New Orleans turned into LSU party central

NEW ORLEANS - It has been a constant dream for LSU fans to have the opportunity to cheer on the Tigers in a national championship game in New Orleans. <br><br> How grand would it be for LSU to play for it all on the turf of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, just 70 miles from the hallowed walls of Tiger Stadium. This year, Tiger fans got their long-awaited wish.

With an SEC championship already under its collective belt, LSU packed its bags for the short bus ride to New Orleans for a Jan. 4 date with the Oklahoma Sooners in the Nokia Sugar Bowl for all the marbles.


LSU is well know for traveling in terms of fans and it would be no different as thousands, a projected 200,000 LSU made the trip to New Orleans for a week of celebration in hopes of the Tigers' first national title in 45 years.


The French Quarter remained constantly crowded, hotels were overbooked and the sounds and smells of LSU tailgating blew in the breezes down the narrow streets of the Big Easy.

When gameday arrived, New Orleans was transformed into a Tiger Stadium atmosphere as the world famous Krewe of Ragoo and the Half-Assed Tailgating Tigers set up shop along Poydras and Rampart Streets.


The jambalaya  was cooking, beer was flowing and tunes were blaring as Oklahoma fans scurried down the streets of the Crescent City in search of shelter from the crazed Tiger fans.


"Right now this is the greatest atmosphere in the world," said Ervin Juneau of Belle Chasse. "We have the Ragoo and the Deep South Tailgaters. We have over 1000 people. We're just partying and having a good time. We're going to get ready to kick Oklahoma's rear."


One thing about being in New Orleans is people were familiar with the bowl's host city and had no problems making their way around the city.


"It's crazy," said Ben Bithiara, a New Orleans native. "Being in New Orleans is like being at home for a lot of people. A lot of people that go to LSU are from New Orleans. It's like being at home, it's crazy."


The event will definitely go down as one of the biggest in the history of New Orleans, maybe the state of Louisiana. Bigger than any Super Bowl, some said it even rivaled Mardi Gras.


"You got the normal LSU pre-game preparations being made, but it has been kicked up a notch because of the national implications," said Ross Russell of Beaumont, Texas. "I would classify the atmosphere as explosive. It's exciting to be in the presence of such a big event for Louisiana, LSU and for the nation."


While Saban has talked about dominance and elevating LSU to a plateau of national prominence, some of the partygoers were almost surprised at how fast the fourth year head coach transformed the Tigers.


"I really didn't think LSU could be here," said Chad Garcia, a native New Orleanian. "It's something special that I think could never happen again."


Garcia's feelings were a shared sentiment.


"There was a lot of hope and a lot of expectation but I think that this is a lot sooner than you would expect your own coach to get his recruits in and involved in his system and even a couple years after that," Russell said.


For longtime ardent LSU follower Carl "The Cat" Dunn of Baton Rouge, excitement was not the word.

"This is probably the best feeling I've had all year about the Tigers going into a game," Dunn said. "I think they are going to dominate. I think the defense is going to step up like they usually do and like they have all year. This is probably the biggest atmosphere of the year. It's the national championship for crying out loud, THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP."


Even an Alabama fan can cross SEC lines and cheer for another league team.


"I'm from Louisiana and excited to see LSU doing well and hopefully succeeding in the national championship game and hopefully going home with the gold," said New Orleans resident Chris Rockhold. "Geaux Tigers."


Saban said when he arrived at LSU the program was a sleeping giant. With a bone crushing defensive attack, Saban has awakened that giant.


"I think the giant has been awakened, especially on defense," Bithiara said. "We have the most dominant defense in the nation right now. I think that is the reason that we are in the national championship."


Not only does LSU dominate on the field, Saban is the nation's top recruiter. Along with a national title, Saban will capture another championship in the recruiting battles of February.


"I think he was able to combine the recruits that are in-state, the ones that often went to other schools; he was able to capture a whole bigger percentage of those recruits and elevate the program to its national status," Russell said.


But on this day, with the national championship at stake, these success hungry fans enjoy a good time and count the minutes until kickoff – in typical LSU and New Orleans fashion.

"It's pretty rip rowdy," said Larry Holder, a New Orleans native and LSU grad. "I've been to Tiger Stadium and I've been to the SEC Championship Game, but I've never seen anything like this. You have got people literally shaving their dogs, painting them purple and gold and imprinting LSU on them. You got people walking down the street with little bitty Tigers. It's crazy."

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