SEC FOOTBALL: Mind of the Tiger

Football is hard to get really excited about in the wake of what's happened in New Orleans. As with the 9/11 aftermath four years ago, we're reminded how important football really is in the bigger scheme of things.

This is especially true for the big-name program affected the most by Hurricane Katrina, the LSU Tigers.

How will their season proceed, and how will playing in Tempe affect them? It's foolish to claim to know, and it's even more foolish to waste time and mental energy even speculating about it.

Before the Tigers hit the desert later this week, the whole LSU family is surely going to continue to tend to friends and relatives of anyone in the program who are still unaccounted for. There will still be the questions and concerns about basic provisions for those in the LSU football community who've been displaced. Furthermore, the presence of Baton Rouge as Louisiana's current central nerve center will surely demand that people in and around LSU football (not to mention the larger university as a whole) do some outreach in the overwhelmed state capital to ease the burden on three sets of people: the community of Baton Rouge itself, the caregivers who have to be nearing exhaustion at this point, and weary survivors in desperate need of some stability and healing.

So while the matchup with Arizona State --- and the very intriguing prospect of seeing just how tough a Pac-10 stadium other than the LA Coliseum can be --- is still quite attractive on paper, the emotions that accompany an attractive matchup just aren't there. Not for this writer, at least.

That lack of true passion --- at this moment in time, anyway --- has to be 1,000 times as much for LSU's grief-stricken players and coaches.

So for what it's worth, there will be a game Saturday night. How will it go? Football-specific considerations really won't determine the outcome (an outcome that, in the big picture, won't mean much ... not now). It will be about one thing and one thing only: LSU's level of interest. And the Tigers are to be cheered and supported and encouraged no matter how they respond to this game, because the mere act of playing it is, in a sense, a sacrifice that will tear them away --- at least for a few days --- from people that need their presence and help.

The point is coldly-put, and there's no way to say this in a pleasant-sounding way: if we're going to bother to talk about the game's outcome --- not to mention the trajectory of LSU's season --- it's all going to come down to LSU's level of focus and passion. In a mental laboratory such as the one the Tigers will experience when they go down to Tempe, anything and everything about the game will ride on whether the Tigers' minds can live in the present moment for four hours. They don't have to be mentally aware at noon on Saturday in suburban Phoenix, and they don't have to be mentally aware at midnight. But from 5:30pm on a late Desert Southwest afternoon to about 9:30 at night, their minds need to be right there on the field, not back in Louisiana. If so, expect a great game and a close win. If not, expect a loss. But if the Tigers "lose" --- and that word is in quotes for obvious reasons --- they'll still have learned a lot about how to carry themselves as human beings by fulfilling an obligation even when they'd much rather be somewhere else doing something different.

In the end, that's the best and most positive way to look at this game and the 2005 season for LSU, now that both entities have been so radically altered in their meaning and importance: this Arizona State tussle and the upcoming season will both enable these college students to get the best real-world education they ever could have hoped for. In the wake of a big, big tragedy, that's a small but real blessing for a burdened football family.

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