"…and not for five minutes will I be distracted from the wonder…"

tiger tales…

Uncategorized — d-ashes on September 11, 2004 at 3:19 pm

This is a long one and by no means do I think it’s interesting enough for you to wade all the way through but it was a hell of a weekend and I want to be able to remember it, so you get stuck with it too.

Last Friday night I crossed the border into Louisiana and was back in Tiger Land on my way to Baton Rouge for LSU’s first football game of the year against the Oregon State Beavers. It was hard to imagine that last season we won the national championship (okay, co-champions officially but we’ve got the trophy, so we’re the champs, ’nuff said) and I’ve been counting the days for over 2 months until LSU begins another season of football. I’m born and raised in Mississippi but my mother’s roots in Walker, just outside of Baton Rouge, have had me bleeding purple and gold since before I can remember. When it comes to LSU football, I’m a lifer.

Ever since Chuck, Grace and Steve moved down to Baton Rouge after they left Millsaps, I’ve gotten down to take in a number of tail gate parties and games with them. Along with their friends Danielle and Brocato and Seeling and Natalie, we’ve put together our own set of regulars that we know we will find on game day. LSU tail-gaters are legend throughout the land, as the southern Louisiana lifestyle is well suited to dedicating an entire weekend to eating, drinking and channeling the mob mentality that all die-hard college football fans know and love. Our krewe has always done it’s best to live up to the ideals that being a true LSU fan mandates: mainly that you out eat, out drink, out party and out cheer any fan in the nation on any given Saturday. Year by year we continue to hone our skills. This weekend was a test to see if we’d kept our form after 9 months of inactivity.

There are two standby traditions that we have worked in to our tailgate ritual. The first is the use of Seeling’s ‘Deuce and a Half’ as home base. This 2.5 ton Army surplus personnel carrier is easily recognizable and findable from across the biggest of LSU parking lots, ensuring that even the most zealous imbiber can usually find his or her way back to the food, booze and friends. The second is ribs. Brocato and Chuck are our two competing rib champions and every tailgate party is a chance for them to pit their recipes (Brocato is a wet marinade man, while Chuck opts for the dry rub) against one another, the winner judged by votes from whoever is paying close enough attention to get hold of a rib before they disappear.

I arrived in Baton Rouge anticipating all this fun, not to mention feeling the anxiety of the first game of the season. The first one is always the scariest, especially when you are coming off a championship season, have lost your starting quarterback/team leader and have the eyes of the nation watching to see if you were a one year wonder or if you’ve actually built a good football program.

Getting in to town I headed on over to Brocato’s, as Chuck and Grace were already over there waiting for a fried turkey to come out of the cooker. I arrived to find only the girls there. Chuck, Brocato and Seeling had already taken the Deuce down to campus to find a good parking spot for it. I sat down with Grace and the rest of the girls for a couple of games of Presidents and Assholes to get the evening going. We were waiting for the guys to come back, figuring they were salivating over the turkey which was just out of the cooker and hot as all hell from its oil bath. Numerous queries via cell phone revealed, however, that having found a spot for the Deuce they’d determined that it was too nice a night to leave it sitting there all alone and the tailgating had already commenced. But they still wanted that turkey. After a couple more games of cards and intense cell phone negotiations it was agreed that we would bring the turkey and some more beer over to the campus.

While the RV’ers, a lunatic sub-strata of the larger tailgating community that have their own set of crazy rituals and standards (an RV costing over $300K purchased solely for use during football season is by no means uncommon), were in full swing, the rest of the parking area surrounding the stadium was surprisingly quiet and we felt as though we had the place to ourselves. Not wanting to use all of our energy before game day, Chuck, Grace and I stuck around long enough for a couple of beers and to see Steve, Scott and Connie make it in from New Orleans @ around 1 am (Connie had taken a little time deciding on the weekend’s attire), then headed back to the house, making it a fairly early night.

