Sunday, April 10, 2011

Under the Eyes of the Tiger, a Countdown Begins

On the masthead is the eyes of a fearsome tiger, and below that is a countdown clock, currently at 146 days, four hours.  The actual clock counts down the minutes and seconds, but we're not that precise out here.  It's half a bowl of chili or another few sips of a favorite beverage either way, and there's a spring and a summer before that happens.

The Louisiana State Tigers held their Spring Game yesterday.  An estimated 25,000 people attended.  The Shreveport Times reported tailback Spencer Ware was the star as Oregon's opening game opponent wrapped up spring practice:

He slashed and dashed for 94 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns and caught a pair of passes for 50 yards to lead the first-string dominated White team that included Jefferson to a 22-7 victory over the Purple team in LSU's spring game before about 19,000 at Tiger Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Ware, bidding to replace leading rusher Stevan Ridley, who left a year early for the NFL, scored on touchdown runs of three and 18 yards.  He  also had a 46-yard catch, a leaping grab just before the half over a linebacker.

Most polls have the Tigers as one of the national favorites going into the 2011 season:

Jordan Jefferson, the returning starter at quarterback, solidified his hold on the first-team position with  a good spring, but he was woeful yesterday, 4 of 14 passing for 102 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, plus 31 yards on nine carries on the ground.  Junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger was 5-8 for 86 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown bomb, but didn't show enough to unseat him. After the game, Jefferson won the Jim Taylor Award for leadership, performance and effort for his work during spring practice

Defensively,  cornerback Tharold Smith had four tackles, including a breakup of a sure touchdown pass at the goal line.  Les Miles told the Baton Rouge Advocate,  "I think Tharold Simon has shown he can make big plays in a big stadium against good receivers."

Hopes are high in Louisiana, coming off a big win over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.

Down South it's a different world. Toddlers are raised in 'Bama pajamas or with Bulldawg binkies, taught from the cradle to "War Eagle!" or "Roll Tide!" The offensive line is discussed at Easter Dinner, and crazy aunt Beulah will know their names, her husband Earl their 40 times and weights.  On Game Day the tailgate spreads out over several acres.  Grown men drink too much and paint their faces.

We do the same thing out here, but there's a touch of irony in our love.  Spring football gives way to yard work, a float on the river or a trip to Cannon Beach, while a part of a Southerner's heart never leaves the fifty yard line.  His blood in infused with  the history, the lore and the glory of his team.  The colors are his state's pride.  Bumper stickers are affixed with more determination, and flags flown with more seriousness.  In some towns it's neighbor versus neighbor, and a new family moving in will be greeted with a covered dish and "who do y'all go for?" A choice has to be made.  There's none of that, "Oh, I root for both teams" or "I don't follow them that close."   You are either a Bammer or a Barner, a Dawg or a Yellow Jacket, each a religion all its own.  The new offensive coordinator's scheme is an article of faith, an act of heresy if the team starts 1-2 in conference.

The fierce pride of Southern football is a shock to the laid-back Northwest ear.  The fans are invariably gracious, polite and well-dressed, but there are songs and chants, and they mean business when they line the road to greet the team bus on the short drive to the bowels of the stadium.  September 3rd in Dallas,  the stands will be a sea of purple and gold, with poms-poms that will wave in unison, every throat filled with the words of a sacred song.  The marching band is 250 strong, horns dipping in perfect unison, majorettes each alike in gleaming sequins and smiles.  There's no sloppiness in their cadence, no careless insouciance in the way they tuck their uniforms.   This color guard is turned out.

It's a little unnerving.  They love deeper than we do.  It commands attention and even awe.  The will of their players is carried along this brightly-colored tide of fervor, and the roar of the Tiger, pacing in his cage, has to be felt in the core of their hearts.  The Ducks play pretty good football, but down there they play like their lives depend on it.  Because somehow, through the force of tradition, commitment and the willingness to be swept along, they do.

Things are different in the South.  Every game is a pageant, a kind of historical reenactment, an appeal to memory and hope.  A myth builds up around the heroes and cherished years. 1958.  2003.  It becomes an homage to a Lost Cause and an unstated but deeply-felt notion of honor.

On September 3rd, the Duck fans and players have to be prepared for the difference.  It will be colorful and loud, with a tangible energy in the air.  They can't allow themselves to rattled or unraveled, or even momentarily unsettled, by the noise and bigness of the stage.  They'll have to start calm, remember their assignments, trust their preparation.   Face the onslaught of frenzy with calm and resolve.  Stand your ground.

The passion of Southern football is unsettling, realizing in a moment you've entered a battlefield, and time is frozen.  The only change is that the badge of courage is a different color.  The years haven't made much headway.


  1. Great read. I'm an LSU fan in Houston & went to the spring game yesterday in Baton Rouge. I would have to agree football in the South is different. However, I really respect the way Oregon played Auburn despite what happened in the trenches. I think the Ducks are talented & are capable of matching the intensity that will be displayed by LSU. Whether they will or not, I'm not sure but that's what has to be done. Good luck Ducks.

  2. Dear S of N,

    Thank for your comments, and for reading us from way down there. I think it will be an incredibly interesting game, a great clash of regions, coaches, and styles. Looking forward to it.


  3. Great article, Thanks. ESPN has a dedicated blog for this game here: