LAROSE — Tom Guidry pointed out directions from the passenger seat as the car swerved along Bayou Lafourche, passing parked boats and bridges and driveways.
There was a time, decades ago, when Hall of Fame basketball coach Dale Brown drove through these same streets with a bag full of nets. When the LSU coach spotted a basketball goal without a net, he parked his car and affixed a new one to the rim.
Such a small act is still revered here on the bayou, Guidry said. When the oil industry was down, when the shrimp boats were light, there was still something to help you get by — even if it was just a clean net for a game that tempered your worries for a while.
All this to answer a hypothetical Guidry had been asked earlier: Where would Larose be without football?
"Where would Louisiana be?" he said.
Dennis Erickson walked through the tunnels of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to find his former protégé before the College Football Playoff semifinal b…
The car parked in front of a house on a highway bend. A basketball goal once stood in the yard. Many years ago, Ed Orgeron spent hours at a time on that old dirt court, dribbling with neighborhood friends and his younger brother, Steve, or practicing his jumper from the deep left corner.
Coco Orgeron always could hear the thumps of her son's dribbles from the kitchen, where she'd cook fricassée de navets or lemon chicken and green beans. Sometimes LSU's football coach still asks his mother to make him those meals.
On this Monday in January, Coco was standing at the doorway, welcoming her visitors with a laugh.
A wooden swing still stood in the front yard. It was where Guidry and Coco's husband, Edward Orgeron Sr., once sat after long work days at Lafourche Telephone Co.
Instead of a basketball goal, a giant sign now towered near the street — a picture of Santa Claus holding a scroll that reads: "Coco's Wish List."
A high school classmate of Orgeron's planted the sign in Coco's yard, and it's become something of a local scoreboard.
Several of the boxes are already checked off: Health/Happiness. Heisman Trophy. Seafood Gumbo. Beat BAMA.
"I don't even have to go check it out," Coco said, settling into a chair at her kitchen table. "People stop on the road and they check it off. I've got it made."
Before Rohan Davey went to sleep following LSU's win over Florida earlier this season, he booked hotel reservations for the national champions…
Two boxes remain unmarked: National Championship. Increase Oil Prices.
The first is within the family's control.
Ed Orgeron and No. 1 LSU (14-0) play No. 3 Clemson (14-0) in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at 7:15 p.m. Monday, a battle between Tigers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
The second, as recent turmoil in the Middle East reminded, is not within the Orgerons' control.
Yet even when the oil industry goes down, when the shrimp boats are light, a winning team in a football-crazy parish can be enough to get you by.
Orgeron knows he can be another Dale Brown for Louisiana. Maybe he won't hang nets in empty goals. But he can lead LSU to college football's national championship — and from Springhill to Cocodrie, from Vinton to Pearl River, that gives Louisiana's collective self-esteem an awfully big boost.
The biggest boost.
"I want us to all be proud," Orgeron told Coco recently. "We're doing that for all of us."
“It is an inspiration. It gives the youth something to shoot for. Now that the team can be the champion, and it’s (done by) local people, that it’s somebody that you grew up with, it makes things possible.” — Maggie Daniels, secretary, New Iberia High
The Advocate's LSU beat team predicts the outcome of the Tigers' matchup with Clemson in their CFP Championship Game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
How do you measure a college football team's impact on its state when it wins a championship?
Can confetti and parades temporarily lift an entire economy?
Analyze the key metrics — gross domestic product, productivity/spending, unemployment rates — over several years, and it's difficult to isolate the impact of LSU football success.
Can a national championship boost the application rate for LSU, signifying a greater desire to attend the university?
Nearly 1,300 more freshmen applied to LSU after the football team's 2012 BCS national championship appearance, according to university records, But nearly 6,300 more freshmen applied after the 2017 season — a 9-4 campaign that mostly resembled the program's stagnant nature of the mid-2010s.
