I flew into New Orleans Friday night for the Florida-LSU game and as soon as the plane’s wheels touched ground, it began to rain. It rained throughout my drive to Baton Rouge and for most of the night. I checked weather.com, and the forecast called for rain all weekend. I should have known better. It never rains in Tiger Stadium. And it didn’t.
Saturday was sunny and beautiful. Not to mention hot and southern sticky. That didn’t stop an estimated 200,000 people from pouring onto LSU’s campus for possibly the biggest game in school history—it was the first time the Tigers hosted a game while ranked No. 1 since 1959. Only about 92,000 of those fans (a record for attendance) made it into the stadium. The other half were stuck outside and ticketless, searching for a seat in front of a television or close enough to the stadium to gage crowd reaction. It took me three hours to drive from my hotel to the stadium, two miles away.
The game lived up to the hype. For Gator fans like myself, it ended with heartbreak. For three quarters and five minutes, I believed the Gators were on their way to a repeat of last season. A bump in the road at Auburn, and then a straight shot to the National Championship game. But for football fans, like myself, it delivered. Tiger Stadium has as much history as any in college football, and in the second half, it lived up to its reputation as one of the loudest in the game. The crowd was at its loudest when the USC score was announced in the third quarter. At that point, the Tiger faithful knew a comeback win meant their team was undeniably the best in the country. And in the final minute, while Tim Tebow and the Gators attempted a miracle drive, it was deafening.
I don’t have the heart to recount the game, so I’ll point you to a few stories written by friends who were covering the game, two of whom I graduated with at UF. Andrea Adelson of the Orlando Sentinel; Israel Gutierrez of the Miami Herald and Bruce Feldman from ESPN The Mag. My friend and ESPiN colleague Eric Adelson spent the early part of Saturday shadowing the most famous and beloved of all Tigers—Mike the Tiger, the real-life LSU mascot. (Not to be confused with the Labrador Retriever I saw being led around by two frat boys outside the stadium. They’d spray painted him to look like a gold-and-purple tiger.) Check ESPN.com for his piece mid-week.
After the game, while we were standing on the field and watching the student section celebrate well after the team exited the field, Eric told me that game was one of his “coolest work moments ever”. Had the Gators won, he never would have had the chance to hear what Tiger Stadium sounds like from the field in the final seconds of a monumental win. Gator fan or not, I had to agree with him. I’d experienced few crowds like I did in Baton Rouge. the 1998 FSU-Florida game at the Swamp might be the only crowd experience that could top Saturday night. The Gators won that game.
While waiting in the Atlanta airport for my connecting flight to New Orleans, I began observing the attire of my fellow passengers. There was so much orange and blue—backpacks, hats, purses, T-shirts, sweatshirts, Gator-shaped necklaces, Gator-head pins—the waiting area looked like a University of Florida pep rally. A couple of folks in purple-and-gold T-shirts were sitting in the far corner, watching ESPN on the airport televisions. That’s when I decided …
Florida and LSU have the best colors in sports. For one very important reason: You can’t mistake their fans. There is little chance a grown man, or woman, but especially a man, would wear an orange-and-blue or purple-and-yellow hoodie/golf shirt/hat if not in support of his favorite team or alma mater.
If you see a guy wearing a red shirt? Maybe he’s an Ohio State fan. Maybe he just likes red. But there are few folks in the world who walk into a clothing store, see an orange and blue item, and actually walk toward it. Those of us with off-color allegiances (Gators, Broncos, Mets, Boise State) see it and say, “Ooo, I could totally wear this to the game next week!”