Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ready to geaux ... Tigers

       It must be gameday for LSU football. That nervous feeling I've had all week tells me so.
       Yes, nervous, even though the opponent -- North Texas -- isn't quite Alabama or Arkansas or Florida or Auburn or Ole Miss. Doesn't matter. Don't know about the Tigers, but I don't take any opponent lightly. As I tell my buddies at the newspaper, they can all beat you.
        That's why they play the games.
Here we geaux down Victory Hill.
        Yeah, nervous. When my thoughts all week keep coming back to the game -- like every minute or so -- I know I'm nervous.
        It's always been that way -- whether it was Oak Terrace or Woodlawn athletics in the '60s, the Yankees since 1956, the Cowboys from the mid-1960s through the next three decades (not any more, though) and Dutch soccer since forever. I'm not a relaxed fan.
          But LSU football is what really gets to me these days. I've been back on the bandwagon ever since my son, Jason, started school there in the fall of '92 (he graduated five years later, but he's still like a student there when it comes to being a football fan).
           Of course, as a kid, listening to LSU games on the radio was an every Saturday happening in the fall from 1958 until I went to college. Oh, I loved those elongated "Go Tigers" and "Tiger Bait" chants and listening to the band, to the alma mater, to John Ferguson saying, "He's got 3 yards, 4, 5" or "Pat Screen rolls out ... shoots a pass upfield ..."
           In a different era of rock-hard defensive, run-oriented football, the game was almost always low-scoring, tight, tense.  And I was as nervous then, listening to my little transitor radio, as I am now watching almost every LSU game on TV.
           The greatest play in LSU football history -- Billy Cannon's punt return against Ole Miss, Halloween night, 1959 -- sent me running out of the house into the street, screaming. Not kidding. (So did Chris Chambliss' pennant-winning home run for the Yankees in '76 and the Bucky Dent home run vs. the Red Sox in '78.)
            I'm a bit calmer now -- most of the time. But you can ask the guys at the Star-Telegram what happened the night Ole Miss blocked LSU's extra-point kick that would have won the game with seconds left. Chairs went flying, and not figuratively. Luckily, the Tigers won in overtime.
          Jason, my son, was at that game. When I talked to him a few minutes after it was over, he said, "Dad, I wasn't worried. I knew we'd win in overtime. We had all the momentum." Great, Jay. Glad you were so confident.
           I've got a lot of LSU's football history stored away, but I'm not as versed on it as my friends who covered the Tigers for years -- Bob Tompkins, Scooter Hobbs, Marty Mule', Gil LeBreton, Glenn Guilbeau, Jim Kleinpeter, John Adams, among many others. Not as sure about past players and games on LSU as I am about the Yankees, Cowboys or Dutch soccer.
           What I am sure of is that all of those sports entities have tremendous fans. Heck, yeah, I'm prejudiced. But none of them have an atmosphere like LSU football has.
           In sports, there's not much that's quite as good as gameday on the LSU campus. It's a wonderful atmosphere and we -- Jay and his buddies -- like following the band on its march to the stadium, the stop at the top of Victory Hill, the traditional "four corners" salute, and then the run down the hill.
           Love all the LSU traditions and numbers the band plays.
           I've been to gamedays at Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky, and La. Tech, and they're all good.  Everyone is excited; everyone is happy, and looking forward to the game. Drinks flow freely.
           The difference at most places now from the "old days" is the all-day tailgating, and here is why LSU tops them all: The food -- the Cajun food -- is the best. And LSU fans, mostly, don't mind sharing. Most seem to be sober, at least until sundown.
            I love to listen to those people from South Louisiana, with their Cajun lilt, trade views on what's happening with the Tigers and what's going to happen.
            Wish I could be there every home game. But I can't; in fact, I seldom go these days. It's a tough trip from Fort Worth. Haven't seen a game at Tiger Stadium since 2007 -- the fabulous Florida game -- but I've seen at least one game almost every season (home or away) since 2001.
              Love the sight of that purple, gold and white crowd of 92,000-93,000 at Tiger Stadium; it's quite a view from our seats high in the south end zone, upper deck, right under the scoreboard. It's quite a sight from the press box, too.
              Love the LSU uniforms, always have. When I was a kid and newspaper photos were black-and-white, I would color the uniforms for both teams. Of course, I was always partial to red-and-blue (Woodlawn and La. Tech), and purple-and-gold was Byrd High School, so that didn't add up. It didn't help that Ole Miss -- damn Ole Miss -- was red-and-blue, and it was LSU's toughest (and most hated) opponent.
              Honestly, I still have a lot of love for Louisiana Tech -- and the traditions and the fight songs -- and I think its football uniforms are among the best in the nation. Hate it when Tech plays LSU.
                But, of course, LSU has among the best programs in the nation. Had the best last year (until the final game) and, well, the Tigers did beat every team they played. Won the "game of the year" on the opponents' field. I'm bitter about this, but I felt -- and will always feel -- that it should not have been forced to play that opponent again in the BCS title game.
                Can't imagine this LSU team being more dominant than last year's team. It would be nice, but every season requires some luck. Good as the Tigers were last season, they were some fortunate moments, some game-turning plays -- the good bounces vs. Oregon, Morris Claiborne's kickoff return vs. West Virginia, Tyrone Mathieu's punt returns vs. Arkansas and Georgia.
                It might feel good to have a quarterback who can throw the ball up the field with authority. But it's solid to have a ball-control running offense and a defense that can shut down the run and pressure the QB.
                The schedule is tough -- a four-game stretch that will test our resolve (at Florida, South Carolina home, at Texas A&M, Ala-bucking-bama home). But, first, North Texas, the Mean Green. Tonight.
                 And I'm nervous about it.


  1. Good one, Nico! GEAUX TIGERS!!!

  2. Nico. Enjoyed this. I'll never forget the Halloween run of Cannon or our phone starting to ring in Jena with uncles, aunts and cousins calling from all over the state and Texas. I remember standing between my older brother and the radio and him yelling at me to move. In his mind they were on that radio dial.