadies pulled any stoopid stunt, the national media ignored it.  From what I read it sounds like Interim Ev went out a convincing winner which I believe he deserves.  Had St Butch kept his bruised ego out of this season, Ev might have been able to be his own man instead of Butch’s puppet.  Thanks for nothing Butchie. …. Now on to some whozit bowl, cheap wristwatches and tacky warm-up suits.  While everyone speculates what Bubba is up to. ….. for sure some nitwit board monkey knows Boise’s area code and is watching for calls from 919.

NC State’s Miracle v Maryland:
…… Again, I am limited to Internet reports.  It sure looked grim there for a while.  Was Madame Yow sharpening her hatchet at halftime?  HOLY COW, before you could say Mount Suribachi, the much-maligned Marine was planting his flag atop Terrapin Mountain and Brickyard pundits were bumfuzzled what to do.

Boeheim In The Crosshairs ???
….. I was not convinced that Bernie Fine was guilty so I figured Boeheim was being the noble friend to stand up for him.  Looks like that decision may Paterno-ize Boeheim.  Tuff bidness!

Worse News Of The Week
…… There WILL be an NBA season.  I was so hoping not.

Coaching Exs:
….. TO’B may have dodged his bullet but assorted others are falling like the autumn leaves – Illinois’ Ron Zook, Kansas’ Turner Gill, Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson among the first.   Wanna bet with Turner Gill being axed and Interim Ev likely to not make the final cut; the PC loonies will be screeching about “the black coach thing”.
Anybody but me find the irony that Butch (aka The Saviour of Miami) and Dennis Erickson are both unemployed now?  It was Erickson that Butch replaced at Miami.
Bubba’s short list could get scrambled as the “flavors of the month” will be going quickly.  Surely at least one UNC board monkey figured Urban Meyer was a sure thing for UNC. ….. With Dabo’s November swoon, the Bring Back Danny Ford crowd will be heard from in Clemson.
Whoever takes a chance with Mike Leach will be “a winner”.   He was framed.

Roy Craps Out In Vegas:
…… Like so many do, Royz Boyz left Las Vegas poorer than they arrived.  Someone tell Bubba not to worry about Ol’ Roy.  He’ll be dancing late into March, not to worry.

Rick Who?
……. Mark Gottfried defeated none other than perennial NC State “next coach” Rick Barnes last week.  The irony of THAT is beyond a hoot.

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