Ed Orgeron’s high school coach at South Lafourche was old school.
Ralph Peré, in fact, smoked two packs of cigarettes during games, his former players have said, keeping them tucked away in the team’s first aid kit. He also notoriously broke clipboards over players’ helmets, and he instituted strict team rules – like that mandate ahead of South Lafourche’s quarterfinal playoff game against St. Aug in 1976.
The dome opened the year before and a sparkling multi-sided projection screen hung from its spanking new ceiling.
“I remember before the game, Coach Peré told us he didn’t want anybody looking up at the gondola, that we were going to get distracted,” Orgeron said of that screen, referred to as a gondola. “Everybody ran on the field, had our head down the whole game.”
Orgeron returns to the dome Saturday night when his 13th-ranked LSU team meets BYU in a season opener relocated out of flood-ravaged Houston. The Tigers and Cougars kick off at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.
For Orgeron, this is a special place. He won a national championship here in 1989 with Miami, beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Including preseason games, he coached 10 games there in 2008 as an assistant for the New Orleans Saints.
He played Tulane there as an assistant for Syracuse in 1996, and he lost, 13-7, to St. Aug as a player in his first-ever trip to the dome.
“They had turf shoes,” Orgeron said. “We had Converse tennis shoes.”
Orgeron is coming back again, this time for his first regular season game as LSU’s full-time head coach.
“I’m so excited for everybody,” he said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a wonderful night. As a kid, I dreamed about bringing a football team from LSU to the Superdome and now it’s happening in my first game. I want to thank God for the opportunity.”
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Orgeron also thanked LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, Gov. John Bel Edwards, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Stephen Perry, the president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
ESPN, in conjunction with the Houston Texans, picked New Orleans among a host of venues, relocating the game out of NRG Stadium in Houston. The city was hit with historic flooding, and thousands needed rescuing. Hurricane Harvey smashed into the Texas coast and then lingered for more than four days, dumping as much as 50 inches of rain in some places.
About eight LSU players are from the Houston-area, and at least one of them was greatly affected by the storm. Starting right tackle Toby Weathersby’s grandparents were “trapped” in their Houston home, surrounded by rising flood waters.
Orgeron did not have an update on their situation Wednesday, but he admits that there’s “worry” in the LSU football complex this week for a city that he recruits more than any other non-Louisiana place.
“It hurts to see on TV the people struggling, hurts to see our players from Houston worrying,” he said. “We’ve called all the parents. They promise me they’re OK, not to worry about it. They tell their young man to go forward. You can see the worry in the building.”
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