Week 10 - Alabama at LSU

Trip Start Sep 01, 2012
Trip End Nov 26, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Saturday, November 3, 2012

This was a big one.  #1 Alabama and #5 LSU were playing for control of the SEC West.  For Alabama, a win meant they would control their own destiny for a national title game berth.  For LSU, a win against Alabama would salvage their national title hopes and avenge last year's title game loss to this same team.  Add to that the extreme venom the LSU fans feel toward Nick Saban, the current Alabama and former LSU head coach, and the atmosphere was charged from the get-go.  This was also the first stop on our tour where our game coincided with ESPN College GameDay, so of course, we made a sign and headed to campus early.  

We arrived on campus at 8:30am for a 7pm game.  Normally, it would be no problem finding a place to park nearly 11 hours before game time, but not at LSU.  Tailgating was already in full swing.  After about 30 minutes, we finally found a place to park on the extreme outskirts of campus, and it was quite far to get to GameDay.  GameDay was crazy, too.  There were easily over 1000 people there, and it was very difficult to get up to the front.  We did get our sign on during one of the side segments, though.  It was peeking up just over Chris Fowler's shoulder.  Even though it was 9am, it was already hot...in November.  Throughout the day, Jason got soaked in sweat and air-dried three times.

Since we had an early morning, it was a night game, tickets were expensive, and the crowd was expected to be raucous, Janell and the boys tailgated until about 2pm and left Jason to attend the game by himself.

Now, let's get to the ratings:

Stadium - Tiger Stadium, otherwise known as "Death Valley," is the largest stadium on the tour, I believe.  Both end zones are enclosed, making it a big bowl.  In addition, there is an upper deck on both sides.  For some reason, though, the end zone I was sitting in was segregated from the rest of the stadium from the goal line back.  I normally work my way to the 50 yard line and get as high as I can to watch the bands at halftime, but I couldn't do it for this game.  It certainly had the most interesting food, as I hadn't seen po' boys and jambalaya at the consession stand anywhere else.  This is also the only stadium I've ever been to that puts numbers every five yards instead of every ten.

We set a stadium attendance record for this game with 93,374 people!  I think all of the extra people were in my row.  It was amazingly cramped.  We couldn't even go shoulder to shoulder, and it was actually more comfortable to stand than sit because we could stagger a little bit.  At one point, everybody sat down during a timeout while I remained standing to take a picture, and there was literally about 8 inches for me to sit between the guys on either side of me.  It's a nice stadium and it's big, but it really annoys me when universities increase stadium capacity by cramming more people into the same amount of bleachers.  There's no way I can be as uncomfortable as I was for 3 1/2 hours and give this stadium a high rating. Rating - 6 of 10.

Tailgating - Most people have hobbies.  Some people collect things like stamps or coins.  Some people play music.  Some people play softball.  LSU fans tailgate for a hobby, and they do it very well.  Many even had elaborate signs sporting a nickname for their tailgates.  Old School Tigers.  Threaux Down Tailgating.  Fighting Tigers.  LSU Tailgate Mafia.  Steak-n-Taters Tiger Tailgaters.  Ranzino's Endzone.  It reminded me a lot of RAGBRAI with people partying out of their elaborately decorated buses displaying their team names.  

Our hosts were Lou and Fred's Tequila Tigers, but honestly the fact that we had a home base was largely irrelevant.  We felt like everybody was hosting us.  People kept giving us gumbo and beer.  The t-shirt Trent gave me with all of the games on the back and the GameDay sign I was carrying certainly helped facilitate conversations, but as one of our surrogate hosts, Woody, said as he handed us a plate of boudin and venison and a bowl full of gumbo, "That's southern hospitality.  It's what we do."  That was actually the second time we had a random tailgater had given us some boudin, and we had never even heard of it before that morning.  Combine that with Lou's pastalaya (jambalaya with pasta instead of rice) and the other food we had already eaten, it was the most amazing tailgating food we had ever had!

