Yet another early trip to the airport this time saw us head south – to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
After visits to Seattle, Boston, Detroit and New York – arguably four of the coldest cities in the USA – we were thrilled to arrive in Baton Rouge, 24 degrees and sunny.
Our reasoning for visiting Louisiana was simple – football.
On the Saturday night we were to attend the blockbuster NCAA match between Louisiana State University and the nationally number three ranked team, Mississippi.
College Gameday – a wildly popular traveling TV program dedicated to college football – was in attendance and from 10am local time, the party was started.
All week, as we were staying in various cities, the LSU v Ole Miss match was advertised on the numerous ESPN channels.
It was billed as a showdown, providing LSU could keep up with the undefeated Runnin’ Rebels of Mississippi.
A local Adelaide restaurant proprietor who hails from Alabama – a huge rival of LSU – explained many times to us that despite all our visits to the professional sports in the US, our college game day experience was going to top it all.
As we walked onto the LSU campus to head to the arena known as Tiger Stadium, we knew he was correct.
We arrived at 4pm with kickoff still over three hours away but there were camper vans, tents, umbrellas, picnic rugs as far as the eye could see.
The LSU fans were out in force as it was expected more than 100,000 people would attend the game and another 20-30,000 would continue partying in the car parks, unable to secure a ticket.
The entire match was a spectacle, the game was thrillingly close, the entertainment was awesome and not once did the crowd let up, continuing to support their team, led by the 10,000 strong student section.
The LSU band was in full swing, often getting chants and songs going when LSU was on defence, interrupting anything Ole Miss was trying to get done with the ball.
As the game entered the final quarter, LSU was surprisingly up 10-7 in a low-scoring affair. With the game on the line, LSU needed their defence to hold up to secure the most unlikely of victories. The Tiger crowd was ridiculously loud as it had been the entire game.
With one final drive, Ole Miss had a chance to steal the win or at least send it into overtime – the LSU defence had other ideas.
So, on the final play of the game, Ole Miss quarterback star Bo Wallace flung a pass into the end zone only for it to be dropped, ensuring a win for the ages for a struggling Tiger team.
What ensued next was pandemonium!
With 103,000 in the stands and led by the likely heavily intoxicated students, the crowd stormed the field to congratulate the LSU players.
Something frowned upon by the governing NCAA, but accepted as tradition. So, when in Rome; Tom and I took the opportunity to rush the field as well, an experience we will never likely get again – a common theme for this trip.
Reversing the truck five minutes, as the crowd deliberated as to whether they would storm the arena, I noticed a tall, athletic man who struck a striking resemblance to a former NBA superstar.
Sure enough, reading through the LSU match day guide, I saw No.63, Malone – the son of the legendary NBA basketballer Karl Malone.
I thought to myself, I’ve met Tom Brady but as a basketball fan first, this would almost top it, so I mustered up the courage to ask for a picture.
To his credit, there was a long line looking to secure a photo or signature from the Hall of Fame big man but he accepted my request and I was thrilled.
The following morning we were up early as we had a drive to make but beforehand, we were stopping in to visit a local. Not a Baton Rouge local, an Aussie!
Jamie Keehn is the starting punter for LSU and has been with the Tigers for three years. Like Jamie, there are numerous other Australian’s doing well with elite college programs. Jamie – fresh from a big night celebrating the Tigers win – was kind enough to show us through the LSU facilities but as we departed, we noticed something quite strange.
Only metres away form the football stadium was an enclosure – housing a real life bengal Tiger. Remarkably, Jamie informed us that the school had spent more than a million dollars purchasing and housing the Tiger.
Goes to show exactly how serious and how much it means to the college’s to have a flourishing and inviting program. Not having to pay a salary to the athletes means the school’s can spend outlandish amounts of money on facilities and intangible things to attract future recruits.
The enormity of the NCAA college football programs is something that is extremely hard to explain to those with little idea about university sports in America.
Schools spend tens of millions of dollars annually on their football operations whilst as Jamie informed us, any team facilities that are more than five years old are considered worn and run-down.
A new practice facility will cost a school in excess of $50 million – incredible to think there are around 40 programs in the NCAA Divison 1 system who would spend this type of money.
After our only college match and a visit to the team facility, we were headed off on an in-state drive to New Orleans – home of the NFL’s Saints. In recent years, the Saints had been a powerhouse, dominating teams in their Mercedes Benz Superdome and collecting the 2009 Superbowl.
This season had been rough for Sean Payton’s Saints – enduring a 2-4 start to the schedule. Making things more difficult was the opposition for their Sunday Night Football clash.
Unfortunately for the Saints but fortunately for us, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were coming to town. The Superdome was the second indoor arena we had been to after visiting Detroit’s, Ford Field.
The party atmosphere outside the stadium transferred inside as the southern American dominated crowd was in full voice. And, despite Rodgers guiding the Pack to two straight touchdowns to begin the game, Drew Brees and New Orleans were in for the fight as they stormed to a 20-14 lead.
As Rodgers suffered a minor hamstring tweak and the Saints crowd noticed and began to give the Packer offence a hard time, things turned ugly for Green Bay – known as the Cheese Heads.
Brees found tight end Jimmy Graham for a second half touchdown and the game was well in the Saints grasp.
Much to the delight of the party-happy fan base, the fourth quarter was a procession and as the game ended, the party leaked onto the streets as cars were brought to a standstill so the ‘Who Dat’ nation could enjoy the win.
After stints in Seattle, Detroit, Boston and New York, the people of Louisiana were a different breed of people – fun-loving, food-loving and beer-loving.
It was a great place to visit, even during the day there were people in the streets singing and playing musical instruments.
We had one more stop on the agenda, Los Angeles for the day before boarding a late night flight back to Australia – and the real world.
Stay tuned for our visit to the Trojans of the University of Southern California.