When you get down to it, college football is just a game.
Saturday, though, it becomes something more than that. Saturday is one of those rare days that transcends sports.
It has been a strange season for LSU, but on Saturday it takes its most bizarre turn yet.
For what has to be the first time ever, the Tigers are the “visiting” team in Tiger Stadium, hosting “home team” South Carolina in a game moved here because of deadly flooding in the Gamecocks’ home state.
LSU announced Wednesday that it won’t open the east and south upper decks unless ticket demand requires it, rightly anticipating that there won’t be a full house. It will be difficult for many of you to make it, given the LSU road week plans most folks make. Heck, even Tiger Stadium P.A. announcer Dan Borne will be a no-show, officiating a wedding in New Orleans. (When not behind the mic, he’s a Catholic deacon.)
There will be those with weddings and parties and trips and family gatherings who simply can’t make it. That’s understandable. Tiger Stadium certainly won’t be full.
But it can be as full as the best fans in college football can make it. This is one of those times when it’s a Tigers fan’s duty, not a privilege or a pastime, to be at the game if at all possible.
As this is still South Carolina’s home game, it will keep all the ticket revenue. Reportedly the school was expecting to make about $3.8 million from hosting LSU at Williams-Brice Stadium. This won’t come close to that, but Tigers fans can do what they can to fill the gap.
Also, LSU will be donating revenue made off game concessions to flood relief in South Carolina. In addition, the American Red Cross will have representatives at the gates of Tiger Stadium, ready to take donations as you step inside.
Consider it a duty, consider it a bonus game, consider it a reward for the McNeese State season opener that got zapped out of existence by lightning. Just consider strongly being in Death Valley (the real Death Valley, right, South Carolina?) when they kick off at 2:30 p.m.
How many people will show up? As said earlier, certainly it won’t be full. But I have a number in mind.
When LSU moved its 2005 season opener to Arizona State after Hurricane Katrina, 63,210 fans showed up at Sun Devil Stadium to watch the game and support LSU and Louisiana in the wake of such a terrible disaster. It was tremendous support.
Hopefully, LSU fans can at least do that game one better. My over under is 63,211.
“That weekend you were going to take your wife someplace because there wasn’t a home game,” LSU coach Les Miles said, “(we ask) that you postpone those plans and pull the RV up and start cooking and you come back to your comfortable confines of your Tiger Stadium and start making a lot of noise.”
As for the action on the field itself, well, LSU has been a team to match these strange times. The Tigers have careened from dominant to slipshod and uninspired, especially in their past two games.
And yet, rising above all the game cancellations and venue changes and at times uninspired play, there is Leonard Fournette, the unquestioned Heisman Trophy leader, filling LSU’s tailback role to the tune of 216 yards per game.
The Tigers have a long history of playing down to their competition, as was the case in a broad sense at Syracuse two weeks ago and last week against Eastern Michigan. There are times when skating by seems to be part of the Tigers’ DNA. That might still work against South Carolina, a team that is nearly a three-touchdown underdog for its home away from home game at LSU, with its quarterback issues and general lack of playmakers outside of preseason All-Southeastern Conference wide receiver/kick returner Pharoh Cooper.
The wild card in this week’s game is the Gamecocks more than the Tigers. With all the distractions back home, it’s hard to predict whether South Carolina will come out inspired to win one for the battered homeland or press the gas pedal and find nothing there, as storm-tossed LSU once did against Tennessee after Hurricane Rita 10 years ago.
Chances are it won’t matter what South Carolina’s mood is, as long as Fournette can find a phone booth to step into before the game and give the Tigers another week of his super hero show. Word is his family back on Krypton is very proud of his play.
If the Tigers, and their fans, give an effort Saturday, this could go down as one of the proudest games in LSU football history.
So, if you can, go to the game. Once it’s long over, and life in South Carolina has gone back to normal, you’ll be glad to say you made the effort.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.