Last season my wife and I went to every USC game, home and away. That was a one time thing, so this year we didn't plan to do as many away games. Nonetheless, I went to Baton Rouge last weekend for the game. My wife stayed home, and a friend went instead.
We drove to Montgomery, Alabama on Thursday night and went into Baton Rouge on Friday. It was an uneventful drive, but on Friday morning in Montgomery we filled up with gas before heading out. While we were there a South Carolina fan was jumping a Kentucky fan's battery. The South Carolina fan had Lattimore written in large letters across the back of his shirt. The Kentucky people were thanking him and telling him how talented his son is, so I'm guessing it was Marcus's parents doing a good deed.
After checking into our hotel we went into town to check out campus and the city itself. The whole area is reminiscent of Florida, not the University so much but state. There are large, spreading trees almost everywhere which makes it difficult to take it all in at once. Many of the buildings on campus appear to have a Spanish influence which helps contribute to the Florida feel.
On campus we went by the new Alex Box baseball stadium to see how it looks. It's new and pretty big for a college stadium. After seeing it I can safely say I like our stadium about 1,000 times more. Despite being brand new and expensive many of the main seats in the stadium are still bleachers. The outfield wall and the backstop have advertisements on them. It makes the stadium look cheap, which is unfortunate since it clearly isn't.
The Tigers were holding a scrimmage, and the gates were open. I'm not sure if the scrimmage was supposed to be open to the public, but we went in anyway and watched for an inning. We didn't learn any secrets about the Tiger baseball team, but we did learn that Paul Mainieri is an intense coach during practice. Looking out over the right field wall there is a huge billboard with a Tiger and all of the LSU national titles listed out. That has to be intimidating for visitors.
Speaking of Tigers while driving around the football stadium we stumbled onto Mike's zoo. LSU has a live Tiger mascot who has a habitat right across the street from Tiger Stadium. He was walking around his area and came close to check out some of the people staring at him. In person, Mike looks bigger than I expected. Usually I'm not a fan of Tigers in sports, but I had to admit that Mike and the zoo they've built for him are really cool.
Next to Mike's habitat is the basketball arena, Pete Maravich Assembly Center. We decided to see if it was locked. Lucky for us, it wasn't, or at least one door wasn't locked. We walked into the arena where the basketball team was holding the most laid back practice imaginable. They must have been waiting to start because if that's how they practice, they're not winning any games. When we entered the arena we discovered we were the only people in attendance. That was our cue to leave, but it was nice to see the arena if only for a quick minute.
The City of Baton Rouge is the Capitol, and the area around the Capitol is surrounded by parks which were well maintained and picturesque. The rest of the city doesn't look as nice. It's difficult to say whether we were in bad parts of town, but a lot of the downtown area doesn't look too good. Or clean.
Since we had some time to kill we decided to check out a riverboat casino. We didn't spend much time there. When we walked in there were only two blackjack tables, and they were both full. Most of the patrons at the tables seemed angry and all were smoking. We hung around for a little while and decided the casino wasn't the place for us and left. Our trip was better because we didn't stay.
That night we went to The Chimes for dinner. At 8 o'clock it had an hour wait. We gave them our phone number and walked to the bar to wait. I was wearing a white shirt with a small gamecock logo on the chest. Though no one said anything, I don't think I could have turned more heads if I was Kate Upton without a shirt. There weren't many other USC people there. I don't know where our fans ate.
No one was rude to us or inhospitable, so we watched some baseball and waiting for our table. We were seated in slightly under an hour, and the wait was worth it. My friend had a barbecue shrimp po boy and hasn't shut up about it since. I had the crawfish etouffee, and I must agree that it was outstanding. The only mistake we made was not finding a way to have a second meal there. If you go to Baton Rouge, I highly recommend going to The Chimes.
The Chimes is located right next to the north side of campus. After dinner we walked around that area for a bit and found another place to stop in. If anyone from Louisiana ever tells you South Carolinians aren't good at pool, you can assume they got that idea from watching us play Friday night. Despite not playing well we chatted with some locals who where polite and welcoming.
