Tiger Bait: A Florida Fan's 24 Hours in Baton Rouge

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Tiger Bait: A Florida Fan Spends 24 Hours in Baton Rouge

Friday

7:40 p.m. The plane is taxiing over New Orleans, or at least around New Orleans, thanks to the weather. A driving rain has us making loops in the air, or as the pilot puts it menacingly, "over water." I am fine with the concept of "in a holding pattern." A holding pattern is a secure place, a safe spot where he supporting lift of the air nuzzles your plane above the earth like a bitch lovingly sniffing her pups. We're "over the water," a position sounding dangerously close to "one false move from dropping like an anchor into the sea." This pilot's diction has to improve.

8:05 p.m. On the ground after coming in over NOLA. 80 degrees, raining, and supernaturally dark. Evil weather. Or in other words: perfect for Florida/LSU.

9:00 p.m. Dinner at Jacques-Imo's. Okay, we start the wait for Jacques-Imo's, which we've been informed is somewhere between an hour to an hour and a half. Beer starts going in. 

10:00 p.m. Beer still going in. No tables in sight. Begin talking with two Tulane students and their mom. Mom asks "Are you an attorney?" I say yes, and fulfill a lifetime goal of falsely claiming to be an attorney. Feeling eight thousand years old. More beer goes in.

10:30 p.m: No tables in sight. Considering eating dinner companion.

11: 48 p.m: Unsure how this happened: now sitting at table after decimating Eggplant Godzilla hallucinating due to lack of blood in brain. It's all in my stomach now, I think. Soft-shell crabs crawling on the ceiling. They're all telling me to go to Harrah's. Okay, crabs. You've never steered me wrong before. 

1:15 a.m. To hell with you, talking soft-shell crabs. You may be delicious, but your advice regarding gambling establishments and money is not to be heeded. Eighty dollars lighter, and the only highlight came when two Ragin' Cajun fans sat down at the table and began the world's worst display of gamblng coaching ever.

Dude one: Dat's a 12! You gotta stay on her bust card!

Dude two: She's showing 19, man!

Dude one: No she ain't! Dere's a three under that nine, I know it!

Dude two: (thinks for a second.) HIT ME!! (Busts.)

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Saturday

5:22 a.m. First text from LSU fan: "Wake yo ass up." Attempt to move legs fails. Imagine this like the scenes where the Terminator is dying, and his vision blips in and out with "SYSTEM SHUTDOWN" flashing across the screen. That is exactly what it looks like from my perspective. 

8:45 a.m. On the road and rolling in a dead sexy Hyundai Accent. We pass trucks with "Tim Tebleaux" and "On the way to the see the Tigers play!" written in white paint on their windows. They are all each the biggest truck I've ever seen, with some jacked up on lift kits so lofty they no longer qualifty as road-safe, and instead sit in the category of illegal swamp-buggy. I think, as we pass them, I can hear "Tiger Bait!" from behind the windows. 

10:00 a.m.ish. Pulling into campus off Highland onto Chimes, where we find a ridiculously easy parking space, hike three miles across campus looking for our home base of a tailgate, which turns out to be a five minute walk from where we parked. Not all a loss, though: we did meet a white guy with a Gator logo cut into his hair. 

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...and Gators hanging from trees, which isn't at all unsettling. Nope. Not at all.

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A quick trip through Gameday on the way across the parade grounds involved running into green bodysuit man, who was traipsing through the mud with the rest of us, albeit doing it in a green jumpsuit, something LSU fans hardly seemed to note as unusual or interesting. 

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Gameday itself felt like a fortified studio at LSU. Nets hung around the stage, and with good reason: LSU tailgaters are proud of noting that the reason the net is there in the first place is to counter any thrown objects like the ones Tiger fans bombarded Corso with when he picked against the Tigers in 1999. Two sets of fences circled the set; a man stood at the second repeating a mantra of "no signs no umbrellas nothing that can be used as a projectice no signs no umbrellas nothing that can be used as a projectile." Children didn't count, but given the size and ferocity of LSU fans, I wouldn't let any kid under 60 pounds in just to make sure.  No one wants to see Corso hit with a toddler.*

11:30 a.m. Boudin balls, a camp chair and the early games. Hey, beer! No idea where it came from, but somehow it ended up in my hand. I hand the bottle of Jim Beam requested for my host over. He palms it, shakes his head, and says, "Well, I've gotta get crackin'. I'm two hours behind." It is 11:30 a.m.

1:15 p.m. Time is already beginning to slip a bit. I can't decide whether it's the additive effect of already being overstuffed on food and beer, but a walk it needed. We drift over to tailgate two, where more jambalaya is consumed and we meet a man named Mervyn who speaks with a Cajun accent so thick you would assume it to be a parody of a Cajun accent if you didn't know the man was a vouchsafed Louisianan. Mervyn is the color of a cooked ham, outrageously friendly, and serving white beans on top of the jambalaya. Like most everyone we talk to, he's cautious about LSU's chances. Like most everyone else we talk to, I'm pretty sure he's drunk.

