It’s Bama week in Baton Rouge, when a robotic elephant dangles from a tiger tail, a dog chews on a Nick Saban doll and a pig prepares to take flight.
LSU fans are a superstitious bunch.
Did LSU lose to Florida when you wore that purple jersey? Burn it, regardless of the $100 price tag. Did the Tigers stomp the Gamecocks when you debuted new pants? Wear them for every game for the rest of your life, and perhaps don’t wash them if you’re afraid of destroying the luck they carry.
No game brings out the rituals, traditions and superstitions in the LSU faithful quite like Alabama. And with LSU having lost the past four contests against the Tide, Tiger fans are ready to pull out all the stops to ensure a purple-and-gold win during LSU running back Leonard Fournette’s Heisman campaign season.
Laurie Laville, of Baton Rouge, abuses a robotic, stuffed elephant during Bama week each year. She started it shortly after Nick Saban, her former neighbor, became the icon of crimson and houndstooth.
Laville uses a tiger tail to make a noose for the little gray “voodoo elephant” to hang on gameday and incite coos from LSU and Alabama fans alike.
He’s robotic, but Laville “took his batteries out because we certainly don’t want him having any energy.” She and her friends hold his leg during kickoffs and they cover his black, beady eyes during key plays.
When LSU was losing the BCS National Championship game in 2012, they threw the voodoo elephant on the barbecue. He still has the grill marks to prove it.
“We take turns doing little voodoo things to him,” the 51-year-old Laville said with a laugh. “We do actually do crazy things. Sometimes I feel like it works.”
The abuse of an Alabama-related symbol is a common trend among Tiger fans. Judy McGehee, 60, pulls out a Nick Saban doll during Bama week each year for her dog to enjoy as a chew toy.
“One time I was just looking at him and just hating him and I thought, you know, he really does look like a Ken doll,” she said about Saban. “Doesn’t his hair look like it?”
She bought a Ken doll about five years ago, dressed him up in red fabric and turned him into the Barbie-fied version of Saban. Her Maltese, Leo, chewed the Alabama coach with gusto.
“Leo was a real tiger,” she said. “He just couldn’t wait to get Nick every year and do him some damage. But I was afraid I would have to go buy a new Ken doll.”
Leo has since died, and her new dog, Hank, sported a No. 7 LSU shirt while he faced off with Ken Saban this year. McGehee thinks the combination of the shirt and the doll was too much for Hank, who is timid.
She plans to let Hank have another go at the doll during the game.
While some LSU diehards try voodoo, others turn to God.
Bo Bienvenu, of Prairieville, told The Advocate that he would sport an LSU shirt this week to a papal audience in Rome. He said he hoped the blessings would help against Alabama, and added that he knows “the old alma mater needs divine guidance directing the governor and Legislature.”
Many LSU fans are hoping that their standard gameday traditions are good enough for a win against Alabama.
Aaron Caffarel, a 25-year-old LSU graduate, has a strand of lucky LSU beads with an Uncle Sam-esque tiger medallion. He noticed at the end of last season the Tigers played better when he wore the beads. The two times he was not wearing them were when LSU got blown out by Auburn 41-7 and by Arkansas 17-0.
He’s in a wedding on Saturday, but that won’t stop him from doing what he can to bring LSU luck. Caffarel will wear the beads under his tux.
Randy Rice, 65, will sport his lucky purple-and-gold-sequined LSU top hat during the game, and rub it for good luck. He said he also will carry on a tradition that he started decades ago.
Rice and his wife, Carolyn, kiss every time LSU scores, regardless of whether it’s a touchdown, extra point, field goal or safety. They will watch the game on TV, and it will be a good night if LSU keeps scoring.
The Alabama-themed rituals can also make it easy for Tiger fans to play tricks on one another. Whitney Borruano, 26, is part of a tailgating group called JK tailgating that makes “elephant chili” for the Alabama game each year.
“It was just regular ground meat chili,” she said. “We started telling people the night before we were going to make an elephant chili, and we had this whole story made up.”
Borruano said she and her friends convinced many fellow tailgaters that they were eating elephant meat, though they eventually told them the truth. But the tradition of calling their Alabama meal “elephant chili” has stuck.
And while most of the Alabama game traditions happen leading up to and during the game, K. Charles Bedell, of Prairieville, said he will only get to engage in his if LSU pulls out a win. He has a toy gray pig that’s 16 years old called Piglet, the Prairieville Pig.
He remembers the adage that “pigs would have to fly” for LSU to beat Alabama years ago. And when the Tigers won in the past, he attached some wings to Piglet and hoisted him from a tree, showing his neighbors that the adage was true.
Four LSU-Alabama matchups have come and gone since Piglet got to wear his wings. Bedell thinks it’s time for him to fly again.