I Believe in You

GEAUX TIGERS!

I love my LSU Tigers.

Someone asked me the other day if I had gone to LSU, and I had to admit that I hadn’t. I am not an alumnus of my favorite university. I do not have memories of college days walking to class in the shade of  the magnolias and live oaks, of going to Tiger Stadium and sitting in the student section and going crazy on Saturday nights.

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I didn’t go to an SEC college; and if I had, my parents would have most likely sent me to Auburn–and given how regularly LSU beats Auburn, that certainly would have made living here problematic! I grew up rooting for Auburn first and then Alabama–but I always liked LSU. I liked their colors, I liked that they had a live tiger, and I loved that their stadium was so insanely loud. I started paying more attention to LSU when we moved here, obviously–and Paul also started rooting for LSU. The year of Katrina I pushed Auburn aside once and for all for LSU, and I’ve never looked back.

And of course I should be an LSU fan, even though I didn’t go to school there. I live in Louisiana, and my tax dollars support LSU, so I have some ownership there.

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And have I come to love the Tigers over the years. I vividly remember, for example, the 1997 upset of Florida, ranked number one and riding an incredibly long–23 or so games–winning streak in the SEC. I remember the upset of Tennessee in 2000, and the shocking upset of Tennessee to win LSU its first SEC title in over ten years in 2001. The national championship years of 2003 and 2007. The upset of Georgia in 2003 that told the country LSU had arrived. The “and Flynn is back to throw…to the end zone and it’s CAUGHT! Are you kidding me?” last second win over Auburn in 2007, the nine minute drive to beat Florida that same year, the trouncing of Ohio State in New Orleans for the national title.

We went to our first game in Tiger Stadium in 2010, the Mississippi game–and after being there once, there was never any chance of looking back or rooting for anyone else. We became ride or die LSU fans that night–and have gone to at least one game every season ever since. And it’s not been easy–there have been some highs, there have been some terrible lows, inexplicable losses and the firing of Coach Miles, the questions about Coach O when he was hired, that loss to Troy…but the loss to Troy was a turning point for the Tigers. Just as in 2000 under Coach Saban LSU lost to Louisiana-Monroe, only to turn everything around and win a national title three years later…here we are two years after the Troy loss, with probably one of the biggest turn arounds in college football history.

The coach no one wanted. The quarterback who didn’t play for three years at Ohio State. The two star receiver no one wanted. The running back who was told he was too small to play major college football.

A season that almost seemed like the plot of a movie, one of the greatest stories in the history of college football.

And tonight is the night; the official end of the college football season with LSU playing for the national championship in New Orleans, in the Superdome, against the defending national champion Clemson Tigers. Tigers v. Tigers.

If someone had told me at the beginning of the season, way back in late August, that LSU would be playing for the national championship at the end of the season, I would have thought well, one can always dream, of course.

And yet, here we are, exactly where Joe Burrow said we would be at SEC Media Days, when he also said LSU would be scoring 40, 50 , 60 points per game.

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And with only a couple of exceptions, he was right. Only Auburn held LSU to less than thirty points; but the final score of that game (23-20) doesn’t really give an accurate indication of what the game was like; LSU trailed 3-0 early but never trailed again, and Auburn scored in the closing seconds of the game to pull that close. LSU never trailed anyone for very long this season; they trailed Florida 28-21 for a long period in the third quarter before tying it up and then scoring twice more to finish them off. Texas led 7-3 before LSU went on a tear and was up 20-7 at the half, and never looked back.. Alabama (ALABAMA, yes, THAT Alabama, who’d beaten LSU eight straight times while establishing itself as THE marquee program) never led, and never got closer than within three after LSU’s first touchdown. We were ahead of Alabama 33-13 at half-time.

I still can’t get over that.

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This season has been a magic carpet ride for LSU fans, it really has. The entire state has fallen in love with Joe Burrow–he’s as exalted almost as much as Drew Brees, and when you consider the fact that Brees is practically King of Louisiana, you can perhaps get an idea of how much the state loves our Ohio transplant. (Interesting that the two quarterback gods of Louisiana got there start in the Midwest playing for Big Ten teams, isn’t it? And they both wear Number 9….)

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And he won the goddamned Heisman Trophy. Only the second in LSU history–which puts him up there in the same category as legendary Billy Cannon. His number will be retired someday, and his name will be permanently mounted on the stadium with the other greats. His statue will be in front of the stadium next to Billy Cannon’s.

I only hope that the statue will be of him in what I’ve come to think of as his trademark pose–standing with a slight smile on his face, both hands grasping the neckline of his jersey in the front, pulling down on his shoulder pads.