We then walked through campus and ended our night at Tigerland. On the way there we passed the Ying Yang Twins playing a concert but decided to continue. Tigerland is the college hang out. Baton Rouge doesn't have any real concentrated night life areas like Five Points or the Vista which makes it more difficult for visitors to find their way to a place they want to spend their evening. Tigerland is an exception. South of campus there are a few bars clustered together. That's Tigerland.
Tigerland is for college kids and looks like the fair. There are people selling souvenirs and big tents attached to the buildings. It's kinda like several large Pavlov's-type bars. But they're not quite that nice. After visiting there we decided to call it a night. We split a cab with some student-aged people who had the cab driver drop them at a gas station. They got out and quickly fled. When we got to our hotel we discovered they hadn't quite paid their full share and quickly understood why they were eager to share the cab. Oh well, it didn't ruin our weekend.
The next day we headed out to the game. On the southern portion of campus are two massive grass and gravel parking lots call the Hayfield and the Levee lots. They are a few hundred yards from the levee holding back the Mississippi River. If you park there its about a 20-30 minute walk to the stadium, and it's free, so that's nice.
We parked and were next to some Gamecock fans. Many of the LSU fans who parked there just dropped their cars and went to other tailgates, so despite being full of cars there weren't many fans staying to tailgate. Most of the tailgating is similar to Auburn in that it is mostly on campus with tents set up anywhere there is a little grass.
On our walk into the stadium we ended up talking to an LSU fan for about half the walk. He was a big baseball fan and talked about our baseball program. Like many other fans we ran into, he was unsure about his team's ability to win and respected USC's team. A few times some fans called us Tiger Bait, but that was the exception and didn't seem to be mean spirited. In fact, we didn't have a bad interaction with a single LSU fan the entire time we were there.
Security entering the stadium didn't seem to be too concerned with thorough searches. Even though I wasn't carrying anything prohibited, my screening only consisted of being asked to remove my hat. It's no wonder how bourbon finds its way into the stands. In fact I saw one fan with a Liter of Grey Goose in his cargo shorts pocket. No word on whether that sophisticated smuggling campaign was successful.
Our seats were in the upper deck. That wasn't a difficult walk up since there were escalators. They weren't for the handicapped or elderly; they were for everyone. The upper deck at Tiger Stadium is steep. If you've been to Clemson, it's like their upper deck. We were three rows from the top which is very high.
We had Gamecock fans on either side of us, but there were LSU fans in front and behind us. I couldn't quite figure out how LSU had allotted USC's tickets, but in the upper deck we weren't grouped together. There was kind of a smattering of garnet strewn all over the place. Also, the game wasn't full. Walking in there were plenty of tickets, and inside the game we could look across to the other upper deck and see plenty of empty seats.
So, how loud is Tiger Stadium? Loud but not unbelievable. I didn't hear any discernible difference from the other major stadiums in the SEC. I think Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn and LSU are all about the same. Florida is still the loudest as far as my unscientific recollection goes.
Another myth about LSU. We didn't have any trouble with any fans in the stadium. No one threw anything or did anything to make us feel unwelcome. No one was running over to us to say hi either, but we were either very lucky or the stories of LSU hostility have been embellished. Interestingly we did see one Lady Cajun rat out another LSU fan for drinking in the game. Security was called, and he was taken away. I didn't expect that in Louisiana.
The game alternately went well and went terribly. We ended up talking to three LSU fans in front of us the whole time. They were just normal fans. Outside the stadium after the game the most common thing we heard from Tiger fans was "Good Game". That didn't make losing better, but again, no hostility.
I'm writing this as we're driving back, and it's a really, really long drive. I'd go back, and if I did I'd do two things differently. One, find ways to eat as much Cajun and Creole food. Two, fly.
Get more great South Carolina sports analysis over at Leftover Hot Dog.