Football is everything for 73-year-old fan

If her family was a football team, Carol Smith would be the quarterback — especially when it comes to following her LSU Tigers.

“Football is the one thing in life you can’t live without,” says the 73-year-old grandmother.

In the last 56 years, Smith has only once missed following an LSU football game — whether in person, on the radio or TV — and she still seems to regret it.

She was on vacation in Florida.

“You called home to get the score,” recalls her sister Diane Breaux, of Pierre Part, at a recent family gathering.

Smith says she came to her love of football at an early age.

Growing up in Metairie, Smith watched her uncle, Joseph Yenni, coach at Warren Easton High School. Yenni went on to become mayor of Kenner and president of Jefferson Parish, and his grandson, Michael Yenni, is now Kenner’s mayor.

Once, she recalls, she got to be the “water boy.”

But, at age 12, Smith’s life changed. She contracted polio and was treated at the Hôtel–Dieu and Charity hospitals in New Orleans.

Even in those difficult, early days of her diagnosis, Smith’s love of the sport did not dim.

While she was being treated at Charity Hospital, two competing high schools arranged with the hospital to name a king and queen from among the young polio patients.

The couple was brought to the game, typically by ambulance, crowned on the field at a half-time celebration, and fêted for the evening. The other polio patients also attended the game. Smith doesn’t remember the names of the schools, but she remembers the football game when she was the queen. She was in a full body cast but, still, she says, it was a wonderful evening.

“It gave you something to look forward to,” says Smith. “I just loved football.”

When her mother, who was divorced, moved the family to Baton Rouge, Smith was treated at Baton Rouge General.

And it’s in the Capital City she discovered one of the passions of her life — LSU football. 

As a young woman, Smith regained enough use of her left leg to drive, so, tossing her folding wheelchair into the back seat, she headed to LSU games by herself. There was special parking close to the stadium and an area set aside for those with disabilities to watch from the field. Smith was able to bring one guest with her onto the field.

After she married and became a mom, her daughters, Stephanie and Danna, would accompany her to the games, as would cousins, nieces and nephews and, eventually, grandchildren.

“I would go almost every week, by myself or with family, friends or neighbors,” Smith says.

She believes she’s helped make die-hard LSU football fans of at least 25 people.

The youngsters, she says, would vie for the honored seat next to her on the field, and she would find tickets for other relatives in the stands behind them.

Smith remembers the time she took her young nephew, Joe Digirolamo, to an LSU-Ole Miss game, and he cautiously asked his aunt if it would be OK to chant, like others around him, “Go to Hell, Ole Miss!”

She thought about it and said he could, she remembers.

Eventually, as going to the LSU games got pricier, Smith stopped attending in person.

But that didn’t mean she quit following her Tigers.

She tunes into TV games — but listens to the radio — usually with a family member right there with her.

For years, Smith says, the Miss America pageant would, to her frustration, be broadcast on the same night as LSU’s first game of the season.

Smith, who helped start the Mrs. Baton Rouge pageant here in the 1960s, enjoyed watching the national beauty pageant, but was unhappy if she’d have to miss the football game.

Her husband — who’s happy to hear a game’s final score, but doesn’t follow football like his wife — solved the problem by buying a second TV.

“If it’s football, I’m there,” she says.