A pandemic and recent hurricane were the furthest thing from the minds of many LSU fans Saturday as thousands gathered at Tiger Stadium for the first game of the season against McNeese State.

The electric atmosphere was made even more so by the fact that Saturday’s home game was not only the first of the season, but the first without crowd-size restrictions since the pandemic began. 

Longtime fans and LSU graduates Denise Callegari and Tricia Delaney were all smiles as they waited to enter the 102,000-seat venue for the first time in more than a year.

“When they play that fight song at the first home game, it’s amazing,” Delaney said. “There’s nothing like it.”

The game marked the first test for LSU’s pandemic protocols, which seemed to grow more lax as the evening wore on.

Last month, the university announced it would require fans attending games this season to either prove they got vaccinated against the coronavirus, overcame an infection within previous three months before game day or tested negative within the past five days leading up to it.

In an attempt to reduce the size of lines at the gates, the school allows fans to show their vaccine cards or test status earlier in the day at any of a dozen locations around campus. By doing so, they get a wristband so ticket-takers know who is clear to enter.

LSU also sends mobile teams across campus to verify COVID vaccination or test results.

At any site, guests can show an original COVID vaccination card; a photo or photocopy of one; or a digital proof of vaccination through LA Wallet or another government-sanctioned mobile app.

Unvaccinated guests can provide digital or hard-copy proof of a negative test, or pay $35 to take an on-site test.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

The restrictions seemed to have little effect on fans’ enthusiasm.

“It’s incredible,” Baton Rouge Community College student David Boulat said. “September’s the best month of the year. Great vibe, everybody’s out. COVID hasn’t slowed things down too much.”

His friend, Jack Vaccarella, agreed. “We have the best fanbase in college football,” he said. “Without a doubt.”

Although Boulat and Vaccarella are vaccinated, both said they were never asked to show proof at any of the stadium’s gates.

Neither got wristbands.

It wasn’t a concern for the two superfans, however, especially for season ticket-holder Vaccarella who said he was forced to give up his season pass last year when COVID hit.

“It doesn’t even matter that it’s McNeese,” Vaccarella said. “We’re here to whoop their butts and have a good time.”

“We’ve got people going through a lot harder (stuff) than COVID,” Boulat added, referring to Hurricane Ida.

Though Louisiana is battling a fourth and deadliest surge of the pandemic, the game showed that many people are willing to join massive gatherings not seen since COVID reared its head in 2020.

“We’ve got a bunch of people looking for a good time,” Boulat said, “and the flu ain’t gonna scare them out of Tiger Stadium.”