And while I obviously want LSU to win, there’s also a part of me that thinks the national championship is just gravy on top of a magic season that will live forever in the hearts and minds of the LSU faithful. There were so many amazing moments in this season–the 3rd and 17 pass that went for the clinching touchdown against Texas; the interception against Alabama so LSU wound up scoring two touchdowns in the closing minute of the first half; the 49 points in the first half against Oklahoma–and remember, LSU was up 35-14 with four minutes left in the first half and scored twice more; that insane escape from being sacked that turned into a forty yard pass completion against Georgia; the trouncing of Texas A&M; highlight after highlight after highlight.

Usually, in past seasons, there was maybe one game, possibly two, that was legendary; this entire season has been.

And of course, this magic moment, on Senior Night, when he won the hearts of everyone in Louisiana forever:

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Legend.

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And if there’s any doubt left about how LSU fans feel about our Jeaux, check out this video, in which the Tiger Stadium staple, “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” plays over highlights from this amazing player:

So, GEAUX TIGERS. And win or lose, thank you for this season. It’s meant a lot to all of us.

Louisiana Saturday Night

Last night, Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy; the first time since Billy Cannon in 1959 that an LSU player has–and it was just one more peak in what has been one of the most thrilling LSU seasons I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.

It really has been something for LSU fans.

I started writing this entry the morning after LSU beat Alabama for the first time since 2011, and yet…I resisted posting it at the time. I try not to be superstitious, and succeed for the most part, but when it comes to college football (or the Saints), I give in to superstition all the fucking time, even though I know it’s absurd. For example, every season I pick out two images–one for my Facebook profile picture, the other for my Facebook cover picture. I do not change those images all season unless LSU loses; after a loss I choose two different ones because those two images have clearly run out of luck. Same with what I wear on game days. I always wear LSU sweats when I am at home; I’ve worn my yellow sweatshirt for every game I’ve watched at home this season, and will continue wearing it for the play-offs.

Every bit of juju, you know?

And watching the growing love affair between the people of Louisiana and Joe Burrow has been an absolute joy to watch. Being a football fan in Louisiana is somehow different than it is anywhere else–I don’t really know how to describe it. We cheer the wins and mourn the losses, but we never ever seem to take the losses out on the team. The losses are disappointing yes, but there’s always this sense that the fans and the team are in it together, more so than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Drew Brees is a god in Louisiana and in New Orleans; now, Joe Burrow is one as well.

Paul said to me recently, “I never really think about you being Southern other than during football season.”

And he’s right–it’s true. One of the few remnants of my childhood upbringing is my deep and abiding love and enjoyment of college football. I’ve managed to shed most of my raising; values I was instilled with as a child that as an adult I’ve come to understand are neither right for me as a person or as a citizen to hold. It’s a struggle I continue to have even now; at least once a day my first thought in response to some situation or something someone says or something I see on-line is reprehensible, undesirable, and horrifying; shaking me to the very core of who I am as a person.

I suppose one can never completely be free of a Southern evangelical childhood. (Which reminds me of my essay “Recovering Christian”–which I really should finish writing.)

But one of the things I still hold onto is my love and enjoyment of college football. I grew up watching the games on ABC every Saturday; rooting for Auburn first and Alabama second. I always liked LSU–purple and gold has always been one of my favorite team color combinations, plus they had a real live tiger mascot–but they were a secondary team for me. I always liked their traditions and their stadium and all of that, but as I said, Auburn and Alabama came first. After I moved to Louisiana I began following LSU more–obviously, it’s much easier to follow the Tigers in Louisiana than anywhere else in the country–and of course, in the wake of Katrina turned my full fan capabilities to LSU, and have never looked back (I still root for Auburn and Alabama, in that order; I root for them except for when they play LSU and when they play each other).

This season has surpassed my wildest dreams for LSU.

I would have never predicted that the state of Louisiana would be having a football-season long (and probably much, much longer) love affair with a kid from Ohio.

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I mean, seriously. I was cautiously optimistic about the season before it began.

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But in all the fantasy narratives of an LSU football season I’ve daydreamed quite happily about, what this 2019 season has become was one that never entered my mind. Not even with my incredibly all-over-the-map creative imagination, would I have dared to dream what this season became.

Legendary.

