The Marks Post: Forever LSU
Autumnal Saturday nights in Louisiana mean one thing. They mean Saturday night in Death Valley on the campus of Louisiana State University.
I have been experiencing this grand phenomenon in person since 1993. My first game in Tiger Stadium was when Florida beat LSU that year 58-3 before a crowd of just over 60,000.
Every year after that until I graduated high school, dad loaded up my family in our van and took us to one game a year. My senior year in high school in 1999, dad bought a four-game package. That was the same year LSU fired Gerry DiNardo with one game remaining on the season.
The next season was my first as a student at LSU and was also Nick Saban’s first season as head coach. I was in Tiger Stadium when LSU beat Tennessee 38-31 in overtime. That was my first experience of fans rushing the field. I was in the student section and made my way toward the field after the game. I managed to cross a concrete fence but was unable to get over a hurricane fence. While I did not rush the field, I managed to get a high five from LSU’s Robert Royal on his way back into the locker room.
The field was not just rushed. It was raped and pillaged. I remember seeing on TV a few days later that the midfield logo was gone because everybody pulled up the grass.
Later in the same season, I was in the student section with Ryan Menard to witness LSU’s first home win against Alabama in 30-years. We also witnessed the spectacle that ensued when the fans again rushed the field for the third time. LSU officials had greased down the field goal posts before the Alabama game so they would not be carried off again by the fans. I remember watching LSU fans giving all their might until they finally took down the uprights.
The next season in 2001 was my first one working in the newly constructed Tiger Den Suites. That was the same year as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Later that year, I watched from one of the suites as Lee Greenwood performed “God Bless the USA” from midfield. I still get goose bumps when I think about that moment.
The Auburn game that was postponed because of 9/11 was played on December 1. LSU won that game 27-14 over Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers. After the game, I remember watching cigar smoke rise up into the suites from everybody in the stands, including my dad. The cigar smoking was in response to Tuberville lighting up a cigar at midfield after beating LSU two years before.
I worked in the suites again in 2002 and remember somebody saying Britney Spears was up there for the game against Ole Miss because she was rumored to be dating Rebel quarterback Eli Manning.
My senior year at LSU was in 2003 and brought another round of memorable moments. First and foremost was the 17-10 win over Georgia. ESPN’s College GameDay was on campus that day. I remember walking up the PMAC ramp and getting an orange GameDay hard hat. I brought my camera to capture scenes of the moment and still have those pictures to this day.
Another picture I have from that day and gave to my dad is of me with Steve Johnson, who is co-host of Walton and Johnson. I was working like I normally did downstairs by the elevator that took fans to the suites. This guy walked toward me and asked if Gordy Rush had already gone up. I replied that he had not. The guy told me that he would wait because Rush had his suite ticket.
The guy introduced himself as Steve Johnson from the radio show. We started visiting with each other while he waited for Rush, and he even broke out a couple character voices from the show. He is the voice of Billy Ed, Mr. Kenneth, and Mr. Eaux.
After I graduated college in 2004, I still managed to make a few games in Tiger Stadium thanks to using my sister Allison’s student tickets because I still had my student ID card. I remember getting Tiger baited in the student section because I was accidentally wearing my Tennessee Titans jacket for the Ole Miss game. The blue and red had an Ole Miss look to it.
Since then, I went to games whenever friends had extra tickets. One of the games was a 10:00 a.m. kickoff against Appalachian State in 2008 because of the approaching Hurricane Gustav.
While all these Tiger Stadium memories are fond to me, the fondest came this past Saturday night against Mississippi State because earlier in the week my publisher Garland Forman transferred his press pass to my name.
The day started with a stop at my usual tailgate spot by the Vet School with the TNT gang. After a couple of hours there, I walked over to Tower Drive and South Stadium to meet Jason Bergeron and Trey Carraway. On the way, I stopped to see my ex-coworker from the clerk’s office Liz Saucier. That walk was my first time walking through campus in quite some time and brought back memories of walking through campus as a student.
I left their tailgate and went pick up my press pass at media will call in the Athletic Administration Building. After I got my pass, I met up with former managing editor of The Ville Platte Gazette Raymond Partsch, III, and his sports editor from The Daily Iberian. We all walked into Tiger Stadium together, but I went onto the sideline while they went straight into the press box.
I stood on the sideline for a while taking in the moment before I made my way to the press box. I rode the elevator with LSU beat writer for Gannett, Glenn Guilbeau.
I got up to the press box and fixed me a bowl of shrimp and okra gumbo. The okra was cut up in thick slices and looked like they were put in the gumbo at the last moment. Okra is supposed to be cooked down to almost nothing in an okra gumbo, but what do I know about cooking because I probably burned a jambalaya on Passe Partout.
After eating the gumbo, I waltzed my way into the LSU radio booth and talked to Chris Blair who I met earlier this summer at a Ville Platte Rotary Club meeting. I also had the chance in the booth to meet Doug Moreau.
I then found my seat on the lower level of the press box next to Jim Henderson from The Lutcher News-Examiner. I thought it was THE Jim Henderson, so I posted on Facebook that I was sitting next to Jim Henderson. To that post replied Mary Stanford who wanted me to get him to work “Hakim drops the ball” into the conversation. Well, it turned out not to be THE Jim Henderson. But, later in the game the real Brandon Taylor and Marlon Favorite came sat next to me. We visited off-and-on for a good bit of the second half about their playing days, the “targeting” call on Devin White, and a giant moth that was the size of a small bat and perched above my head.
As the game was winding down, I made my way back to the sideline. After the game, I walked onto the field and weaseled my way among the LSU football players as the band was playing the Alma Mater.
I then walked through the tunnel into the media room for Coach Ed Orgeron’s post game press conference. During the press conference, I was sitting two rows behind WAFB’s Jacques Doucet.
After the press conference, I walked back through the tunnel and snapped a picture of the vaunted cross bar above the doors that reads “Win!”
It was truly a special night for someone like me who has been a part of Saturdays in Death Valley since age 11. The only knock on the day was there was no relish for the hotdogs in the press box.
As a graduate of LSU, the night was also special because it was homecoming and reemphasized the last two words of the Alma Mater - “Forever LSU.”