Does a title stir donors to give more to LSU's athletic department?
Indeed, the school hauled in $4 million more in athletic contributions, according to budget records, in fiscal 2008, which included the 2007 national championship. But the department made a contributions jump of $17 million in fiscal 2014, after the Tigers finished 10-3 for a second straight season.
A national championship is more like a gust of wind in the marsh: You can feel it and hear it, and it gives you an awfully big boost. But you can't get a good look at the source.
"It is impossible to measure the impact of this game with any precision," Gov. John Bel Edwards told The Advocate. "And it's also impossible to overstate."
Clemson is the underdog in the national championship, just like Tigers coach Dabo Swinney likes it.
It's more of a quality-of-life influence, Edwards said, an event that "gives us something to celebrate together, regardless of what differences you may have."
Of course, Edwards noted, the fact New Orleans is hosting the CFP final will produce a substantial economic lift. The last time the Superdome hosted the championship in 2012, the game generated more than $260 million for the New Orleans and regional economy.
Some sort of boost would have happened regardless of whether the home team was in the game, but the ripples produced by LSU's inclusion reach the far ends of each border.
"It is as special as any time as I can remember," said Edwards, an Amite native and a 1999 graduate of LSU's law school. "Actually, people are in a better mood. It's a little easier to govern when this is going on, too. It brings people together."
The historic success of this LSU football team has dominated conversation for more than five months. The Tigers coaches caravan visited all the regions of Louisiana this offseason — Shreveport, West Monroe, Houma, New Orleans — and they all have witnessed the record-breaking offense Orgeron promised them.
Even LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, a Baton Rouge native who sold peanuts in Tiger Stadium as a kid, says he has to pinch himself every morning to believe it's real.
"It's like nothing I've ever seen," said Woodward, a 1985 LSU graduate. "It's at a level, at a pitch I've never felt before as far as pride, excitement and what it means to not just LSU but the whole state. Words don't do it justice."
The New Year's party was in full swing when John Jefferson raised his glass for a round of toasts toward his three sons.
"It's not much. But when it comes down to it, we have LSU and Saints football. That's all we really have." — LSU defensive end Glen Logan, Kenner
Ed Orgeron called his mother this August, on her birthday.
Coco told her son this was his year.
"I said, 'I'm 77, you were No. 77, and in 1977 we won the state championship (at South Lafourche),’ ” Coco said. "Well, in 2020, you're winning!"
The prediction came with the same spunk Coco had every morning when she had to wake her son for high school, shaking blue and white pompoms at a drowsy young Orgeron, then feeding him gameday breakfasts of shrimp po-boys and french fries.
Fridays in the fall were a full-day banquet.
Edward Sr. would leave work early at noon so he could make it home in time to cook a proper pregame supper before his son got out of school.
"It was like a ritual," Guidry said.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron expects starting wide receiver Terrace Marshall and right guard Damien Lewis to play in the national championship game.
Those were the days when Bébé — a nickname handed down from his father — first learned what it meant to be a champion. He was a defensive and offensive lineman at South Lafourche, where he and teammates like quarterback Bobby Hebert upset Bonnabel for the state title.
The Tarpons trailed by six in the final two minutes and faced fourth-and-goal at the 27. Hebert sailed a short pass to a receiver, who tipped the ball into a teammate's hands in the end zone.
Orgeron has never forgotten that game, nor the lesson he has carried with him since.
"Never give up," he said. "You never can tell when is the next great opportunity for you, so I tell my players never give up. It's not an option."
Orgeron has hunted championships ever since. He won two national titles as defensive line coach at Miami. Two more in the same role at Southern Cal (one was later vacated).
It's the focus of most team speeches, the ultimate goal he constantly referenced on recruiting trips, even when he was first a defensive line coach at LSU.
