ATLANTA — LSU, Clemson and Chick-fil-A Bowl officials have been trying to drum up enthusiasm and ticket sales for Monday night’s game in the Georgia Dome.
Though the game has sold out for the 16th consecutive year, neither school has come close to selling the ticket allotments they are each responsible for.
LSU has sold approximately 10,500 of its 16,000 tickets, and Clemson slightly more than half of its 18,000.
The rest of each allotment will be distributed by the bowl to the USO and first responders, though the schools still must pay for them.
LSU is off the hook for 4,000 of its unsold tickets and Clemson for a similar number thanks to insurance programs that their respective conferences have.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl has been a tough sell for LSU ever since this matchup was announced Dec. 2. LSU still had a chance to go to the Sugar Bowl until 24 hours before the bowl pairings were announced.
Then the Cotton Bowl, Capital One Bowl and Outback Bowl all passed on LSU in favor of lower-ranked Southeastern Conference teams, dropping LSU to the less prestigious Chick-fil-A, in which it has played four previous times since 1996.
Counting SEC Championship Games and the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, this is LSU’s 10th appearance in the Georgia Dome since 2000.
The unexpected berth in this bowl left many LSU fans disappointed and disillusioned, and apathy toward the game set in.
But those who made the trip here are enthusiastic about ringing in the New Year while watching their favorite football team, regardless of how and why it wound up here.
Randy Cazenave and his wife, Ramona, said they’re happy to be in Atlanta, partly because they might not have been able to get tickets to a bowl with greater ticket demand.
They have been season ticket holders for seven years but have been shut out in six previous attempts to purchase bowl tickets through the Tiger Athletic Foundation.
When bowl tickets orders went out before the matchup was announced, Cazenave said he committed to buying a pair of tickets to any bowl LSU could have possibly gone to.
“We’ve never made the cut before,” Cazenave said. “This year, we were lucky enough to be able to get tickets, and we’re thrilled to come. I guess a lot of people look at the Chick-fil-A Bowl as a second-tier-type bowl, but we don’t. We look at it as the bowl game LSU was invited to. It’s a gift that the team earned, and it should be proud of.
“We’re enjoying it, and we’re supporting the team by attending the game. We’re going to let them know we’re here and others are here representing our state and our university. We’re going to be loud as hell and cheer our team.”
The flight to Atlanta was an easier trip for the Cazenaves than the nearly six-hour drive they make from their home west of Houston to Tiger Stadium for home games.
“We know some really die-hard fans who absolutely refuse to come to this game because they feel it’s below LSU,” Cazenave said. “They feel like LSU got cheated and should have been in the Cotton Bowl because they beat Texas A&M.”
The Cotton Bowl chose the nearby Aggies and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, who lost to the Tigers in October.
Cazenave, a 1977 LSU graduate, said he “absolutely” would have gone to the Cotton Bowl had the Tigers gone there and he had been able to get tickets.
“But I understand the decision by the Cotton Bowl committee,” he said. “They did what was best for the Cotton Bowl with Johnny Manziel being there and being able to fill the stadium with Texas people.”
Cazenave said he’s not sure where in Atlanta he and his wife will ring in the New Year, which will arrive shortly after the game ends.
“We’ll see how things are going,” he said, “but this year New Year’s Eve is a big enough celebration being here watching our team play.”
Reinforcements were due to join the Cazenaves on Sunday night.
Their tailgating comrade, Dean Blanchard, and his entourage climbed into his RV and left Grand Isle on Saturday night and drove to the Superdome to tailgate Sunday morning before the New Orleans Saints’ season finale against Carolina.
At 9 a.m., Blanchard started cooking up boiled and fried shrimp, crabs, barbecued sausage, ham “and cabbage for good luck on New Year’s.”
As soon as the game ended, the RV was scheduled to leave the Superdome and head to the Georgia Dome where Blanchard’s group would meet up with the Cazenaves for an LSU tailgate and game Monday.
“I was kind of hoping we’d play in Dallas,” Blanchard said. “We get a lot of recruits out of Texas, but we get some out of Georgia, too. It should be a good game. I hope we put a whooping on them.”
Valerie and Bob Parker, of Vacherie, who arrived Friday, also would like to see a big win by LSU.
They said they have been to every LSU bowl game since 2000, when the Tigers played in this game, then known as the Peach Bowl. They also have attended every Tigers home and away game the last two seasons.
“It’s my favorite bowl,” Valerie Parker said. “It’s indoors, so it’s not cold at the game. I’m from New Orleans, which is parade city, and the Sugar Bowl doesn’t have a parade, but this one does (on Monday). We can watch our band march in it. The whole thing is really well done. We really enjoy it.
“We don’t think LSU was treated fairly in the bowl process either. They were deserving of a more prestigious bowl, but people really need to get over where the team is going. It’s their loss.
“We’re going to support the team wherever they go. They’ve still got to play the game, and they need our support.”
Though attending this game disrupts traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations, Valerie had a philosophical take on that.
“Some people may think New Year’s Eve night is a bad time,” Valerie said, “but I’d prefer that to noon on New Year’s Day like the Outback or the Capital One.”
Abby Day and her mother, Susan Day, were going to show up wherever the Tigers played, but the Chick-fil-A was especially convenient. Abby Day is the girlfriend of LSU guard Josh Williford, and they’re excited because he’s expected to play for the first time since suffering a concussion in a 14-6 loss at Florida on Oct. 6.
They spent Christmas with Williford and his family at their home in Dothan, Ala., then made the 3½-hour drive to Atlanta.
Monday is Williford’s mother’s birthday, so their 15-person group has reason to celebrate, win or lose.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose campus is about a two-hour drive from the Georgia Dome, was optimistic that his team’s contingent of fans would swell in the final 24 hours before the game.
“I don’t have any doubt it’s going to be an electric atmosphere when we kick it off,” Swinney said.
Valerie Parker remembered concerns about whether LSU would travel well for the 2000 Peach Bowl, when school officials assured the bowl they would sell out their allotment. Nearly 20,000 LSU fans showed up.
The contingent Monday night figures to fall well short of that, but Les Miles said Sunday that his eight years as the Tigers’ coach has taught him that no one should underestimate the LSU fans.
“I think you need to get to the arena before you write off the fact that the LSU faithful won’t be there,” he said.
“I think that you’ll find that the place that the LSU Tigers play, the LSU fans will be there when we take the field. It’s been 100 percent in my time here.”