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LSU 55, Georgia Southern 3

LSU 45, Texas 38

LSU 65, Northwestern State 14

LSU 66, Vanderbilt 38

LSU 42, Utah State 6

LSU 42, Florida 28

LSU 36, Mississippi State 13

LSU 23, Auburn 20

LSU 46, Alabama 41

LSU 58, Mississippi 37

LSU 56, Arkansas 20

LSU 50, Texas A&M 7

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP:

LSU 37, Georgia 10

I also realized over the course of this season why it’s so difficult for me to care about the NFL (other than the Saints): because there are too many LSU players in the NFL playing for non-Saints teams, and I just can’t root against LSU players. Ever. It came to me when I watched the Texas A&M, when they finally took Joe Burrow out of the game to thunderous applause, a standing ovation and the crowd chanting his name, with–I am not ashamed to say it–tears in my eyes: I can never root against Joe Burrow, so whoever he plays for in the NFL I am going to have to pull for–and what happens when he plays against the Saints?

Therein lies the rub with being a football fan.

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This season has been amazing, absolutely amazing, and ever so much fun to watch. If someone had told me last season that LSU would be leading Alabama 33-13 at half-time in Tuscaloosa, or that they would hang fifty on A&M, or about those big final touchdowns against Texas, Florida and Alabama, I would have thought they were dreaming. Sure, I go into every season hoping LSU will play well and have a big year–I always hope for the best–but this season? Never would have dared hope that it would turn out like this. I was excited for Joe Burrow last year when he transferred in, but there was also that element of well, he couldn’t get the starting job at Ohio State–and much as I enjoyed watching him play, Danny Etling was also a transfer quarterback and while he did win some big games (who can ever forget that insane upset of Auburn in Tiger Stadium, coming after the embarrassing loss to Troy, when everyone wrote off not only LSU but predicted Coach O would be fired at the end of the season? I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Danny Etling), it wasn’t like he lit up the record books…and he couldn’t beat Alabama.

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And after last year’s Alabama game, I certainly never dared to hope LSU would beat them this year. But they did, and it was a thriller of a game, an absolute classic. (I may have told Paul to replay the game when I am on my deathbed, so I can die happy.)

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And yes, I am aware that I might take LSU football a little too seriously.

But what a season. I was checking some notes yesterday, and came up with these incredible moments:

*LSU has actually only trailed four opponents during the course of this season: they trailed against Florida 28-21 in the third quarter, only to win 42-28, including a goal line stand at the end of the game when it really didn’t matter if the Gators scored;

*LSU trailed Texas 7-3 in the first quarter, but took the lead back at 10-7; in fact, with 1:30 left in the first half LSU kicked a field goal to go up 13-7…but the halftime score was LSU 20, Texas 7. Texas would close the gap to two points twice in the second half, but the famous 3rd-and-17 touchdown pass slammed the door shut once and for all on the Longhorns;

*Vanderbilt scored first, but by the end of the first quarter LSU was up 28-7.

*LSU trailed Auburn 3-0 early before going up 7-3 and later, 10-3. Auburn scored to tie it at 10-10, but LSU never trailed again;

*With five minutes left in the first half the Tigers kicked a field goal to go up 19-13 on Alabama; the half time score was 33-13. Alabama never lead, the score was never tied, and Alabama was never able to pull close than five points the rest of the game. The third quarter was all Alabama, and they made the score 33-27 with fourteen minutes left in the game–the set-up for another one of Alabama’s come-from-behind wins. Joe then took the Tigers 75 yards, making at least three conversions on third downs to go up 39-27–and when the Tide scored again, Joe took them another 75 yards to put the final nail in the coffin with less than two minutes left in the game;

*Vanderbilt scored first, but by the end of the first quarter LSU was up 28-7.

*Also worthy of mention in the Texas game: Texas had 1st and goal and was stopped four straight times. LSU took over on downs. On the first play Joe threw one of his few interceptions; Texas had first and goal inside the five. LSU’s defense again stopped them four times–so that was eight consecutive stops inside the ten. Amazing.

*In the SEC title game, the score at half-time was 17-3. In a three minute flurry in the second half, LSU went ahead 34-3 before Georgia scored again.Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 8.26.42 AM

It’s really been a magical, wondrous season to watch and enjoy; there have been so many times where all I’ve been able to say it “OH MY GOD” as I watched–the most recent, of course, that insane play where Joe avoided three tacklers and launched a pass that went for 71 yards….while running to the sideline.

There have been so many great moments this season.

And I haven’t even talked about the great story behind this season either: the coach no one wanted; the third string quarterback who left his original school so he could get a chance to play; the running back everyone thought was too short to play college ball; the linemen no one wanted; the receiver who was too skinny–they all came together in Tiger Stadium to create one of the greatest teams in the already storied history of LSU football.

I am so thrilled I got to see them play in person twice–the Georgia Southern game, and one of the greatest experiences of my life–the Florida game.

Thank you, Joe, Coach O, and everyone else on the team from the bottom of my heart.

GEAUX TIGERS!