It’s fun to have a team to root for in the college football national championship game tonight.
In case you don’t follow such things, Louisiana State University (LSU) is playing Clemson University.
I like LSU.
They have a quarterback, Joe Burrow, who grew up in Athens, Ohio — a town where I have spent a lot of time. Joe’s dad was assistant coach at Ohio University, my usual favorite college team.
For me, those things are reason enough to root for LSU (normally I would have said “the Tigers” instead of repeating LSU but Clemson is “the Tigers” too).
And, of course, there is this.
They say a night football game at Louisiana State University is the wildest experience in all of college sports, but I had to see for myself.
And three years ago when a friend of mine knew I was going to be in Baton Rouge, he helped me get a ticket to the LSU-Ole Miss game.
I know I cannot adequately describe the experience, but let me just say…
I have been on college campuses where they tailgate before the game. But never like they tailgate in Baton Rouge, starting a day or two before the game.
And I have been to colleges that have animal mascots. But never to one were they have a full-grown Bengal Tiger prowling an on-campus zoo-worthy habitat.
I have been to party schools. But never to one where they party literally everywhere: with grills and tents set up in open spaces, parking lots, the steps and porticos of every campus building, anywhere within the gates of the huge LSU campus. Open containers are the rule and fantastic Cajun food is the norm.
I have seen college homecoming parades. But never one in which the queen and her court of stunning Southern beauties filled Corvette convertibles as far as the eye could see.
I have been in stadiums with over 100,000 people. But never in one where the volume regularly exceeded the limit for permanent hearing damage.
I have heard some pretty cool stadium announcers in my day. But never one who can raise the hair on your neck like Dan Borne does in Tiger Stadium. From the time he says “The sun has set in Baton Rouge, and that means it’s Saturday night in Death Valley!” you know you are witnessing something special.
Of course every college has a few traditional cheers. But at LSU, they have one for everything. There is a first down cheer. A second down cheer. A third down cheer. A we-held-them-on-third-down cheer. And so on.
Most of the cheers are incited by the band. The so-called Golden Band from Tiger Land is on a par with the best national marching bands. And they come on the field in spine-tingling waves: first the drum major, then the showy, sequined Golden Girls dancers, and finally the 325-member band itself.
By then, it seems like the place is in a frenzy. But the actual frenzy occurs after the band is fully formed up on the field.
That’s when they do what is called the Pregame Salute.
It is only four notes. But they are the coolest four notes you have ever heard.
In fact, you have heard them. You know those four notes as the refrain to the old song, Tiger Rag: “Hold that tiger.” Only at LSU they prefer the stanza that asks: “Where’s that tiger?”
And you have never heard it quite the way it is played on Saturday night in Death Valley. The big, colorful band fronted by the dazzling dance team. The hundred thousand people quiet momentarily, expectantly. Then a downbeat and, starting with the deepest tones in the band and eventually rippling through to the clarinets and flutes, four pleading notes are directed to each quadrant of the stadium, the band turning 90 degrees each time and asking musically: WHERE’S THAT TI-GER?
Four notes. Played slower and more insistently than you have ever heard them. Played four times, totaling about 45 seconds. Each direction they turn, another 25,000 fans go crazy.
I was just there as an observer, but I got goosebumps. And it has happened several times since, whenever I hear those four notes in my head: WHERE’S THAT TI-GER?
It was a thrilling game. LSU won in an upset. The fans stormed the field. And my Saturday night in Baton Rouge was everything I thought it would be and more.
It made me an LSU fan for life.
Jim Busek is a freelance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached vie email at email@example.com.