Saturday in Death Valley

Artists have been inspired to paint it.

Photographers have immortalized its iconic moments and great players.

Critics have tried symbolically to tear it down.

But yet it endures, season after season, moving athletes to great feats, moving fans to tears ... and moving the very earth itself.

It is Tiger Stadium, and Saturday, the old gray lady on Nicholson Drive opens her 88th season when her boys, the No. 2-ranked LSU Fighting Tigers, host the Northwestern State Demons.

Fittingly, it will be a night game, a 7 p.m. kickoff. Time enough to allow a whole day full of what true Tigers fans will tell you is the only proper amount of time to tailgate and lubricate before erupting in full-throated fury when LSU’s Golden Band from Tigerland steps onto the field to belt out the first four notes of “Hold That Tiger.”

Months before every season, folks from the promotions and publications offices in the LSU athletic department get together to design the schedule posters, schedule cards, tickets and media guides for the upcoming season.

After so many years, of so many tributes and tactics, the question for Craig Pintens, LSU’s assistant athletic director for marketing, was essentially how to give the stadium that has everything something new?

In the end, the answer was purely poetic.

It started simply as a time killer, something to keep the crowd buzzing in the empty void between the coin toss and the opening kickoff.

It was decided that a video would be shown on the LSU video boards, but what it would be about or what it would say was still a question.

“I came up with some words, but they weren’t very good,” Pintens said.

He eventually told Dan Borne, LSU’s stadium public address announcer since 1986, about the project and his frustrations with it.

“That’s when Dan said, ‘Let me take a crack at it,’” Pintens recalled.

Borne, who figures he has been attending games in Tiger Stadium for 55 years, came back a day later with this:

It is a pantheon of concrete and steel

It is a city that rises defiantly in the delta alongside the father of waters

It is the humidity of autumn evenings that drapes stately oaks and broad magnolias

It is haunted ... and it is loud.

It is Halloween night & Cannon blasts

It is a Louisiana gumbo of humanity that cheers its Tigers to victory & destroys the dreams of invading foes

Chance of rain is ... never!

It is the cathedral of college football & worship happens here

When the sun finds its home in the western sky it is a field of glory for sure ...

But much more than that it is a sacred place

And it is Saturday night in Death Valley

“I started to write some stuff down, and frankly I didn’t spend a lot of time on it,” Borne said. “I just wanted to put down some stuff about the passion and aura of the stadium, the appeal.

“There’s this thing about the stadium and there’s no denying it. It’s a special place. The people who grew up in it, like I did, will never forget that. Every time I walk in there it’s a special feeling for me.

“It’s been a gift from LSU to do it (his PA work). I never dreamed I’d get a chance to play that small role.”

When Borne delivered his prose, Pintens knew he had struck the right chord.

“I think he speaks to the passion that our fans have for one of the greatest venues in all of sports,” Pintens said. “I think when you read those words and watch the video, they’ll give you chills. That’s what it’s about when you’re inside the stadium. So it’s perfect.”

LSU videographer Doug Aucoin and his video production staff then matched Borne’s words with images they created for a video that made its debut at the McNeese State game in October 2010.

Fans who have become familiar with Borne’s voice over the past quarter-century would never know the words in the video are his.

That’s because the voice isn’t his. For that job, LSU contracted with Hollywood voice over artist Tom Kane, whose work includes the Academy Awards and the voice of Yoda in a string of Star Wars TV shows and video games.

At first, Pintens was concerned that Borne might object to using an outsider.

Chance of that ... never.

“The words are supplementary,” Borne said. “A whole lot of work went into the creative end.”

LSU publications director Jason Feirman took Borne’s words and carried them across the goal line of another dimension: print.

He used Borne’s tribute and used his words as the centerpiece for LSU’s football schedule poster (the school printed 80,000 of them this year) and the cover of the 2011 media guide.

One phrase from Borne’s poem will be used on each of the tickets for LSU’s six home games this season, starting with “It is a pantheon of concrete and steel” for Northwestern State.

And there will be T-shirts. Oh yes, Mike, there will be T-shirts.

“Each line has a different emotion,” Feirman said. “ ‘Cannon blasts.’ ‘A Louisiana gumbo of humanity’ is my favorite line.

“It celebrates the spirit and tradition and pageantry of LSU football. I don’t know what better way to do it than with someone who has been in our stadium for over 50 years and who is obviously the voice of our stadium.”

Pintens said the video that will be shown before Saturday’s kickoff has been updated with fresher images from last season, the objective to keep it timeless.

As timeless as the appeal and lore of Tiger Stadium itself.

Tiger Stadium by the numbers

Nov. 25, 1924: First game (Tulane 13, LSU 0).

Oct. 3, 1931: First night game (LSU 35, Spring Hill 0).

Capacity: 92,542.

93,129: Largest crowd (No. 1 Florida 13, LSU 3).

LSU’s all-time record in Tiger Stadium: 242-85-7.

LSU’s record in night games since 1960: 219-60-4.

What others have said about Tiger Stadium

“The scariest place to play in America.”

- ESPN.com, Oct. 2007

“The toughest place to play in the SEC is LSU. Death Valley. The fans are relentless. They don’t stop at all. They keep going.”

- Former Arkansas RB Darren McFadden

“I tell everyone, if you’re a true college football fan you’ve got to go to a Saturday night game in Tiger Stadium when they’re playing an SEC game that really matters.”

- ESPN’s Erin Andrews

“We’ll just begin here, knowing full well that any other campus can’t possibly touch the magic of a night game in Death Valley. If tradition is tailgating, the LSU band and - if you’re lucky - a Mike the Tiger sighting, then I’m all in.”

- Matt Hayes, The Sporting News

“There is noise in stadiums everywhere, from Eugene (Ore.) to Tuscaloosa. Only in Baton Rouge is there a living, breathing being lurking in its grand, old stadium.”

- Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com

“It’s like being inside a drum.”

- Late Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

“I’m not sure what it was like to walk into the Coliseum, but I bet it was something like this. The best place in the world to watch a sporting event.”

- Wright Thompson, ESPN.com