TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Several thousand LSU fans celebrated among a much-larger sea of crimson and white in the defensive overtime thriller.
LSU kicked the last field goal that ended the game in the 9-6 finish.
The biggest game of the year — or the century — for what was “National College Football Day” ended with LSU remaining No. 1 nationally.
“It’s exciting. It’s what we came for,” said LSU fan Jason Lemoine at halftime. “It’s the two best teams in the country.”
“You’ll feel the whole town vibrate,” LSU Chancellor Michael Martin predicted before the game.
He was referring to Baton Rouge, not Tuscaloosa.
The game day featured hundreds of thousands of people flooding the campus hour by hour.
The day started off cordially enough and then the crowds grew more intense as kickoff approached.
Police officers walking with Alabama fans were even seen getting the “Tiger Bait” treatment.
Maybe the best case of friendly rivalries on campus was at arguably the largest joint LSU-Alabama tailgate on campus.
The LSU Krewe of Them Dudes, or KOTD; LSU’s HATT tailgaters; and Bama’s Ultimate Tailgating Team, or BUTT, all teamed up for “The Best of Friends 364-23” tailgate.
The party featured dance-offs and a DJ switching back and forth between LSU and Alabama songs.
“I think it really brings the rivalry to its finest,” said LSU graduate Kathleen Robinson, of Baton Rouge.
KOTD organizer Steven “Blue” Smith, of Baton Rouge, said 2011 featured the biggest party since they inadvertently starting tailgating together in 2005.
“They come to Baton Rouge. We go to Tuscaloosa, and we always have the biggest tailgate,” Smith said.
BUTT founder Randy Darby, of Tuscaloosa, who has an “A” shaved into the top of his head, said they became friends in 2005 after some of the LSU krewe “accidentally parked” in his tailgating spot.
“It’s gotten to be such a good experience now we even take vacations together,” Darby said.
Chancellor Martin said a game like this is “great national exposure” for the entire university. “It helps send the message that we are a major player, not just in football, but in academics.”
Martin said major games such as Saturday night’s can be fundraising bonanzas for the university. He said that is so much the case with this game that he gave up his own seats.
“There were so many donors who wanted tickets that I decided it was a good sacrifice,” Martin said.
The morning in Tuscaloosa was highlighted by the ESPN “College GameDay” antics of analyst Lee Corso and former LSU baseball pitcher Brian Wilson, who now may be better known as “The Beard” on the San Francisco Giants.
Corso had ESPN play “Sweet Home Alabama” only to say, “Roll … Tigers” before donning an LSU tiger head.
But Wilson may have one-upped Corso moments prior. He showed up in a full LSU football uniform, played the opening notes of the LSU fight song on a trumpet and then put on a bearded tiger head with a Mohawk haircut to match his own.
Just minutes later on another part of campus, the Guinness World Record was set for the largest pot of gumbo ever made at the LouisiBama Gumbo Bowl to raise funds for Tuscaloosa tornado victims.
Celebrity Louisiana chef John Folse and restaurateur and former Alabama football star Bob Baumhower spearheaded the effort that led to the creation of 3,750 pounds of seafood gumbo — not counting the giant kettle.
“This is just a great, great example of what hard work can do,” Baumhower said, “whether it’s our little event here or the Game of the Century.
“This makes you proud to be from the South,” he said.
Folse said the gumbo contained shrimp, crabmeat, oysters and even some alligator and catfish — all from the Gulf Coast.
“I can’t think of a better place in America to break a record, especially a food record,” Folse said. “This crowd is just phenomenal. I can’t imagine the stadium being any more exciting.”
Then it was time for the tailgating and pre-partying to really kick into a high gear.
LSU fan Charles Songy, of New Iberia, was in one of the few LSU groups to successfully secure a spot in the packed Alabama campus Quad area of tents and tailgating.
“We’re in the hornets’ nest,” Songy said. “We just wedged our little tent in, set up the (television) satellite, and we’re cooking some andouille gumbo.”
They made their peace with rival neighbors by sharing satellite services, he said. “We’re good corporate citizens,” he said with a laugh.
Songy was among the countless LSU fans who made the trip without tickets to the game just for the “experience.”
LSU senior Megan Polis and her friends also counted themselves among the ticket-less. Polis said they did not even know where they would sleep Saturday night.
Polis described it as a can’t-miss game even if she could not make it inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“It’s basically the national championship,” she said. “We’re going to be talking about it forever.”
The day also was a family affair.
LSU senior Evan Gerrets, of New Orleans, attended his first game in Tuscaloosa after a joint tailgate in the Quad with his friends and his Crimson Tide-loving, Tuscaloosa-based aunt and uncle and other relatives.
“We bring food on food on food,” Gerrets said, noting that all the Louisiana attendees handled the cooking, while quickly noting jambalaya, fried shrimp, stuffed duck, venison and much more.
Alabama tailgating cannot match LSU, he said, “But it’s a very good atmosphere. I’m enjoying it.”