The first thing you notice at an LSU game, is the very loud music coming from everywhere.  Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, rap, hip-hop, country...even the LSU marching band.  I played in a rock band for many years, and the tailgaters had speaker systems that would rival many hobby bands such as mine.  People had living room furniture set up under their tents.  Love-seats.  Couches.  Lazyboys.  Oh, and TVs.  There were big screen TVs set up at nearly every tailgate that were bigger than those in most people's houses, and some were even built into a trailer. People also were hauling around wheeled coolers while they tailgate hopped. We even saw a 60-year-old lady riding a motorized cooler down the street.

There is kind of an understanding among the faithful that they go to the same location every game, and you don't take somebody else's spot.  Even so, this was a big game.  It was estimated that there would be somewhere between 150,000 and 180,000 tailgaters for the Alabama game.  Remember, the stadium holds a little over 93,000.  Due the expected large influx of people, spots were claimed with quick-shades on Friday afternoon, and some people even slept at their tailgating spots.  Lou had stayed in a hotel the night before and got up at 4am to ensure his spot was secure. We had recieved a map to the Tequila Tigers tailgate about four weeks ago, and they were right were the map said they would be.

Tailgating at LSU is really something you have to experience to understand.  This was not limited to the parking lots.  Every nook and cranny on campus had a tent set up, a generator humming, and people eating some great food.  This is also the only college I've seen represented on a Bud Light can.  It's really hard to describe, but here is an analogy.  Let's say that at Christmas time, most people will decorate their house in your neighborhood.  Some will simply hang up lights on the front porch.  Some will string some around the trees in the yard, too.  Some may even put out a nativity scene and shine a floodlight on it.  But there's that one house that does all that plus the neon Santa and reindeer on the roof, the giant blow-up snowman, Santa's village complete mechanical elves making toys, and a fake snow machine.  Plus they invite you in for cookies. That's the LSU tailgate house.    

I had said before that the basis for a 10 of 10 was tailgating at Penn State in the mid-1990's.  We would get over 120,000 people tailgating at every home game, and it was fantastic!  This was a whole new level.  We had to choose between going back and knocking everybody else down a point or two or simply putting LSU off the scale.  Rating - 12 of 10.

Tailgate Bonus #1: Picture of an R2D2 keg from an earlier LSU game

Tailgate Bonus #2: Video of an 83-year-old grandma doing a keg stand at another earlier LSU game

The Game - "The Game of the Century."  That's what the LSU/Alabama game was dubbed last year prior to LSU's 9-6 victory in a field goal fest.  They got another shot later in the year, but Alabama completely dominated in a 21-0 snoozer of a national title game.  This time, though, they got it right.

Going into halftime, it seemed like Alabama had the game well in hand with a 14-3 lead.  LSU hadn't been playing poorly, but they were struggling to put points on the board.  A failed fake field goal on 4th and 12 didn't help.  Neither did the failed onside kick.  Or the failed 4th down attempt deep in Alabama territory.

LSU came roaring back in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points to go ahead 17-14.  The defense completely shut down the Alabama offense, and as the clock was winding down, it looked like LSU was going to avenge the loss in last year's title game that ruined their perfect season.  LSU was driving the ball down the field, and forced Alabama to use all their timeouts.  With less than two minutes on the clock, all LSU had to do was get a first down and the game would be over.  The drive stalled at the 21-yard-line, and the one time it would have been good to see LSU take a risk and go for it on 4th down, they missed a 38-yard field goal instead.  Still, the defense had been dominating the Alabama offense the entire second half, and the clock was winding down.  Then, Alabama showed what the #1 team is supposed to do.  They suddenly moved the ball with ease by completing three passes for first downs in a row. Then A.J. McCarron tossed a screen pass to T.J. Yeldon who then ran it the rest of the way for a 28-yard touchdown with 51 seconds left to go ahead 21-17.  LSU was also out of timeouts, and the clock ran out on them to end the game.  

This was the best game I've seen all year, and probably the best game I've ever seen in person.  Rating - 10 of 10.

The Band: Once again, we get a bonus band since the Alabama band was there, too.

