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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Tiger Bait

    Roman Veytsmanassistant sports editor
    Roman Veytsman
    assistant sports editor

    BATON ROUGE, La. – “”Tigaaah Baaiit! Tigaaah Baaiit! Tigaaah Baaiit!””

    All across the bayou, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Louisiana State fans let the visiting Arizona fans have it. They also let the slightly more than 2,000 people decked out in Wildcat red have their food, their alcohol and, most of all, a sense of that good ol’ Southern hospitality.

    Granted, Arizona is no Auburn or Florida, and the last time the schools faced off in football it was a 59-13 blowout at Arizona Stadium in 2003, but this LSU pregame party was nothing short of the ultimate heartwarming tailgate experience.

    The sheer number of LSU fans who greeted me and three of my friends with a “”Thank you for coming,”” or a “”We appreciate you being out here”” was extraordinary. Every time a random fan would dare say something like, “”You don’t have a chance,”” another LSU fan followed with an immediate apology.

    At LSU, they tailgate the right way … starting on Thursday.

    Walking Bourbon Street in New Orleans on Friday, I asked one LSU fan what time we should leave for Baton Rouge the following day. He looked at his watch, turned to us and in full seriousness, said, “”Now.””

    Considering Bourbon Street was tough to leave so soon, we set out for Baton Rouge at 11:30 the next morning, but not before several dozen Wildcat fans started the obligatory “”U of A”” chant at Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter.

    Comparing Arizona’s tailgate to LSU’s is like comparing a 10-inch portable television to a 60-inch plasma screen. Aside from the 92,000 who pack Tiger Stadium, another 20,000 fans watched the game from their tailgate spots – more than enough fans to fill McKale Center.

    The tailgate spreads across the entire campus, with the equivalent of about 15 Zone 1 lots behind Coronado Residence Hall reserved just for RVs, many with elaborate LSU designs. And they don’t leave at 10 p.m. the night after a 5:30 p.m. game. They stop tailgating at 10 the next morning.

    We worked our way around the different tailgate destinations and eventually settled down at a tailgate run by a guy named Steve. A diehard Tigers fan, Steve didn’t even attend LSU but has been showing up on Saturdays for six years, and said he’s looking forward to entering his last contract with UPS before becoming a full-time tailgater.

    “”We do three things here in Baton Rouge,”” Steve said. “”We eat, drink and follow LSU football.””

    He was actually one of the later arrivals, showing up at 6:30 a.m., and spoke slightly slower than Farmer Fran in “”The Waterboy,”” with a heavy Louisiana accent.

    Wearing an LSU polo shirt and an Arizona Wildcats hat he decided to put on after one of the Arizona fans who stopped by gave it to him as a gift, Steve did the cooking, cleaning, schmoozing – and just about everything else but attend the game. He had to get ready for the postgame tailgate.

    His setup featured a truck with two nearly 40-inch plasma screens stacked one on top of the other (another truck had his DirecTV dish), a tent, more than a dozen LSU chairs, a smoker, a grill and – most importantly – a constant carousel of fans from both teams dropping by to chat about football.

    And Steve’s food might have made Emeril jealous.

    After stuffing our faces with his jambalaya (spicy rice with shrimp and sausauge), boudin (Cajun sausage stuffed with pork), cracklings (pork rinds) and some spicy Louisiana chicken, we were ready to go to the game.

    On the way, we passed the den of the Tigers’ mascot. Mike V, a 16-year-old royal Bengal tiger, and his cage were already at the game. Nothing against Wilbur, but a live tiger as your mascot is slightly more intimidating.

    Once on the field, the Wildcats appeared to be as intimidated, as if they were actually playing against live tigers and the place known as Death Valley was louder than two packed houses at the Colosseum. (LSU fans hate USC, by the way.)

    According to one of Steve’s buddies, “”Myth has it that it was originally called Deaf Valley because it was hard to hear, but it changed over time.””

    Like the team, we were deflated after taking the 45-3 beating at the hands of a national championship contender, but LSU fans refused to pour salt into our wounds.

    Instead they opted to tell us how much our being there meant to them. They opted to thank us for spending a few of our dollars the day before in New Orleans, for attending one of the best stadiums in the country and for eating their food and drinking their beer. Then they invited us to eat and drink more after the game.

    Driving down a two-mile stretch in the 9th Ward on Sunday, where not one business remained intact after Hurricane Katrina brought out some of the worst in humanity, just an hour drive up the I-10 to Baton Rouge, I saw football bring out the best.

    Opposing fans will never look the same. Southern hospitality lives on.

    Roman Veytsman is a jounralism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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