On Saturday, I attended my 21st game in LSU’s Tiger Stadium. Yet it was anything but old hat, and that’s not even talking about the new LSU baseball cap I purchased as part of a souvenir-shop spending spree.
Rather, this was the first game I attended in Tiger Stadium as an LSU fan rather than a professional, objective sportswriter. During the 1997-’99 seasons, I covered LSU football for the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La. That was my first exposure to south Louisiana and the football team it holds so dear.
Since I moved back to New York at the start of 2000, I slowly evolved into an out-and-out LSU fan. It just seemed natural to continue following the team as closely as I had done when it was my job.
Plus I enjoyed going out to watch the games with LSU fans in Manhattan for a taste of the “Laissez les bon temps rouler” culture I had left behind. It didn’t hurt that the Tigers also started winning games with impressive regularity, which was not the case when I covered the team.
So that’s why I was back in Baton Rouge over the weekend with two college friends for the LSU-Georgia game. I discovered, though, that there are significant differences between attending a big-time college football game as a fan rather than a sportswriter. Here are a few:
Tickets cost money. It turns out that fans are expected to pay in order to attend a game, rather than being paid for going. Who knew?
But that’s just the beginning. Even if a fan is willing to pay the listed price, that doesn’t mean that any tickets are available for that price. A fan without season tickets better become familiar with the likes of StubHub, eBay and the shadowy world of game-day scalping. I eventually found us three upper-deck seats on eBay for a total of $490, and considered it a bargain.
The pregame scene is more chaotic, for better and worse. Sportswriters don’t get too caught up in the pageantry of an event. Attending games, after all, is part of their job.
In practice, that means bypassing as much traffic as possible en route to the media parking lot, making a beeline to the media entrance and bellying up to the buffet. (Though maybe that was just me.) The crowds are just colorful background noise.
On Saturday, though, we did as much wandering as Moses in the desert. After making a lap of the stadium (while alternating carrying duties of our newly purchased one-day-only styrofoam cooler) to soak up the atmosphere along with the adult beverages, we went in search of two tailgates hosted by friends from my Lafayette days.
We had decent enough general directions, complete with landmarks, but it still took quite a while to find our friends amidst the 120,000 or so tailgaters spread across campus. There were plenty of cell phone conversations like this:
“So where are you right now? … Are you looking at the levee, or is your back to it? … A 90-degree angle, or perpendicular? … Are you on the same side of the street as the Vet hospital, or across from it? … Do you see a tall guy with his face painted purple wearing a tiger’s tail? … We’re right by the RV with the huge LSU flag. No, not that one. Or that other one … Stay where you are, I’ll come find you ... So where are you again?”
The emotions are rawer in the stands. A play like Georgia’s interception return for a touchdown on the first play of scrimmage would probably merit little more than a raised eyebrow or a knowing “How about that?” in the press box. As a fan in the upper deck, however, it was like a gut punch forcing all the oxygen from one’s lungs after the hours of buildup and anticipation of the pregame festivities.
Sportswriters, of course, don’t root. Or at least they don’t root for either of the teams they are watching so much as what outcome would make the best story. All things being equal I preferred that the team I covered would win, so that it was more pleasant to speak to the combatants afterward.
Yet some beat writers almost seemed to prefer that the team they cover lose, so they could be proven right in their “I told you so” cynicism. Either way, though, sportswriters don’t live and die with the onfield action like fans do.
When LSU gave up 50-plus points Saturday for the second time this season -- the first time that’s ever happened -- such objectivity suddenly seemed like a pretty good deal. Then again, being able to cheer with a full throat for two BCS championship teams (in 2003 and ’07) more than makes up for the recent suffering. At least that’s what I’m telling myself today.
Postgame traffic is crazy. By the time I used to leave Tiger Stadium after filing my story, most of the crowd was long gone. Not so on Saturday. Even though we dallied for more than an hour before trying to leave, it still took us nearly two hours to travel two miles back to our hotel.
It wouldn’t have been so bad except virtually anytime we wanted to make a turn, that particular move was blocked by policemen enforcing some traffic-flow pattern that we hope made sense to someone, since we certainly couldn’t figure it out.
It also drove our GPS navigator crazy, since we kept skipping the turns it requested. The computer-modulated voice repeating the phrase “Recalculating route” has been seared into my brain.
If only LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee had done the same when he saw a linebacker stepping in front of his intended receiver. Maybe then LSU wouldn't have lost 52-38.
Ahh, we’ll get ‘em next time. That’s how we fans roll.