Purple shirts flooded the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Carl Maddox Field House on Sunday for LSU Fan Day when more than 2,000 fans stood in lines for autographs by their favorite football players.
Dozens sat anxiously on the floor while hundreds of others stood in long, snaking lines for hours — well before the players arrived in their pads and jerseys to the sound of cheers and applause.
The line for the running backs was so long that event staff roped it off.
As whole families dressed in purple and gold waited, sitting sprawled on the floor, keeping themselves busy, many were adamant about their devotion to “their” Tigers.
John Doucet, 65, a tow truck driver for heavy-duty vehicles who lives in Denham Springs, has been a rabid LSU fan since he was 5 years old when he listened to games with his father on the radio before the games were televised.
He said he’s been a fan “since I was old enough to understand what football was.”
He came with his daughter, Tina Trimble, and her daughter, Morgan Doucet, 14, who was limping in a walking boot after she tripped in a hole while watching a dirt race on Saturday.
“Even if I’m on crutches, I’m coming,” Morgan had told her mother.
The line was longest for star freshman running back Leonard Fournette, who went to St. Augustine High School in New Orleans and signed with LSU in February as the most sought-after high school player for college football in the country. Fournette has generated more excitement than any other running back in the last decade, causing spectators to wonder whether anyone could handle that kind of hype.
Fans waiting in line included Chad Collura, who came to Fan Day from Covington with three of his children, 4, 7 and 9 years old. They all got posters and a football signed by Fournette and other running backs.
Collura said he has hundreds of signatures of athletes he’s collected at his house, mainly of Saints players. He said he’s taking his kids to a Saints training camp practice next Sunday. Collecting signatures of sports players has been a hobby for him.
Collura said his children often forget whom they met soon after, but “when they’re teenagers, they’ll appreciate it a little better.”
“Stuff like this, they get charged up. Football is back in the air,” he added.
Another fan in line was Craig Blalock, an anatomy teacher from Slidell, another self-described die-hard fan. He has taken his son, Cade, to LSU games since Cade was 2 years old and falling asleep in his lap. Now Cade is a 14-year-old freshman right tackle at John Curtis High School and has his sights set on playing for LSU in the future.
“(Football) has been in my blood since I was born,” Cade said. “Playing for them is one of my dreams.”
Along with seeing their favorite players in person, fans were eager for the coming season, which starts Aug. 30 with an away game against Wisconsin. Commentators have noted that LSU’s team is talented but young — it lost key offensive players that included its starting quarterback and running back but also gained the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation.
“I’m excited to see this offense and how it progresses,” said Brian Wood, of Baton Rouge, who graduated from LSU in 2013. He said he has not missed a home football game in 14 years.
The families of players also deeply appreciated the crowds of supporters. Chasity Magee-Jenkins said she was blown away by fans’ excitement — her brother is running back Terrence Magee. She came to Fan Day with family that included her parents and two sons, 3 and 5.
“It’s exciting to see how many people care about what he’s doing, to see that it’s not just us who care about him,” she said. “People are proud and genuinely love him.”
For a parent of another player, LSU football runs in the family. Tommy Clapp, a former defensive end and nose guard for LSU in the early 1980s, was most excited to see his son, William Clapp, now an LSU offensive lineman, in his old team’s jersey.
“You couldn’t dream something like that,” Clapp said of his son playing for LSU.
Fan Day also featured kids’ activities that fans could enter by walking beneath a giant inflatable tiger’s head before they reached a purple and gold moonbounce as well as face painters. Kids left with their faces painted purple and gold as well as with tiger faces.
Fan Day drew participants from all over Louisiana, and many loved how a university and its sports teams could seemingly unite the region.
“LSU is a common root for the whole state,” Blalock said. “It’s the one common thing that everybody from Louisiana has.”
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.