"He always tells the story," said LSU senior defensive end Rashard Lawrence, a Neville High graduate who was one of the first players Orgeron recruited. "He said, 'Rashard, you're going to be a team captain on a national championship team.' I was like, 'Yeah, OK.' Didn't think it was going to happen the way it's happened."
A record-setting offense and a transcendent quarterback will face the nation's top defense in the national championship game.
It has almost happened.
The moment is nearly here.
And the questions naturally arise: What has this experience been like for Orgeron? What does this mean to him?
He has batted away such questions with variations of the same response: "It's never about me."
But his mother, Coco, said people are looking for answers in the wrong places.
What does this all mean?
Simply, she said, Orgeron wants his players to have what he had.
"He wants them to feel what it is to be a champion," Coco said. "It's a feeling you never lose. And the year you can remember everybody that played with you. You can remember every play. Everybody — the people in the audience. You remember everything. It's sealed in your mind for life."
There is a room in Tiger Stadium where the walls virtually speak of the greatness, the lore, the legends of LSU football.
"I don’t know how people are going to leave New Orleans the next the day if we win the game, because there will be people in the streets. Because I was there in 2009 when the Saints won the Super Bowl. I had a room at the Royal Sonesta. And I crowd-surfed down Bourbon Street. I was 19. That was epic." — LSU punter Zach Von Rosenberg, Lake Charles
The swing still casts a shadow in Coco's front yard, but the shadows don't move much anymore.
Coco and Edward Sr. started every morning in that swing. When the sun came up, they'd move to the patio underneath the fig tree until the shade returned.
Guidry often sat with big Bébé on the swing in the evenings, talking long after nightfall.
Edward Sr. died of cancer in 2011, and since then, Guidry said nobody swings anymore.
"We solved a lot of world problems there," Guidry said. "We solved a lot sports problems. We cured a lot of ills. It's not too many things we didn't do on that swing."
Clemson, if you can find the tiny South Carolina hamlet on a map, is where you want to be.
There's too many memories to resurface, but, oh, were they good ones.
Among the many things mulled over on that swing, Guidry said, was Orgeron's coaching career.
Guidry always had to fight for his home team, LSU, while Edward Sr. always took up the team where his son was coaching.
Big Bébé was proud of the way his son rebounded in his life.
Orgeron's career arc is well-documented: his rise to defensive line coach at Miami; then his departure from the staff after a series of run-ins, which included a Florida woman filing a restraining order against him (it was later rescinded), and an arrest for head-butting a bouncer outside a Baton Rouge bar in 1992.
How he got sober, climbed the coaching ladder again until he became the head coach at Ole Miss, then won just three Southeastern Conference games in three years, prompting his dismissal. How he eventually returned to college coaching, following his colleague, Lane Kiffin, from Tennessee to USC in 2010.
Edward Sr. died thinking his son was going to be the head coach at USC. That's what Guidry believes, anyway. Neither of them expected little Bébé would be the head coach at LSU.
"We're Cajun," Guidry said of their thinking, citing an old prejudice that is still felt today. "Where's that going to take us?"
When you look at the big picture of LSU’s football success this season, attention immediately turns to a couple of far-from-regular Joes: Heis…
But Orgeron believed differently.
"I always felt that I was going to be here somehow, someway," Orgeron said. "I didn't know if I was going to be the head coach here, but I always wanted to be at LSU."
The wins and the records falling in LSU's wake under Orgeron are reshaping the national view of Louisiana's culture.
"I keep telling Junior's mom, 'Bébé must be making some flips up there in the clouds for where Junior's at,’ ” Guidry said. "To me, knowing him, he couldn't be prouder of him."
And if LSU does indeed win the national championship, and if Bébé could join his namesake on that swing, what would the father tell his son?
"You can't imagine," Coco said. "Let's put it this way: If all the friends that would still be together that all died? Oh, babe, I don't know.
"Pride. Pride for every one of us. I go everywhere and they say, 'I feel like that's my son.' He's doing that for us. That's what he wants."