Dear South Carolina,
We’re glad you’re here this weekend, though we’re heartsick about the reason. We’ve seen the dreadful floods that have tried to drown your state over the past week, killing your people, filling your homes, washing away your businesses.
It’s forced your South Carolina football team to come here to play its game with LSU on Saturday because it simply wasn’t prudent for the game to be played in flood-scarred Columbia.
So we welcome your brave sons, your coaches, your fans. We hope your stay will be an enjoyable one, though we can’t promise you’ll be happy about the final score. LSU, ranked as high as No. 5 in one national poll, is nearly a three-touchdown favorite to topple your Gamecocks.
The Tigers will do their best to win. They have to. Football is football, after all. Being from the South, you understand that, when it comes to this game, hospitality only goes so far. But we are glad to help to the extent we can.
Your state has endured so much pain this year. A madman gunned down nine innocents in June in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. (The Gamecocks are wearing a helmet sticker in their memory.) In July, the Confederate battle flag was taken down from the statehouse grounds after a bitter fight that fractured your state along fault lines that run all the way back to the Civil War.
And now this disaster, which has touched rich and poor, young and old, those of all ethnic backgrounds.
Natural disasters can find any spot on the globe. But if there are folks who know what you’re going through, a state where you can find empathy, well, as the French would say, “C’est l’endroit.” This is the place.
And we are your kindred people.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged one end of our state. Four weeks later, Hurricane Rita hammered the other.
Like South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium, LSU’s Tiger Stadium was hardly touched by the storms’ wrath. But LSU’s football game with Arizona State was moved to Tempe anyway, because LSU served as a refuge and medical treatment facility for evacuees from southeast Louisiana. Helicopters and ambulances ferried the sick, the dying to the campus around the clock. Playing a game here then, as is the case Saturday in Columbia, was impractical and improper.
In Arizona, LSU’s team and fans were made to feel more than welcome. More than $1 million was raised for hurricane relief, with Arizona companies and individuals contributing an additional $315,000 to cover ASU’s costs of staging the game. Both schools’ bands played the other’s fight song.
A decade later, this is our chance to honor Arizona’s incredible generosity and pay it forward. Perhaps one day South Carolina and its people may be in position to do the same for someone else.
South Carolina will keep the ticket revenue from this game, while LSU has pledged to donate money from concession sales to flood relief and is covering the cost for the team’s charter flight. Billboards welcome visitors to town with the words “Geaux Gamecocks” — if you folks don’t know what “Geaux” means, just ask someone — and LSU is staging a free tailgate party at the Parade Grounds starting at 11 a.m.
They’ll play “Sandstorm” over Tiger Stadium’s loudspeakers before kickoff, part of your pregame ritual. South Carolina’s marching band can’t make the trip, so LSU’s band will perform your alma mater.
We Hail Thee Carolina, indeed.
Members of LSU’s student government association will present ceremonial keys to Tiger Stadium to student government representatives from South Carolina an hour before the 2:30 p.m. kickoff. The American Red Cross will collect donations at the stadium gates. There will be a moment of silence before the game, in memory of those lost in South Carolina when the rain wouldn’t stop and the rivers jumped their banks and the dams burst. And we will remember those we lost to the water 10 years ago.
This is your home game. The big house on Nicholson Drive, Tiger Stadium, is your house. LSU will be the visiting team, coming out second onto the field, giving you choice of jerseys. (The Gamecocks will wear white, the Tigers purple.) Per Southeastern Conference rules, LSU can only dress out 70 players.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to pick which 70. We’re pretty certain Leonard Fournette will play.
So to our visitors from South Carolina, we say, to borrow a line from the Book of Isaiah, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest.” Forget your troubles for a few hours. Lose yourself in a game — and that’s all it is — that hopefully will rise above the rest and take on a kind of special nobility for all concerned.
Then afterward, safe home. And know that our thoughts and prayers go with you.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.