EYE ON THE TIGERS: LSU fan hasn’t missed a game in 66 years, but COVID-19 to end 433-game streak

EYE ON THE TIGERS: LSU fan hasn’t missed a game in 66 years, but COVID-19 to end 433-game streak
Pat Dungan (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Pat Dungan isn’t especially sentimental. Aside from purple and gold bed sheets that match his flip-phone cover, each item of memorabilia in the 86-year-old’s home was a gift.

“If I’d had any idea that I was going to go that long, I would’ve kept all those ticket stubs,” Dungan said, looking at a picture ESPN photographers snapped of him and LSU coach Ed Orgeron.

He’s not one to volunteer a story, and he says he doesn’t like the attention he’s gotten for his fandom.

Dungan says he fell in love with football after he took a bus trip in the 6th-grade to watch Baker High School win its first state championship. The year was 1947, shortly after the war ended and football resumed in the United States.

Young American veterans traded steel helmets for leather football caps, much like the game-worn hat that rests against the wall on Dungan’s couch.

By high school, Dungan was selling drinks in the stands to attend LSU games.

“It was in the middle of the day and it was scorching hot, but you’d still say ‘Cold cokes,’” he said. “In the 40s, most of the games were in the day... but then it got to be night and they got louder and wilder.”

He bought his first tickets in 1954, fresh out of college, for $1 each game. He’d sneak from the nosebleeds to the sideline after kickoff.

“After they won the national championship in ’58, I knew that’d be hard to get a ticket the following year,” Dungan said. “So I went out there to get season tickets. The only thing they had left was in the upper deck, south end. They called it the family plan.”

“In the fifties, you went out there dressed up. I wore a sports coat and bought my date a corsage. The women wore fancy coats, fur coats in 90 degree weather. Now, they dress worse than I do when I mow my grass.”

Dungan’s pair of season tickets cost $30 in 1959. He’s sat in Section 419, Row 5, seats 13 and 14 every season since.

“It’s almost like Norm walking into Cheers,” Jake Jacobs, who’s sat by Dungan in section 419 for three decades, said. “If we don’t see him during the offseason, we’re almost like, ‘Is Pat going to be there? Haven’t heard anything to the contrary.' Every time, he’s been there.”

Pat Dungan has not missed a game inside Tiger Stadium since 1954. He has watched the Tigers, from kickoff to the final whistle, for 433 straight games.

He has watched the season ticket holders around him grow up, and their children become elders.

“A lot of people ask, ‘How’d you not miss a game in that many years? You ain’t never been sick?',” Dungan said. “I’ve been fortunate, blessed, lucky or whatever.”

Dungan leaves for Tiger Stadium on gamedays about four hours prior to kickoff. He’s parked in the same spot off Highland Road, more than a mile from the stadium, for decades. He refuses to pay for parking.

He does not tailgate. Instead, he spends pregame in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, watching other football games on the big screen with fellow Tiger Athletic Foundation members.

His wife sat next to him for years, before a hot afternoon kickoff prompted her to swear off the Saturday ritual. Since, he’s brought grandchildren and great-grandchildren to sit next to him. As the older children age out, he moves on to the younger generation.

He’s only sold his second ticket once. The purchaser resold the ticket to a man who was especially drunk, and Dungan swore the practice off after a poor experience.

He’s never left a game early.

“Here we are, way younger than Pat, and we’ve been gone,” Jacobs said, gently waving his arms in near-disbelief. “It’s lightning and everything else. He’s just sitting there.”

“I used to tell my momma - and my wife would get so mad,” Dungan said. “I’d say, 'Momma, whatever you do, don’t die when LSU is playing in town.”

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Dungan keeps a stack of record books from the early 1980′s in his Baton Rouge home. He says he flips through them on occasion to refresh his memory.

He’s witnessed nearly every significant event in Tiger Stadium’s history: Billy Cannon’s halloween night punt return, the earthquake game, victories over Florida State and Notre Dame, a record-breaking crowd in 2007 against Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators.

Pat Dungan was an eyewitness to the moments that became legend. He is a co-author of Tiger Stadium’s lore.

“I don’t think he’s done it because he wants to keep a streak going. Maybe so, but I just think he feels like it’s Saturday and that’s where he needs to be,” Jacobs said. “It’s almost like church. On Saturdays, that’s what he does.”

“I just like football,” Dungan said quietly. “I hate that I’m going to miss the game against Mississippi State, but I’ll get over it.”

Dungan gave up his seats after LSU couldn’t promise he’d get to attend each game. The coronavirus will rob him of his streak.

“I’ll just have to enjoy it on television," he said. “I may ride out there that morning just to say I went to Tiger Stadium that day.”

The metal fences around Death Valley will force him to a friend’s house, where he usually watches road games. There are no Saturdays marked on Dungan’s 2020 calendar, and Tiger Stadium will be short a storyteller this year.

But the pandemic cannot erase the chapters he’s already written.

“If I’ve got to quit going, at least I’ll remember the last season I saw. It’s been a good one,” he grinned. “I’ll start a new streak. It may not be 66 years, unless I’m Methuselah.”

For the people around him, Dungan’s return would carry significance beyond a football experience.

“If he’s back, I’m back. Everybody’s back. Everything is back to normal,” Jacobs added, calling it evidence that faith and fandom are not contained in the pantheon of concrete and steel.

There’s a piece of Pat Dungan in Tiger Stadium, and a piece of the stadium in Pat that should keep his seat warm.

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