Alabama Marching Band - Since I had to watch the bands from the end zone, it was difficult to see the formations.  It was, however, very easy to see whether or not the band was making straight lines.  They were not.  For those of you who have never been in a marching band, the lines on the field, including the hashmarks, are used extensively by the band members to know where they are on the field.  The Alabama band was having a lot of trouble trouble lining up even when they were on the the hashmarks.  The marching was a bit sloppy.  I couldn't hear them very well from where I was sitting, and I was giving them the benefit of the doubt on that...until I heard the LSU  band playing facing the same direction.  There just wasn't a lot of volume. Rating - 4 of 10

LSU Marching Band - I was told that watching the band march to the stadium is a popular thing to do, so I hustled over there early enough to get in the front of the people standing six deep.  The band was preceded by the team getting off two buses and an actual Bengal tiger in a cage being pulled by a golf cart.  They were very stoic compared to any other band I've seen marching to the stadium.  Lots of right angles and serious faces.  The only ones smiling were the color guard members.  

The band came out for pregame very slow and deliberate, and then stepped it up.  It was clear that they were very well rehearsed.  For halftime, they had some of the same alignment issues as Alabama did, but not nearly to the same degree.  They had a nice, powerful sound, and they did a good job throughout the whole game of involving the crowd.  Rating - 7 of 10

Fans - The LSU fans present an interesting case study for the Alabama game.  I came to this game expecting a lot of animosity toward the Alabama fans who made the trek to Baton Rouge, but it was fairly benign except for one thing.  There is a saying among the LSU fans.  Tiger Bait.  This is what they call anybody playing the Tigers.  And they call them that often.  At first it was a little funny, but after hearing Tiger Bait yelled at Alabama fans all day it got a little bit annoying.  I can't imagine what it would have been like if I had actually been wearing an Alabama shirt. 

After tailgating all day and being amazing hosts, I was anxious to see what the LSU fans would be like at the game.  What they were was LOUD!  I mean that in a good way.  They were very loud when Alabama had the ball, like good fans should be.  At the end of the game when LSU was holding on to a three point lead, they got even louder.  Cheering for your team positively and loudly is great, but how do they treat the opposing fans?  There were a few Alabama fans sprinkled around my section, and they were allowed to cheer for their team without issues.  The only thing directed at them was the aforementioned "Tiger Bait" over and over again once LSU pulled ahead.  The true test of fans is how the act after the game, win or lose.  LSU lost in heartbreaking fashion, but their fans were very gracious to the Alabama fans.  They even wished them luck going forward.

On the flip side, there was quite a bit of unnecessary booing.  Of course, all of the calls that went against LSU were terrible calls and thus boo-worthy.  The fans were getting frustrated by the lack of scoring in the first half and actually booed a badly executed play at the end of the second quarter that was preceded by a personal foul call that negated a first down run.  This is the first time in 10 weeks of going to games I had heard the home team booed by their crowd.  They understandably booed the fake field goal attempt a few plays later, but they also booed the Alabama band before they started and after each song.  I understand booing the team as they run onto the field, but the band?   Really?  Rating - 8 of 10

Best Player - This was a tough one, as there were athletes all over the field.  Alabama running back Eddie Lacey was having a great day with 83 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries before limping off the field in the second half.  Alabama had a two-pronged rushing attack as T.J. Yeldon managed 76 yards on 11 carries as well as the game-winning 28-yard touchdown reception.  Alabama also has a very good offensive line with both running backs averaging around 7 yards a carry.  LSU freshman running back Jeremy Hill had 107 yards and a touchdown.  A.J. McCarron engineered an amazing game-winning drive.  However, this is the first week I feel the best player was actually on the losing team.  LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for 298 yards and a touchdown as he picked apart the vaunted Alabama defense all game.  If it weren't for several dropped passes in the first half, he would have easily broken 300 yards, and LSU may have won the game.

Overall - This was certainly a fantastic experience.  I'd definitely recommend an LSU game, and don't shy away from the big opponents.  There is nothing else like the tailgating there, and the people were great.  People came from all over to be at this game.  I sat between an Alabama fan from San Francisco and an LSU fan from St. Louis.  It was a regular melting pot full of gumbo.  Rating - 10 of 10

Don't forget to scroll down for more pictures and links to previous entries.
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