As a kid I didn’t know any LSU fans. I was at the 1999 game when the Tigers came to Athens, and that was the day that I became aware of how amazing Louisiana’s cuisine is. Someone my parents tailgated with at that time had hired a caterer from Louisiana. They rolled out crawfish, jambalaya and other Cajun delicacies. While I remember the food from that day, I don’t remember interacting with LSU fans.
The first LSU fan I ever really met was my uncle’s friend Hank. He was a diehard Tiger and an LSU alum. A native of South Louisiana, Hank had somehow ended up in Cartersville after his time in the armed forces. Hank had been shot in Operation Desert Storm. In order to identify him, someone took his dog tags and shoved them in his mouth, breaking off some of his teeth. He sat up, unzipping his own body bag, and asked what the hell was going on. For a long time I assumed everyone from Louisiana had some sort of remarkable backstory.
Hank was like a cool surrogate uncle, and he’d slip you a little bourbon or some sage advice when the moment demanded it. He drove around in a big van so he could haul all the cooking and tailgate supplies anyone could ever need, and was filled with interesting facts. He once gave me a long explainer on how the chemicals from the Glad Plant in Cartersville contributed to the pink hues of the sunsets there. While Hank always stayed tried and true to his Tigers, he would join up with our tailgate crew and come to Athens when LSU wasn’t playing a big game in Baton Rouge. Whenever he showed up for a game it was a treat, and he’d cook a spread of Cajun food so good that I almost didn’t want to walk away from it when kickoff rolled around. Through Hank I developed an affection for LSU.
The two losses to the Tigers during the 2003 season tested that affection, but the blowout win in Athens in 2004 soothed the pain. It’s also hard to overstate how much the likability of a program goes up when Nick Saban leaves it.
I grew up in Southeastern North Carolina, and went through nearly a dozen hurricanes before turning eighteen. Fortunately, none of them were anywhere near as powerful or destructive as Hurricane Katrina. I was well aware of how terrible a hurricane can be, but the damage and loss of life that came with Katrina stunned me. I remember watching the events on television and feeling awful for the LSU family and all the people of Louisiana.
At the 2005 SEC Championship I struck up a conversation with an LSU fan during halftime. He was in the Louisiana National Guard, and he had been in New Orleans for the aftermath of the storm. He told me about some of the things he had seen down there. I could feel the weariness coming off of him. The whole LSU team and fanbase felt tired that night in Atlanta. The joy of winning a SEC Title was dampened a bit by the knowledge that a victory for LSU would have provided a needed lift.
Following that game I couldn’t get Louisiana off of my mind, and I spent the following Spring Break in South Louisiana helping with Katrina cleanup. The extent of the damage shocked me, but the positivity and resiliency of Louisiana’s people stunned me even more. I fell in love with Louisiana and her people, and that’s when I knew I’d never hate LSU.
I got to come back to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl as a freshman at UGA in 2007. That week was a blast. Plenty of LSU fans were there in anticipation of the title game, and we made good allies in arguments with the Hawaii and Ohio State fans who had come to town.
My first job after college was in Dallas. I’ve written openly about my disdain for the place, but I loved my roommates. They were big LSU fans, and would bring me back to their homes in Baton Rouge. Their families always treated me like one of their own, and of course served some of the best food I’ve ever laid a tooth to. As far as football, we all agreed that Alabama can go to hell.
So, I don’t hate the Tigers. They’re actually one of the few teams I pull for that isn’t named Georgia. When LSU comes to Atlanta this week I’ll look at it as a battle between friendly fan bases. Sure the Tigers have some fans that are rude and pretentious, but so does every school, including ours.
At the end of the day, Georgia and LSU are extremely similar programs. We are both in recruiting hotbeds and had national titles in the previous century that came on the backs of transcendent Heisman winners. Georgia and LSU were sleeping giants. Over the last couple of decades, both have woken up.
I always pull against LSU if it will help Georgia. My hope is that the Bulldogs take a step towards a national championship of their own come Saturday. If they don’t, I’ll find myself cheering for LSU in the playoffs.
Here’s hoping the Junkyard Dawgs can slow down the LSU passing attack as the Georgia offense finds its groove.
As always, GO DAWGS! `