I miss LSU football

LSU Football

I miss LSU football
Tiger Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 (Source: Derron Daquano/WAFB-TV)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The year 2020 has been the ultimate mental tug-a-war between being grateful for what you have and being fed up with “the new normal.”

To check yourself, you can realize occurrences once viewed as simple and automatic are great blessings. I try to remind myself that a good night’s sleep, waking up healthy, and going for a jog on a beautiful morning is a tremendous way to start a day. And it’s free. Following that with a phone call to my parents equates to a treasure trove of blessings before noon.

There are real problems in the world. Former LSU offensive lineman and Ruffino’s restaurant owner Ruffin Rodrigue recently passed away, leaving two small children without a father heading into the holidays. They will feel that tragic loss this Christmas and every Christmas moving forward. That’s a real problem.

The families of the five people killed during that disastrous plane crash outside of Lafayette last winter departing for LSU’s college football semifinal game against Oklahoma are approaching the one-year anniversary of reliving that horrific event. I’m sure they relive it every day. That’s a real problem.

There are people fighting the exhausting battle against cancer. And there are others who lost a loved one serving our country in the military. Again, real problems.

I might have thought LSU superfan Lindsey Thibodaux had a real problem, living his entire life in a wheelchair and passing away at the terribly young age of 40 over a year ago. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thibodaux might have been restricted physically but his energy and bright smile knew no bounds. He always seemed overwhelmingly upbeat and positive, no matter what. So, even during the bummers of this pandemic, what the hell am I complaining about?

Yet, through everything just mentioned, I likewise feel strongly about this - you shouldn’t feel guilty or apologize to anyone for missing the “trivial” things that bring you happiness and that have likewise vanished since mid-March. The kind of activities that provide you escape and comfort. People need a concert at The Varsity Theatre or The Texas Club to pivot to for a few hours. It’s not a crime to want a night at the movies for a brand new summer blockbuster and some theater popcorn. And, although you might want to invite some friends over for a small party to blow off some steam and have a good time, that’s being discouraged these days as well. Plus, you don’t want to be publicly shamed on Facebook, do you? And while LSU football certainly isn’t a real problem, I find myself missing that too.

Yes, the Tigers have played eight games to this point and I am grateful for that. Anyone who says they wish LSU hadn’t taken the field this year because of the current, disappointing results is simply off base. It would have been another tremendous psychological blow to countless Tiger fans, in a time where many people have been on the ropes for months, had LSU not suited up. However, this “season” feels more like a ghost or apparition than the real thing - it has the faint appearance of something you love but once you try to embrace it, your hands whiff through hazy, hollow air and a soulless presence. You tilt your head, squint, and stare. The games you witness have a familiarity to them but the visuals harken back to those anti-drug commercials of the 1980s. Instead of your brain being on drugs, it’s college football that’s the egg being cracked and then fried in the pan.

In terms of sports, this past Saturday was one of the saddest days I can recall in nearly two decades at WAFB-TV. LSU was hosting the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in Tiger Stadium, usually an epic event for the Tiger program and the city of Baton Rouge, regardless of the fact LSU hasn’t beaten the Tide at home since 2010. On this gray and chilly day in early December (Christmas trees are already up but here we are still playing regular season college football games), it was as if you could’ve fired a shotgun on campus and not harmed a soul. A lonely silence filled the air, with Nicholson Drive taking on the look of a Monday afternoon in July. I drove down River Road from L’Auberge Casino to the station without a hint of resistance. Typically, traffic would start backing up well before Brightside on that route but certainly not today. Lots usually packed with tailgaters and the smell of delicious food laid desolate. The venture from WAFB-TV to Tiger Stadium could’ve easily taken an hour during a normal LSU/Bama gameday but by the time we parked, I wondered if we could’ve drag raced to our spot.

Heck, the grumpy old man in me used to become annoyed with folks charging money to park in their yard or that nearby church. I now actually find myself missing those people and the gridlock traffic. Who knew?!

Just before the game kicked off, I recorded several pregame reports just outside of the stadium in a voice and volume that would’ve worked perfectly fine at the parish library. There was no need to shout above the wild chaos of the mob or dodge the occasional drunk (or 10) darting into the shot. Am I actually missing those people too?

