LAROSE — They sewed up Bébé at halftime.
Nobody could recall which game, but they knew they sewed him up at halftime. And he went out and played in the second half, fresh stitches having closed a once-gushing wound above his eye.
James Bellanger was there. He saw it. He knows. He sat next to Ed Orgeron in the locker room at halftime while the team doctor threaded a needle through the thin skin near his eyebrow to suture the cut.
They didn’t use pain relievers or any kind of anesthetic, Bellanger said. There was no time for that.
“The bottom line was, you had to play hurt,” Bobby Hebert said. “It’s different today. They’d have some kind of investigation.”
You haven’t heard the half of it. That 1977 state championship-winning South Lafourche football team — Hebert was the quarterback, and Orgeron played on both lines — was led by a coach, Ralph Peré, who smoked two packs of cigarettes during games.
LAROSE — The planning for this party began like so much does here in this Cajun-filled swath…
It was led by bayou boys, born and raised on this Cajun land, eating shrimp jambalaya, seafood gumbo and white beans and rice. They had nicknames like Spaghetti, Big Foot, White Bean, Vulture, Roach, Snooze and Bébé, the French word for "baby" that Orgeron’s father bestowed on him. They had surnames like Angelette, Arcenaux, Felarize, Galjour, Guidroz, Terrebonne and Thibodaux.
They played a playoff game in Monroe featuring a wind chill near 0 and no hot water in the showers. No one showered. After the victory, they drove back home through the night, arriving as the sun rose in a bus that smelled of dirty jocks and sweat-soaked socks.
They played another postseason game at Bogalusa. A highway patrol office was their locker room, some 300 to 400 yards from the stadium. They marched to the field in single file like the Roman army en route to battle.
They beat heavy favorites Archbishop Shaw in the quarterfinals and Bonnabel to win it all, mounting a rousing comeback against Shaw and quarterback John Fourcade and using a “miracle,” they said, fourth-down touchdown pass to topple the Bruins.
They weren’t that talented, and many of them played both ways. Their play-calling arsenal included only a dozen running plays and five passing plays. They sometimes spent entire two-hour practices just banging against sleds.
Their secret to winning? Just ask Coco.
“That team was together,” said Coco Orgeron, Ed’s mother and a mainstay in the bleachers for each game that season. “I can’t imagine another team being that close.”
One community, one heartbeat
Ed Orgeron calls Pete Carroll the biggest influence of his coaching career.
He won two national championships with Carroll at Southern California. He learned a lot from Jimmy Johnson, Butch Davis and Dennis Erickson down in Miami, too. He picked up lessons from the struggles of a 10-25 record in three years as head coach at Ole Miss, and he absorbed knowledge from defensive guru Monte Kiffin at Tennessee and USC.
But Orgeron’s first lessons — the root of his football knowledge, the heart of it all, the start of it all — began here in Larose, a bayou town of about 7,400 in south Lafourche Parish.
It’s not difficult to find this place. It basically has its own crosshairs: The town is built around the X-shaped intersection of Bayou Lafourche and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
The Wikipedia entry for Larose includes a section titled “Notable People.” There’s just one name listed: “Ed Orgeron, head coach for the LSU Tigers football team.”
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Orgeron is a perfect example of this community, a gravel-voiced, seafood-loving big guy who fills a room with his personality. He’s as Cajun as they come.
Hebert, the former New Orleans Saints standout now a WWL Radio personality from just down the road in Cut Off, called Orgeron the “last hope” to continue Cajun French, the area’s dying, archaic first language. Cajun French was derived from mixing Acadian French with the French spoken by French soldiers and settlers in Louisiana before the Acadians arrived. Orgeron speaks it fluently.
LSU football coach Ed Orgeron is chatting up a recruit. "Whaddayasay!" The small talk includ…
And don’t think for a second that these people are oblivious to that fact: The head football coach at LSU is now one of them. They let him know it Friday night, holding a banquet in his honor in Larose while also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the South Lafourche Tarpons’ state championship team of 1977.
They celebrated and reminisced, they ate and drank, deep into the rainy night. Just short of midnight, Hebert walked out of the Larose Civic Center pavilion, the last one to leave. Behind him, still hanging from the facility’s rafters, was a banner that organizers created, a nod to Orgeron’s motto at LSU: "One team, one heartbeat."
They put their own twist on it: "One community, one heartbeat."
“Bobby was our first success story,” said Bellanger, a manager on that 1977 team. “Now it’s Bébé.”
Lunch for breakfast
Coco Orgeron made her son a big breakfast, especially on game days. Sometimes, a big breakfast meant eating lunch at 7:30 a.m.
“Shrimp po-boy and French fries,” Coco says.
He ate a po-boy for breakfast, she’s asked.