Which was not a bad idea. Steve was calling @ 9 the next morning making sure I was up and ready to head over to ESPN Game Day, which was broadcasting to the nation from the parade grounds a stone’s throw away from ‘Death Valley’. He, Scott and I watched from the perimeter of the crowd as tons of Tiger fans, with a couple of Oregon State fans in the mix, went bonkers for one and a half hours, using the jumbo screen with its live video feed as a guide to get their face onto the TV. It was 9:30 am and there was plenty of evidence to suggest that many of the attendees had been up partying since 6 or so, if they’d slept at all.

And then it was time for tailgating. Michael had to move the Deuce that morning because they’d unwittingly put it in a payed permit spot and he was threatened by the campus cops with having it towed. We all thought that he should have at least held off long enough to see what kind of tow truck they were going to come up with to tow a 2.5 ton personel carrier but common sense won out, I guess.

Our new spot was @ the Honors College and we had plenty of room for the Deuce, a couple of grills and a TV to keep track of the day’s football action. Brocato and Chuck got their ribs on the grill and we all sat around catching up with the tailgating crew nursing mercifully cold beers (it was a bit hot out). Seeling even cranked up the Duece a couple of times to give passing OSU fans a blast of the horn (DAMN LOUD). Graham and Marietta made it in from Brookhaven with my ticket to the game and they arrived in time to get some hot sausage and help judge the rib contest. Brocato edged out Chuck by a one vote margin but Graham took Chuck’s recipe to heart as he took it home with him to use on our Labor Day ribs Monday night.

The weather had remained beautiful throughout the day and the 30% chance of rain forecast was not even a thought in my mind as I headed for the stadium. Once I was in and going up the ramp, however, there was a good sized black/purple cloud coming off the river from the west. As I emerged from the tunnel and into the stadium the first drops were falling and I didn’t have a chance to even find my row before a full deluge was upon us. The old axiom is ‘It never rains in Tiger Stadium’ but you would have had to have been pretty drunk to believe it. A couple of claps of thunder nearby put the game in delay. Attendance was at a capacity 92,000 and by my guess no more than 18,000 to 20,000 people were able to cram into the tunnels, which left at least 60,000 of us fans out in the weather. All in all it was a good show of dedication. There was sporadic cheering and chants rippling through sections of the crowd. A few rowdy fans jumped the fence and took head long dives through the puddles on the field, much to the delight of the audience but much to the chagrin of the security officers and policemen who promptly chased them down and carried them off the field in a headlock. Finally one fan went ahead and disrobed and we had the official opening day streaker (I later learned this was the first streaker in Tiger Stadium history), who elicited the most reaction out of the security personel, as they really ganged up to get him off the field. In the spirit of inter-team relations I found an imbibing Oregon State fan and shared the pint of bourbon I’d snuck in with him to ward off the chill. Everyone wanted to see some football and once the delay was over those who’d sought the shelter of the tunnel were back in the stands and the stadium was full.

I’ll spare the details of the game but to say it was a sloppy one all the way around. We certainly didn’t win the game, we just happened not to lose it and I can’t help but feel bad for the Beavers place kicker. But it’s a W and the game tying drive was at least one positive note in an otherwise dismal performance. There is certainly a lot of work to be done to get us back into the shape of the team that performed so consistently last year and I’m not sure if we will even begin to reach the offensive tenacity we once displayed. The defense did look good, though, and defense wins games.

After the game I finally had the chance to catch up with my friend Blythe, who I’d missed getting the chance to tailgate with before the game (her dad works at the LSU business school and they do it up right and honestly, probably make me and my posse look like amateurs). Blythe, who is from Louisiana and is a bigger LSU fan than I am, moved down to Baton Rouge from Jackson 4 months ago and I hadn’t had the chance to see her since, so we spent the rest of the evening bitching about the Tiger’s performance and pondering how the hell we got out of there with a win.