No. 1 Alabama hammered LSU, 55-17, before a sprinkling of fans beneath the Death Valley lights. It looked more like a scattering of ants crawling into a giant gumbo pot, rather than a “crowd.” The “atmosphere” felt more like a graveyard, rather than the best place in America to watch a college football game. As WAFB-TV videographer Derron Daquano and I made our way back to the car on a campus darker and deader than Caesar, it truly hit me how much the sport I love has been destroyed over the last nine months. Alabama’s 2018 visit to Baton Rouge was a million times more exciting than this evening, and LSU lost that one 29-0! Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” is a classic tune but it shouldn’t be an appropriate way to describe an LSU gameday experience.

I likewise miss the human interest aspect of getting to know the team. During last year’s Disney movie known as the 2019 LSU Tigers, it was just as important to look people in the eye and exchange dialogue during in-person interviews, as it was to cover the games. As LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri often says, “They’re kids. They’re not robots.” During the Tigers’ impeccable run to perfection, we got to know Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson, Lloyd Cushenberry, Patrick Queen, and the endless Tiger heroes just a little bit better. Typically, when setting up for interviews, the players might crack a joke about a class they couldn’t stand or proudly brag on their high school alma mater having a great season. That might sound like unimportant minutia but over the course of a seven-month season (SEC Media Days took place in July and the team celebrated the national title on January 20, not to mention spring football before that), those small exchanges amount to something much bigger and important - a connection to who you’re covering. These days, during this Frankenstein season, all interviews take place through the sterile and muted landscape of Zoom. And to be clear, that’s out of necessity because of the pandemic, not from any fault of LSU. Players robotically sit in a chair while reporters far away click an “unmute” button to speak to them through a computer. It’s certainly a convenient, time-saving option from driving back and forth to the football ops building but that doesn’t make it the best way to cover the LSU Tigers. And it isn’t.

Would I feel differently if the Tigers were 8-0 overall and not their current mark of 3-5? Without a doubt, and believe me, none of this is making excuses for LSU’s fall from grace. There have been multiple decisions and actions since LSU defeated Clemson in the Superdome for the national title last January that apparently were poor ones. Ed Orgeron has gone from the “Comeback Cajun” and one of college football’s top feel-good stories to seemingly embattled. It is beyond comprehension and simply mind-blowing that the head coach of arguably the greatest college football team of all-time finds himself in this position. I’ll attempt to achieve a first by mentioning Orgeron and Winston Churchill in the same sentence - the dense, dark fog has moved in and the apprehensive natives are choking. Can Orgeron patiently and calmly lead his people back to the sunlight again? Or is last year’s national “Coach of the Year” facing an unwinnable battle against COVID-19, players opting out, bad assistant coaching hires, and perhaps most importantly, USA Today’s bombshell article on the LSU football program allegedly mishandling claims of sexual assault against players and the future news it will bring. I don’t know what to think anymore. I’m not even sure LSU will play Ole Miss next weekend.

As I type this, another thing I’ll miss this year is covering LSU in a bowl game. In case you missed it, for the first time in two decades, the Tigers won’t play in one this season. This all reminds me of being on the North Vermilion High School basketball team, sitting the bench, and then skipping practice on Super Bowl Sunday to watch the game. I was then punished by running and suspended from games I wouldn’t have played in anyway. “Does any good news ever come from this?!!,” my dad shouted at me when receiving the news. I’m starting to have the same sentiment on the Tigers.

You can click on countless other articles across the net detailing LSU’s demise and the reasons why it’s occurred. That’s not the crux of this article. My point is sports, LSU football particularly, is supposed to be fun and uplifting. And like pretty much everything else this year, it’s been the farthest thing from it. I miss the adrenaline of Death Valley, I miss the smiles from seeing tailgaters have a great time, and I simply miss seeing YOU.

Here’s my positive spin on things. Write this date down right now - September 4, 2021. It is on that day LSU will open next season and finally play a game in the Rose Bowl. When that day arrives, hopefully, the stands will be packed with fans, LSU has replenished its roster, and together we are moving towards brighter days, beginning in Pasadena, California.

Because while LSU football isn’t a real problem, it’s important to all of us.

And the less said about the last nine months, the better.

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