LSU players were kept in the dark, much like everyone else.
As of 1:30 p.m. Monday, they didn’t know where they’d play their season opener Saturday against BYU. They didn’t know the stadium or the city or the state.
They did have a good idea of where they wanted to play, though.
“New Orleans!” shouted cornerback Donte Jackson, a Riverdale product. “Superdome! I’d love to be out there in front of the 504!”
Hey, 504, here come the Tigers.
LSU and BYU will meet at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday night, ESPN announced Monday afternoon about four hours after Jackson’s comments, bringing to a close the search for a site to host the Tigers’ season opener.
Kickoff remains at its scheduled time of 8:30 p.m., and it will be aired, as scheduled, on ESPN.
A dozen years after so many New Orleanians fled to Houston to escape Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, the Crescent City’s most prominent sports venue is opening its arms for a game first scheduled in its neighboring state.
“We’re repaying a favor,” said Alan Freeman, the Superdome’s general manager. “Folks in Houston took care of the population here after Katrina. They opened their arms to us.”
The Texans were set to host the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff at Houston’s NRG Stadium before historic flooding washed through the city. It’s now the Saints, the Superdome and New Orleans that will host.
Tickets to the game are not yet on sale, as officials work through pricing structures. That could happen Tuesday, said Doug Thornton, the senior vice president of SMG, the managing company over the Superdome as well as NRG Stadium.
The game will mark some decades-long firsts.
This is LSU's first season opener in Louisiana at a site other than Baton Rouge since 1916. The only other time LSU opened the season in New Orleans was its very first game: a 34-0 loss to Tulane on Nov. 25, 1893.
The Tigers last played in the Superdome on Jan. 9, 2012, a 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game and a bitter defeat that still irks those who wear purple and gold. BYU last played in the Superdome in 2009, defeating Tulane 54-3.
“Ever since I was in high school, (I) dreamed about playing in the Superdome,” LSU tackle KJ Malone posted on Twitter on Monday night. “Now I get the chance.”
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The Dome emerged Sunday as a potential landing spot for the game. Officials created and sent to the Texans on Monday a proposed contract to host. Officials in Houston agreed to the terms at 4 p.m., Freeman said, ending a process that began with discussions as early as Friday.
New Orleans was “always the No. 1” destination for the relocation of the game, said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A host of cities emerged Monday morning as potential backup sites, most notably Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida. Jacksonville, Florida, Dallas and San Antonio were in consideration, too, ESPN confirmed.
Those cities were “put on alert,” Perry said, and game officials only entered preliminary talks with them. The discussions among New Orleans, the Superdome and the Saints — on one side — and Houston game officials, most notably ESPN and the Texans (the game’s co-owners), began briefly Friday. They picked up steam Saturday and were “full blown” Sunday morning, he said.
The Texas state motto is friendship.
Harvey slammed into the Texas coast Friday night and is still churning over the area, dumping a year’s worth of rain in an unprecedented event. Louisiana is in the system’s future path.
Harvey, now downgraded to a tropical storm, is predicted to slowly move northeast, potentially causing heavy rain in New Orleans, which flooded earlier this month.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday encouraged city residents to stay home from work Tuesday because of potential flooding. The city, which relies on drainage pumps, is still working to restore full capacity from the event earlier this month.
Perry does not expect flooding to be an issue over the weekend; pumps, he said, are nearly fully restored.
It’s a busy weekend in the city. Hotels are already at 80 percent capacity, Perry said. LSU-BYU game-day festivities now share the city with another festival: Southern Decadence, an LGBT celebration held in New Orleans each Labor Day weekend that culminates with a parade through the French Quarter on Sunday.
“We are hoping and the city is hoping a lot of folks will come and spend a full weekend here,” Freeman said. “It’s Labor Day weekend. If they do, we stand to benefit from hotel tax collections.”
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The revenue made at the game, though, belongs to the Texans and Lone Star Sports & Entertainment, a marketing company affiliated with the Texans that hosts the kickoff games.
In fact, Dome officials are treating the game as if it were in Houston, brandishing the arena — inside and out — with AdvoCare Texas Kickoff signage. The turf is even expected to have the same logos and emblems as what was planned at NRG Stadium.
“If you were watching on TV and only saw the field, you would think it was in Houston,” Freeman said.
The relocation does not change the contract ESPN and LSU agreed on, LSU deputy director of athletics Verge Ausberry said. The school will receive $4 million from ESPN for playing in the game.
The Saints have offered up a “significant” amount of suites for the game, Freeman said. Other availability is contingent on suite owners, and officials are hoping several will elect to buy suite tickets for the game or give their suites up. The current suite total is not enough to satisfy those who bought suites in Houston, he said.
Freeman and Perry are optimistic about the crowd despite the late notice. It’s difficult, though, to make a prediction for the 73,000-seat venue, they say.
LSU fans bought at least 23,000 of the school’s 25,000-ticket allotment to the game in Houston, and BYU sold out of its allotted 9,400 tickets. Those numbers don’t count the thousands more unaffiliated tickets bought through the Texans.
“We know LSU fans are loyal and rabid,” Freeman said. “It’s the season opener, and they’re playing a good team.”
Perry, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, is planning to organize a marketing plan, in conjunction with LSU, for the game. The wheels begin turning on that Tuesday. The city, the Louisiana Governor’s Office and LSU plan to also host fundraisers Saturday for Houston-area storm victims, he said.
“In a very tragic circumstance, we’ve come out with a win-win for the Superdome, BYU, ESPN, LSU and the Texans,” Perry said. “There is no way New Orleans could ever repay what Houston did for us and our citizens after Katrina. We want to do everything in our power to make this game have a Houston feel, to honor their sponsors and to raise dollars to help victims in Houston. Their impact on our people was profound.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers are focusing on football. And that’s not always easy when you’re not certain of the location of your game.
“Where we playing this game, guys?” quarterback Danny Etling asked reporters at that interview session earlier Monday.
Four hours later, coaches told the team in a meeting.
Said Perry: “They were fired up!”