Parade of Champions a memorable day

In an event never seen before in the capitol city, the streets of downtown Baton Rouge were filled with an array of colors on Saturday. <br><br> Gold and Blue, Purple and Gold: a Parade of Champions. <br><br> The theme stated it all – Champions.

In an unprecedented chain of events, Baton Rouge served home to a pair of national football champions in 2003. The LSU Tigers, the SEC Champion, posted a 13-1 record en route to the Nokia Sugar Bowl and the 2003 Bowl Championship Series national title.


On the other hand, the Jaguars, champions of the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC), were dubbed the Black College National Champions after posting a 12-1 record in 2003.


To honor these two championship squads, Mayor-President Bobby Simpson and his staff, along with the administration of both Southern and LSU planned the most prolific celebration in the history of Baton Rouge sports.


A parade included both universities legendary bands, cheerleaders, coaches, players and administrators, Jaguar and Tiger fans lined the sidewalks of third and fourth streets in downtown Baton Rouge to honor the team's respective championships.


After an hour-long processions through the downtown financial district, the entourage assembled on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol for a concert of each school's bands as well welcoming speeches for Simpson, lieutenant governor Mitch Landrieu as well as dignitaries from each institution.

Despite miserable weather, a crowd estimated between 75,000 and 100,000 well-wishers covered the capitol grounds for the joyous event.


LSU chancellor Mark Emmert greeted the throng with a statement that brought about a boisterous response.


"They're not having a celebration like this in Southern California," said Emmert, referring to LSU's split national title with the USC Trojans.


The camaraderie between fans of the Jaguar Nation as well as Tigertown was one never seen before in the history of the city.



Several Tiger football players ride

on a firetruck in Saturday's parade. (Sally Stiel)


"I don't think this could happen anywhere else in this nation," said Southern coach Pete Richardson. "I didn't think we could get this many people in one place in Baton Rouge."


Members of the LSU and Southern football team were tapped out by Simpson as honorary Mayor-Presidents, including Tigers Matt Mauck and Michael Clayton. In the end, band members as well as players from both teams exchanged congratulations.


"It was special to see that many people show up," Richardson said. "You see that following, and it's special to be sitting in that car and see so many people waving for both programs, both black and white."


In the wake of the celebration downtown, the Tiger football team and its following moved south to Tiger Stadium were a campus-full of tailgaiting LSU fans were waiting in an almost gameday-like setting.


Soggy weather kept the numbers down as an estimated 25,000 filed into Death Valley for the official LSU Tiger national championship celebration, but the atmosphere was festive and the players, especially the senior enjoyed one final hurrah.


"You make Tiger Stadium the most special player in the world to play a football game," said LSU head coach Nick Saban. "This is the greatest place to be the coach of any place in the United States in any league. Everyone here today, everyone that supported this group of players, is a part of this team. You helped this team realize what it could accomplish. It is an accomplishment that none of us can ever forget and I know that it will be next year's standard to try to repeat this."


Several players were introduced including SEC Championship Game and Nokia Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player Justin Vincent. Departing stars Mauck and Clayton each offered stirring good-byes to the cheers of the in attendance, then accepted the ADT National Championship Trophy.


"When I was a senior in high school, I came to the opening game and the stadium wasn't quite as full and I was a little skeptical where I was going to school," Clayton said. "I didn't know where I wanted to go. I was going to go to either Florida State or Miami (Fla.), but I came back to a game when LSU played Tennessee (in 2000). The Tigers won that game in overtime, and I was sitting right up there (pointing) when I saw the 90,000 fans from the stadium charge the field. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of something special."


The field was painted as if a game would be played, including memorial reminders on each 20-yard-line of the late Jeff Boss, LSU longtime equipment manager that passed away from a brain tumor earlier in the season.


"It has been that way since I have been here for three years playing under Coach Saban," Mauck said. "It has been an honor, and I speak on behalf of the whole football team in everything we wanted to do, we dedicated to Jeff Boss' family. We were dedicated to success. One of the highlights this season wasn't to win a national championship. That wasn't our goal. Our goal was to play like champions and we did that this year. Next year, Coach Saban I won't be here but the Tigers will be running again for another national championship. I promise you that."


As always, there was a fair share of comedy relief. When Landrieu, the recently-elected lieutenant governor, stepped to the podium to address the crowd a chorus of boos radiated through the walls of Tiger Stadium. When Landrieu stated he would be speaking on the behalf of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who was out of town at the wedding of her husband's nephew, the boos turned to cheers.


Landrieu wasn't the only dignitary booed. Saban was presented three national coach of the year awards on Saturday, one from the Associated Press, the Paul Bryant Award as well as the Eddie Robinson Award. When AP beat writer Mary Foster was introduced as the Associated Press' representative, the fans again let loose another string of boos, due to the fact the AP named Southern California its national champion.


Saban accepted the honors with his typical humble elegance.


"To receive an honor like this, these trophies have to be split up many, many ways," Saban said. "First of all, we have a great administration and we have a great coaching staff, which has done a phenomenal job of working with the players. But most of all, these trophies should be split up about 120 different ways, because every player, regardless of what his role was on our team this year, trusted each other, respected each other and was responsible for their own self-determination. This is the hardest-working, best chemistry team I've ever been associated with."

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