“Well, yeah!” she shouts. “And French fries!”
Coco was a bigger fan of the South Lafourche Tarpons than even those who played on the team. Her notorious cheering, yelling and screaming often found their way to the field, but the cheering didn’t stop there.
Coco woke up Bébé on some mornings by standing over his bed, blue-and-white pompoms in hand, belting out Tarpons cheers.
Shrimp po-boys for breakfast? A cheerleading wakeup call?
Welcome to the bayou.
“The energy and enthusiasm he brings to the program,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told the crowd of 1,400 roaring Cajuns on Friday night, Coco sitting close by, “I can see now where he gets it from. From you!”
Orgeron’s fiery ways didn’t emerge until later in life. He was quiet in high school — even shy, former teammates said. An all-district offensive and defensive tackle as a junior on that 1977 team and then as a senior in 1978, Orgeron’s actions on the field were louder than any words.
He played with the varsity as a sophomore — a rarity in those days — and developed into a star two-way tackle. Former teammates described him using words you might expect: mean, hard-nosed, tough. Mel Guidroz, a sophomore at South Lafourche in 1977, said Orgeron is responsible for the hardest hit — it came in practice — he took during his high school career.
“My whole career,” he said, “including games.”
Lane Fillinich played next to Orgeron at nose guard during that march to the state title in 1977. The Tarpons employed what Fillinich described as the “Oklahoma” defense — a 5-2 defensive front, with a hybrid outside linebacker/edge rusher. Fillinich credited his 41 unassisted tackles in 1977 to Orgeron’s play beside him.
“He was like a stump,” Fillinich said.
On offense, the Tarpons ran behind Orgeron just as much as any other player that season. Coach Ralph Peré’s favorite play was “Wham,” a power running play to the guard-tackle gap. The offense originated from only one set: the T-formation, an offspring of the wishbone.
The Tarpons’ offensive scheme was not complicated, and it was primarily designed to keep the ball away from more talented opponents who had faster offensive players.
A second-round playoff game at Bogalusa showed that: The Tarpons won 17-7 and kept the ball for an entire quarter on just one drive.
“We ran 'Wham' the whole way down the field,” Guidroz said. “Ran it left, then right, then back left, then right.”
“We always found a team’s best linebacker,” Fillinich said, “and went after him, double-teamed him. We broke their hearts.”
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South Lafourche’s sideline first-aid kit held the normal things: gauze, tape, bandages, splints — and two packs of smokes.
Peré would smoke as many as 20 cigarettes during a game, players said. He also broke clipboards over their helmets. And he molded them into men, Bellanger said.
An LSU football player in the early 1960s, Peré died in 2011 at age 68. Orgeron lost his second father with his death.
“Coach Peré had a lot of influence on him,” Hebert said. “He showed him what hard work is.”
He showed everyone on that team that hard work can beat talent, that a mental approach — hogging that ball on offense — can win championships.
The Tarpons lost four games during the regular season in 1977. They squeaked into the playoffs by beating Assumption 21-14. They were the underdogs in all but one of their five postseason victories, and everyone knew it.
“Bogalusa was ranked third in the state,” Fillinich said of the second-round matchup. “That was supposed to be our last game. Shaw was really supposed to be our last game.”
A local radio host the morning of that game called the matchup a “glorified scrimmage” for Shaw. Josh Jambon, a reserve player on that South Lafourche team, heard about that, and he called into the show.
“I got some Vaseline and a football for you,” he told the host. “And you can figure out what I want you to do with it.”
The Tarpons trailed by nine points in the second half against Shaw. They scored the final two touchdowns, including a scoring sprint of more than 80 yards by running back David Dillon.
Dillon, who died of a heart attack years ago, was one of just three black players on the team. His long touchdown run against Shaw still lives in South Lafourche lore. Hobbled on the sideline before the play with a leg injury, Dillon found himself being shoved onto the field by Peré.
“You’ll be hurt when I say you’re hurt!” Hebert said Peré barked at Dillon before the play.
Two weeks later, playing in the championship game on their home field against Bonnabel, the Tarpons needed a miracle. They trailed by six in the final 2 minutes and faced fourth down around the 25-yard line.
Hebert threw for Daryl Reynolds, who was running a short curl route. The pass sailed on him. Reynolds tipped the high ball, and it fell into the arms of Scott Bouzigard, running a deeper post route in the end zone.
Touchdown. Tie game.
Orgeron remembers the play like it was last week, and he remembers the winning extra point — it was deflected and barely tumbled over the crossbar — like it was yesterday.
He’ll remember that season and these people forever. He reunited with them Friday night.
“It takes a little while to recognize each other, but once I see them, it’s wild,” he said. “It’s like we never left. They’re pulling for (LSU). I know they’re watching. They love the Tigers.”