"Mervyn, don't put the beans on the rice."

He roars: "BUT IT'S GOOD."

I can't disagree: poor form or not, it's one of the best things we had that day. After determining that we need to go on a tipsy airboat hunting expedition with loaded shotguns with Mervyn and the rest of his crew one day--what could go wrong?--we find the LSU Hillel busy representing well, combining Jewish pride with another undoubtedly Kosher activity: beer pong.

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1:27 We run into this man. Professional, you ask? Of course, since the body paint didn't even rub off on me.

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Experienced bodypainters always use a dry coat in case of inclement weather. 

1:45 p.m. Gator pinata sighted at tailgate three. Such violence, children!

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As I'm sitting there with a fellow blogger, a man in a Hawaiian shirt wearing a pith helmet half-tackles me from behind and yells "WOOOOOOOOOOO." He then walks away without explanation. None of this seems very unusual at this point. 

2:10 p.m. Random Tailgating Comment #1: "Hey, the beer tastes a lot better in a bottle now that they blew the roof off the plant a while back."

2:45 p.m. Sitting in The Chimes, the massive, utilitarian sports bar a stumble away from the gates of LSU. Shots of something called "Statutory Grape" are ordered. For journalism's sake, I try one. It tastes like Dimetapp and Felony Assault with a chaser of grain alcohol. On the screens, Ole Miss is being taken apart limb from limb by Alabama, something LSU and Florida fans alike seem to enjoy.

4:15 p.m. Second or third round of Statutory Grape Shots. Or fourth. I'm not really sure at this point, and not really sure that it matters. Everyone on campus at this point is bumbling around in the same haze, functioning at the same extremely low level of cognition. See orange: TIGER BAIT. See Gold: WOOOOOO!!! For Gator fans, just sub "Gator Bait" and you'll have the right idea. Stimulus, response, stimulus, response.

A day's cooking has covered patches of the campus in a fragrant smoke like a camp full of Civil War re-enactors all lighting their campfires at once. Walking from point to point you smell the gas from lit burners, the smell of rice cooking in an iron cauldron, the reek of whiskey coming off tens.

When I was here two years ago, the focus was the game: this was an army preparing for war with a pregame meal coming as a necessity. This time, with lower expectations, the vibe is more relaxed, as if everyone came in, doubled up on the food and booze, and decided to relax and see what happened in between four or five of the best meals you'll ever have at a tailgate. If LSU won, they'd eat a victory feast; if they lost, they'd bury the sorrow beneath a pile of freshly grilled pork loin and drunk chicken.

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In between, the directions were to apply booze to the dull the tension and wait.

5:30 p.m. Random tailgating comment #2: "Pregnant women like to do it, man. A lot."

5:45 p.m. Ric Flair makes an appearance. A Florida fan comes out of nowhere to challenge Flair. They jaw off like the Nature Boy and Ricky Steamboat in his prime. It is gripping stuff, even with a brain dazed from a full day of preparing** for the game.

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6:15 p.m. We make our way to the stadium to see if we can scalp tickets. We might as well be attempting to buy wooden stakes at sunset in vampire country; the closest we get are a few students who shrug sad shrugs when they ask you if you need a student ID to get in, which you do, which is too bad for you because you want to get into the roaring maelstrom of the game, and too bad for them because they need beer money. Defeated, we head back to the tailgate, passing this sad Florida fan in the same predicament. 

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9:30 p.m. Sure, the lead is only ten points, but it may as well be a hundred given the way LSU's offense has played. The mood at the tailgate is down, but not dejected, since most fans seemed to expect little in the way of offense from LSU and plenty of Florida defense making an already stuttering attack virtually silent. Solace comes off the grill in the form of grilled pork loin and out of the coolers in the form of cocktails and canned purple and yellow LSU-themed Bud Lights. 

9:48 p.m. Random Tailgate Comment #3: "I don't want to say that I want to see Tim Tebow get hurt, but I want to see him get hurt. Is that bad?"

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10:45 p.m. The game concluded, I take two sleepy Baton Rouge rookie tailgaters back to the car. On the way, there is the riddle of this crashed truck. You could conclude that someone was off getting help, finding a winch, and devising some way to get this hopelessly stuck vehicle back on the road. Or you could think what I hoped was true: that someone running late to the game was so desperate to get there that they said, "Screw this," crashed their truck into a ditch, and ran across campus without worrying about what came next. We made the sign of the cross over the truck and kept moving. I was wearing a Gator shirt, and despite the calm surroundings I wasn't going to stop moving until I was at the relative safety of the hotel. I'd already made it in and out of Baton Rouge once wearing the enemy's colors. Doing it twice bordered on tempting fate.

(And when I do it for the third time in 2011, it will be voluntary suicide, but you have to die somehow. Might as well be a spicy demise if you have to go, and it is totally worth it.)

*Okay. Maybe I do.

**Hey, look! Beer!

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