The game turned out to be only half of my Labor Day vacation in Baton Rouge. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon Blythe and I had a grand lunch at the Superior Grill (replete with one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had, we had to pry ourselves away from the bar or risk wasting a whole day there). The bartender claimed to have been standing in line for the bathroom @ the game the day before and had spoken with a girl with a pair of jeans wrapped around her neck who was apparently the streaker’s girlfriend. She said he’d been arrested 6 times before in his life but she told him to go for it. Go he did. Go he did.

After lunch we took a city-wide tour including the Greek Theater on the LSU campus and going to see the river on the Southern U campus, blasting Fats Domino live from JazzFest all the while. I’d been wanting to do some work on a series ofpowerline photographs and Baton Rouge offered up many great shots. Blythe was a real dear and stopped whenever and wherever I asked. She also educated me on the ‘Mocha Sippie’ from the CC’s Coffee Shop, which was a quite tasty frozen coffee drink that hit the spot on a warm afternoon.

Nothing kept us from calling it a day right there and retiring to the house for some much deserved R&R but Blythe had the grand idea of driving out I-12 West to have a look at the Atchafalaya Basin. It was a great drive on a beautiful afternoon with the windows down and the radio playing. I found even more great powerline shots (I’m planning on actually doing a show with these, developing…) and we had a fine time soaking in the sun as it came off the water among the cypress stumps that are iconic of that fragile, ancient and dying wetland.

Arriving back at Blythe’s we turned on the replay of the LSU/Oregon game. Such big fans are we that we were willing to watch that travesty all over again. Thankfully it ended the same way. After showers we were off to Chuck and Grace’s, where Chuck, who is quite the sushi connoisseur, recommended the newest sushi spot in town. It was a hip little joint called Hello Sushi and was pretty good, though I always unfairly compare any sushi restaurant to Jackson’s own Little Tokyo, which is not very fair since Lil’ T is in a class all by itself. Alan came and joined us for a beer and synchronistically enough we found Blythe’s neighbors there also. The waitress messed up the order a bit and was kind enough to give us a free order of saki, which nobody could really stomach but Alan and I.

Blythe was all fired up to play some pool, so after dropping Grace off at the house Chuck accompanied us up to Ivar’s, a Cherokee-esque hole-in-the-wall down the street from his house, where we waited for the one pool table to open up. The couple who had the table when we’d arrived was taking their time finishing up their game, as the woman was more than a bit wasted. We had a good time watching her squint and adjust her eyes as she tried to line up her shots. Each one made was a victory to be celebrated with anyone within her line of sight, impaired as it was. Any shot missed was a tragedy only rectified by stumbling into her man’s arms for some comforting. I got my ass kicked @ pool and I think Chuck walked out with the winning record. Dropping him off @ his house, Blythe and I went back and ended the night sitting on the balcony with her neighbors, looking at her pictures from her Peace Corp days in Paraguay and her trip to Patagonia, then watching Bill Mahrer’s late show on HBO.

I awoke pretty damn late on Labor Day, around 1:15 I think. Blythe dropped me off at Chuck’s and after bidding her a fond farewell, I sat around for a bit, gathered up the belongings I’d scattered throughout the house (and thanks again for washing my clothes Grace, above and beyond, really), then hit the road. I decided to pop in for a short visit with my grandparents and aunt and uncle in Walker. At Maw-Maw & Paw-Paw’s there was a breeze blowing through the porch as we had a cup of coffee and watched the cows and chickens in the back lot. Paw-paw took me out and showed me the new cows, all of which were lazing in the shadow of the barn to escape the sun. Maw-maw showed me the laying hens she’s raising and I got to eat fresh muscadines that grow off the fence around the yard. Aunt Marsha and Uncle Larry popped over before I left and we broke down the LSU game once again. It was the perfect wind down to a great weekend shared with football, friends and family in my favorite state after Mississippi. I dare say that it even gained a bit in the ranking (though LSU didn’t, their near loss to an unranked team dropped them a few slots in the polls).

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