It’s Saturday night. There’s no rain in the forecast. Trumpets and flags will point to the four corners. And four notes will sound. Tiger Stadium will once again see a collision of its past glory and its future promise even as the present unfolds. Once again, we will gather to ...
In most places, spring is the time of renewal.
In Louisiana, it’s football season.
Here we don’t have majestic mountain ranges or sugar-white beaches. We have to invent our pleasures and pastimes with festivals, hunting and fishing, politics … and football.
And rising up from Mississippi River bottomland on ground that used to be part of a plantation called Gartness, like a castle towering over the levees and barges and sugar cane fields, Louisiana gave birth to one of the true cathedrals in American sport:
In Louisiana, we rank 49th among our fellow states in this and 46th in that and a dismal 50th in the other.
But in Louisiana we’ve done a few things right, too: Jazz, Mardi Gras, Creole cuisine and the purple-and-gold lighted version of Death Valley.
Everyone knows it by now. If college football stirs your soul, you have to make a pilgrimage to Tiger Stadium for what is now a somewhat rare Saturday night game. This is Mecca for the college fan, where they grill a version of the other team’s mascot in the parking lot and lustily sing the alma mater after yet another win, a high holy place where Saturday is the day of obligation.
You have to wander through the tailgaters and accept a steaming bowl of gumbo or jambalaya — and imbibe in a just a wee nip of bourbon — then wait for the band and the team come down Victory Hill and those first four notes (Da … dah … da … dum!) to wash over you like an awe-inspiring aural wave.
The place is full of myths and legends … and ghosts. From the saying it never rains in Tiger Stadium (I’m still drying out from the 1988 Miami game) to Billy Cannon’s Halloween night run into immortality to Huey Long to the sideline grass Les Miles likes to snack on now and again.
Yes, Les, we know. The grass in Tiger Stadium tastes best. That’s because we know how to properly season the things we eat down here, mister.
It’s not a place for the faint of heart. The natives can get, shall we say, restless. As Thomas Dunson, the most infamous drop linebacker from the Lou Tepper days once said, playing in Tiger Stadium “is like being inside a volcano. You don’t know if it’s going to erupt on you or the other team.”
Usually, it’s the other team. This is the place where ear drums — and opponents’ dreams, as the quotable Les Miles aptly said — go to die.
It’s also the place where if your name is Cannon or Casanova or Hilliard or Dorsey, you can live forever, an eternity of running between those goalposts and onto that incomparable field with the numbers painted on every five yards.
“It’s like home,” senior linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “You come to the stadium, and this feeling comes over you.”
Saturday’s game against UAB opens Tiger Stadium’s 90th season, and the old gray lady on Nicholson Drive has never looked better.
Athletic Director Joe Alleva came from three decades at Duke and realized what we already knew: Tiger Stadium is the front door not only to LSU’s campus but to Baton Rouge. If people come here, they come to see Mike the Tiger and the Romanesque coliseum across the street where his namesakes play football each year.
Alleva saw something akin to a Roman ruin.
In the best idea since then-Athletic Director Skipper Heard figured out how to expand Tiger Stadium by putting dormitories under the stands in the 1930s, Alleva raised money to replace rusting dormitory windows and resurfaced the exterior walls. They added dramatic lighting and landscaping and next year a south stadium addition that will bring Tiger Stadium’s capacity to that magical (if not always necessary) 100,000-seat mark.
Some may actually miss the weather-beaten, Haunted Mansion look, but they shouldn’t worry.
Even if it’s spruced up, it’s still Tiger Stadium. It’s still, as P.A. announcer Dan Borne wrote, haunted. And loud.