MULE': Tigers pumping life into Louisiana

The instant Big Baby hit that 3-pointer in overtime to give LSU a seven-point lead – a safety net against Texas' outside shooters – words from years gone by came rolling back.

The late Gov. John J. McKeithen, perhaps the biggest die-hard in LSU's long history not named Huey Long, held the theory there was a connection between the state of Louisiana and the Bayou Bengals. "They represent our heart,'' McKeithen said. "They pump the blood of Louisiana. The spirit of the state flows from them.''


No one could seriously equate anything close between mere sports and catastrophic events, but there was a legitimate truth about the relationship between Louisiana and its Tigers.  


"What their Tigers do on the field matters to the people here, carries to their sense of fulfillment or disappointment, much more than in other places,'' McKeithen reflected. "They are a very real part of our life. When things are going good at LSU, people in the hills of the north to those near the Gulf of Mexico to the south seem to walk with a lighter gait, seem to laugh a lot more, seem to live a lot easier.


"And when things are not going so well, when our people are in dire straits, eventually something the Tigers do will lift us up, give us something that represents hope when it's running low for some folks.''


It would be hard to argue that abstract theory right now.


Spirit and hope were never lower in Louisiana than at the onset of the 2005 season, as the state buckled beneath the wrath of twin killer hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, making for the greatest natural disaster in the history of America. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed by ferocious winds, breached levees and ravaging flooding, displacing hundreds of thousands of people to faraway places – at least the fortunate ones, those who finally saw sunshine with life and limb intact.


This was truly the crucible of Louisiana.


So how does this tie in with the LSU Tigers?


Well, it gives credence to McKeithen's belief. Maybe because Katrina was such an enormous catastrophe, the Tigers have responded with multiple heart-lifting performances: the football team, despite all the obstacles and disruptions in its way, responded with an 11-victory season, capped with a rout of Miami in the Peach Bowl; the Lady Tigers have played just the way they were predicted, with a third straight trip to the women's Final Four in the offing; and now, against all expectations, the men are headed to basketball's Promised Land.


Coincidence? Maybe. But it does make one ponder the thought that Big Jawn may have had a point.



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Two plays may have turned the emotional tide for the Tigers in their see-saw game against Texas.


The first: Seconds before the half, the Longhorns were up by two and with the ball, meaning there was a possibility of them going to the dressing room with a four or five-point lead. Darrel Mitchel steals the ball, drives almost three-quarters of the court to put in the tying field goal tenths of a second before the buzzer.


The second: Glen "Big Baby'' Davis' trey, on a day when LSU was hitting 3-of-18 from beyond the arc, with two and a half minutes to go in OT. It gave LSU a 59-52 lead, meaning Texas needed at least three scoring possessions in that time span and stop LSU that many times.



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Big Baby let out a bellow at courtside: "We've got a tape worm in our belly,'' LSU's monster center yelled jubilantly after yet another monster game, this one in which the Tigers dispatched No. 2 seed Texas to punch a ticket to the Final Four.


"We're still hungry!''


Still hungry? Even after beating No. 1 seed Duke two days before?


You bet. For a team nobody was picking to win the SEC before the season; for a team that lost a key starter early, forcing an opening lineup so young it gave new meaning to the term "Diaper Dandies; for a team caught in the middle of a mini-controversy when the man who guided it to the unexpected championship is named Coach of the Year.


The Tigers should be hungry. What they're gobbling up now, with two straight upsets, is a filling helping of respect – a commodity in very short supply until the last two  games. But they've made believers of the national media and fans, as evinced by Dick Vitale picking LSU against UCLA on ESPN Saturday night.


Now LSU has to take on history. This is the Tigers' fourth trip to the Final Four, and they've never gotten past the opening game. With two games to go, winning just one – getting to the Championship Game – would carry LSU where no Tiger team has ever gone before.


That tape worm better still have some hunger pangs.




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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