State of the Hogs: Baton Rouge

Hawgs Illustrated publisher Clay Henry writes about why his trip to Baton Rouge will be an in-and-out thing today.

Louisiana State's mascot is Mike the Tiger. He resides in a big cage just outside the stadium. If you want, you can walk by and watch him pace before the game Friday in Baton Rouge. It would make a nice pre-game stop before Arkansas plays LSU.

I won't do that. I will walk straight to the elevator outside the stadium, ride it to the press box and stay there until it's time to go to the post-game locker room after the game. After I finish my work, I'll get in my car, drive straight to the airport and get out of town.

There is method in my madness. I will try to avoid all contact with the LSU faithful. It's best that way. I might say something that will get my butt whipped or have something thrown on me like beer, food or something few ever imagined could be thrown.

It's not a pretty scene outside Tiger Stadium. Things happen before and after football games there that don't happen anywhere else in the SEC. It's downright sad, actually. You'll see things that blow your mind. You'll think you are around a different culture, something out of another century. Certainly, these are not civilized folks who worship these LSU Tigers.

Oh, you think I am a little too critical? Perhaps. But I've seen enough and heard enough to base these thoughts on solid ground.

My daughters had beer dumped on them 10 years ago for simply cheering for the Hogs in a runaway victory. They were 13 and 14. That is probably commonplace in Tiger Stadium, dumping beer on young girls cheering for the opposition. Some around my wife and daughters apologized for their fellow Tiger fans and one even presented my youngest with a Tiger tail to commemorate that Razorback victory, the only UA victory of the modern era in that stadium. Luckily, I wasn't with them. I'd have told them what I thought of their behavior and gotten myself beat up.

I have other memories of LSU football, one as disgusting as anything I've ever seen outside a football stadium.

I was stunned and surprised two years ago as our car inched along in heavy traffic just two miles from the stadium an hour before kickoff as a young woman used the sidewalk for her restroom. A policeman stood about 50 feet ahead of us directing the cars in one-way traffic. Fans streamed alongside of us. The officer saw it and didn't even act like anything happened. I assume there are laws against that kind of behavior in Louisiana.

The young woman was wearing only tennis shoes and a Tiger football jersey. I guess I don't really know if she had something on underneath her jersey/dress, but that's my hope since she didn't need to adjust anything as she squatted on the sidewalk. She stopped only briefly. Her male friend looked at us as she finished. He smiled and seemed to like the idea that everyone was watching.

The veterans of the Arkansas football team have some not-so-nice memories of their last trip to Baton Rouge. They are of the bus ride into the stadium grounds where LSU fans jeered, taunted and gave them obscene hand jestures.

"I'll never forget it," said quarterback coach Roy Wittke. "There was a grandmother standing there holding the hand of who I have to believe was her granddaughter. They both gave us the finger. A grandmother. A granddaughter. I have never seen anything else like it."

Linebacker Clarke Moore said, "I didn't see that, but I saw a man holding a toddler. The boy couldn't have been over three. The little boy was giving us the finger. The man couldn't have been more proud of his little boy, standing there flipping us off. I couldn't' believe it."

Alcohol is probably the reason for all of this. And, it's not just a problem at LSU. The Little Rock crowds get out of hand on the golf course where about anything goes. There are even reports that Fayetteville fans have done a few sad things after games. Hog fans set fire to a long, big Tiger tail attached to the back of an Auburn fan this year, damaging the van. Arkansas fans painted the Mississippi State bus outside War Memorial Stadium a few years ago. All of that is probably alcohol related.

The booze flows freely on game day in Baton Rouge. I don't know if they have open container laws in that city, but if they do they are not enforced on game day. Drunks can be found outside the stadium by mid morning for day games. For night games, it's hard to find anyone sober. The Hogs are at least a little fortunate that CBS has taken an interest in this game and it's been played in the afternoon of late.

Even for a day game, the Hogs can expect the atmosphere to be grotesque. Wittke was going light when he decscribed it as "hostile."

The closest thing to it, Wittke said, would be some NFL venues. I reminded him of the scene before the Monday night game between the Eagles and Cowboys when Philadelphia fans egged the Dallas bus.

"Yeah, that's what I'm talking about, that stuff," Wittke said. "I've been outside the stadium at Lambeau Field and seen the Packer tailgates. That's probably one of the worst in the NFL, Green Bay's fans. I suppose it's related to the amount of alcohol consumed in the tailgates. What they do at LSU is kind of what they do at Lambeau. That's the comparison I'd make."

The tailgates outside Tiger Stadium are legendary. You'll see everything from zydeco bands to open fires on the ground. Some of the tailgates are mundane. Others are not. A visitor walking to the game will be taunted at one party, then invited to enjoy the food and drink at the next. There seems to be as much of one as the other. Even the ones that are nice will give you plenty of "Tiger Bait" verbal taunts. The ones that aren't so nice yell things much worse along with their obscene jestures.

A few years ago I passed by the Webhog Razorback Club's tailgate on the way to Tiger Stadium. There was a large LSU party going on next to them and the two groups merged into one with both side's music blending together. The Webhogs were sharing their barbecue and the Tiger fans were passing out bowls of gumbo and other delightful Cajun dishes. It looked like fun so I stopped for 30 minutes.

"We had a great time," said Webhogs club officer Fuzzy Harmon. "You can find some nice people at LSU. But every time I've been there I've had to bite my lip to keep from punching someone. I don't want to spend the night in jail in Baton Rouge. You have to be careful in that place because you are going to get baited and taunted – a bunch.

"They are a crude bunch. They are going to flip you off and cuss you. You have to just keep walking. There are more of them than what you've got with you. And, I'd suggest sticking with a big group of Arkansas fans."

Fuzzy, from Marshall, Texas, will be there. So will about 2,000 other Arkansas fans. It's as close as the Hogs get to south Texas anymore and it's not a bad drive for fans from the Houston area.

Go if you must, but I'll leave you with this warning: You'll see more birds flying today in Baton Rouge than you'll see on the opening day of duck season in Arkansas County.

If I had my way, some of those LSU fans would be locked up for a few hours in that cage with Mike the Tiger. Perhaps that would stop some of their nonsense.

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