Dear Tiger Stadium,
I’ve missed you. Not that you’ve physically gone anywhere. You’re still the old gray lady, the massive edifice on Nicholson Drive, your home for 92 years. If the ancient Romans could see you now, they’d marvel at what their coliseums grew up to be.
Club seats — who knew?
Long before “bucket lists” were in vogue, you were on the list for every college football fan to experience at least once. Especially on a Saturday night, when the black night sky seemed to hold the sound in like the lid on a cast iron skillet, making it roll around inside of it to somehow reach new decibels of delirium.
But lately there’s been something missing. It’s the noise, the crowds, the legendary sound that has made you one of the most feared and revered places in sports. So far this year, and it could be argued the past several years, it often hasn’t been the same.
I suppose we’ve all romanticized your atmosphere over the years. You haven’t always been this house of horrors for the opposing team we’d like to think you’ve been. There are plenty of photos over the years for anyone who wants to look at a stadium that was far below filled to capacity. Heck, even in 1958, that championship season which marked the birth of modern LSU football, you only had one sellout, for a 14-0 win over No. 4-ranked Ole Miss.
This season has seen more than a fair share of empty seats scattered about your grandstands. More than that, you’ve shed half your crowd after halftime. Even last week, when the Tigers and Southern Miss were tied 10-10 at halftime, the game far from decided though LSU went on to win 45-10, people picked up and left literally by the tens of thousands.
Speculation over why that has been the case could probably fill a book, much less a column. There’s the Les Miles hangover, from an era when frankly LSU football became a lot less entertaining. There’s the home opponents so far — Jacksonville State, Mississippi State, Missouri and Southern Miss — not exactly a riveting cast of characters.
Then there’s the theory that Tiger Stadium has gone corporate, that too many people who own your seats don’t own a vested, emotional interest in what happens on the field. That doesn’t explain, however, why your student section has been emptying out in similar rates to the rest of the arena.
There’s the HD factor — games are easier and more comfortable to watch on TV than ever before without having to fight the heat or the lines or the traffic (traffic is a big complaint, old girl). There’s the party factor — there’s no beer or alcohol available except in the club seats and suites, which seem to be pretty full. LSU has tried to find allies within the Southeastern Conference to allow at least stadium-wide beer sales, but so far there have been few takers, even though beer taps are nothing if not new revenue streams.
Whatever the reasons, it hasn’t been the same. Not the same Tiger Stadium that I marveled at as a lad back in the 1970s. The stadium where I saw first hand how people suffered through hardships to attend a game.
My mom’s cousin used to take me to games then. His seats were a few rows above the field in the northeast corner near the end zone. To our left was one of the ground-level portals that leads onto the field. Every game I can remember attending then, there was a man who was brought to the games on a rolling hospital bed. He’d watch the action with a little mirror he held up to his face.
That’s devotion. That's a true Tigers fan.
So there’s always hope. LSU hosts Ole Miss on Saturday. Kickoff is at 8 p.m., a deathly hour for sportswriters trying to make deadlines, but a link to the past. For years LSU games kicked off at 8 p.m. The immortal 1959 LSU-Ole Miss game, the one of Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return, kicked off at 8.
Hopefully, the stands will be packed with Tigers and Rebels and bands and cheerleaders. It rightfully should be a happening. So should be the Alabama game two weeks later, which with an LSU win Saturday almost certainly will be a 7 p.m. kickoff on CBS. Then there’s the unexpected home finale with Florida on Nov. 19, which as part of the brokered deal between the schools and the Southeastern Conference won’t kick off later than 2:30 p.m. It’ll be getting dark by the end, but that’s about it. Still, it should be one contentious encounter.
Three more home games. Three more chances for that old time religion that have been games at your place.
This season is a crossroads for LSU football. The Miles era is over. Interim coach Ed Orgeron or someone else will be leading the Tigers onto your field in 2017.
Hopefully whoever it is can bring back the mystique, the intensity, the magic, to borrow a mantra from former LSU coach Gerry DiNardo.
It’s not whether LSU games are won or lost. It’s the spectacle. It’s what I hope isn’t just a was, but what will be.
See you Saturday.