BATON ROUGE – It was a bit strange walking around the outskirts of Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
It wasn’t because it was the first time I’d covered a game there in close to 15 years, it’s because Southeastern Louisiana was visiting Tiger Stadium for the first time in a long time.
The only meeting between the teams happened in 1949 – well before Tiger Stadium featured anything resembling luxury suites or The Chute – both of which didn’t exist the last time I covered a game there, either.
In all honesty, an LSU-Southeastern game is something I never thought I’d witness in my lifetime, but it finally happened.
I’ve lived in Hammond most of my life – expect for an almost four-year stint in Morgan City – where I worked my first newspaper job. I’m old enough to remember what it was like going to watch Southeastern games in Strawberry Stadium when Oscar Lofton coached the Lions. I’m also old enough to remember the day in 1985 when the decision was made to drop football at Southeastern.
At that point, college football in Hammond was a pipe dream. As a player – and not a very good one – at Hammond High, our teams bused from campus out near the airport to practice at SLU during my sophomore year, because, well, Southeastern wasn’t using those practice fields, so somebody had to.
My dad has had LSU season tickets since I was young, and it's a safe bet that during those years Southeastern didn't have a football team, I was in Tiger Stadium if there was a home game on the schedule. There are a lot of memories there, too.
There was an ill-fated attempt to bring football back to SLU in time for the 1990 season, which fizzled out, and in 2002, the school announced football was coming back.
I’ve been able to cover a lot of Southeastern athletics since my days at The Lion’s Roar, SLU’s student newspaper, and I’ve covered every season of SLU football in some form since it returned in 2003 under Hal Mumme.
But Saturday night in Death Valley was a little different for me.
Sure, it’s easy to say that every Football Championship Subdivision school in the state will always be LSU’s ‘little brother’ when it comes to comparing to the Tigers on the field, but in reality, maybe that wasn’t the point.
Since Ed Orgeron took over at LSU, he’s made a conscious effort to make sure in-state schools ‘share the wealth’, if you will. That’s meant that Orgeron and his staff have made their rounds visiting and working football camps at in-state schools. The goodwill that’s created has carried over into scheduling. This season LSU hosted Southeastern and will host Louisiana Tech in two weeks. Yes, SLU and Louisiana Tech will get a payout from LSU for their trips to Tiger Stadium – that’s just part of the deal.
The key is that money is generated by fan bases from in-state schools and it stays here in Louisiana. At a time when higher education has endured its share of repeated cuts in recent years, that’s huge.
Do these in-state games fix all of those state budget problems? No, but it doesn’t make those problems worse, either.
The really neat thing for fans of in-state schools is that teams have followed LSU’s lead in picking up in-state opponents. Just look at the schedule involving state teams on Sept. 8 – Southern played at Louisiana Tech, Nicholls State visited Tulane and Northwestern State hosted Grambling.
If that’s not keeping things in-state, I don’t know what is.
The other part of this is, there are fans and alumni for these in-state teams all over state and country. The fun part for me was walking around Tiger Stadium and seeing couples and groups of people wearing purple and gold and green and gold alike – and some wearing both sets of colors at the same time. The other part was running into fans for both teams that I know from Hammond, Livingston Parish and even St. Mary Parish when I ran into some folks I know from my Morgan City days.
Whatever your allegiance, it didn’t seem to matter much to LSU and SLU fan bases, at least before the game. If any of you are on Facebook (and a I know a lot of you are) scroll through your timelines for a few minutes. Chances are, you’re going to see some of your Facebook friends and their photos and videos from Tiger Stadium on Saturday, giving it their best ‘Geaux Tigers’ or ‘Lion Up!’, and that’s neat.
To me, it seemed like one big tailgate party with a side of football, and if these schools are helping each other out by playing, that’s not bad at all.
Forget about the score. Every state school wins when it happens.