Sunday, March 6, 2011

weird trips (an exercise in catharsis), part 1: the night they tore down the posts in Baton Rouge

While searching for ways to pass the time through the offseason — and possibly keep my friend Amanda from occasionally complaining that I'm not blogging enough — I mentally stumbled on a cache of untold stories (at least as far as this blog is concerned) about some of the genuinely odd road trips my friends and I took during our undergraduate years. While it is very true that pretty much everyone took some odd road trips in college, this is, after all, my blog, so my stories are the ones that get to be told. And besides, you'll see pretty quickly that many of these are unique, even for a broke college kid.
(One other note: If this bores you, feel free to skip to something else. What do you want from me? Football's not coming back until August and "Lost" is off the air. And I don't have the energy for a basketball post just yet.)

First up on our tour: Nov. 4, 2000, the night Alabama finally lost to LSU in Baton Rouge, snapping a win streak that stretched all the way back to 1969. It was my first trip to Tiger Stadium, the first time I ever saw goalposts come down in person and one of the first truly bizarre road trips of our collegiate experience.

The lead-up: Every Alabama fan has been trying to forget the 2000 season since the day it ended. It was supposed to be a coronation: Mike Dubose's Tide, off an SEC championship and Orange Bowl berth, was ranked third in the nation to start the season. We had all made up our minds that it was a national championship season in the making, only three seasons removed from a losing season in 1997. Instead ... well, you know. By the time LSU week got here, our championship contenders were 3-5, a mark that included losses to Southern Miss (21-0!!!) and Central Florida (on Homecoming) and a sixth straight loss to Tennessee. The coach had already been fired, the NCAA wolves were knocking and we all couldn't wait for the season to be over, so we could move on.
Meanwhile, LSU was trending upward. Under first-year head coach Nick Saban (yep), the Bengal Tigers had rebounded from early-season losses to Auburn and Florida and a ghastly home loss to UAB (you read that right) and were 5-3 by the time Bama showed up to party. Saban's team was out of contention for an SEC title, but everyone was pretty sure his program had turned.

How we got there: The trip to LSU actually came together the way all great college road trips do: insanely.
First, it's important to point out that we purchased tickets to the game from ebay; and, if memory serves, my friend Amanda — who I'm assured will be emailing me soon with her own memories about this — actually bid on a block of 7. I distinctly remember sitting online, watching the clock tick down on the sale date, chatting with Amanda on AIM (back in the days when AIM was en vogue). The page refreshed, we were listed as the winners, and both of simultaneously typed, "HELLL YEAH!!!!" We were on our way.

The trip: Of course, winning the bid now meant we had to find a large group of people who would be willing to buy tickets to Alabama-LSU. Lucky us, it's not that hard to find people willing to go to Louisiana for the weekend. The group that came with us was actually much larger than our ticket pool.
This, of course, brings to light the most interesting aspect of the trip: Like most good Bama fans going to a game in Baton Rouge, we arranged for accommodations in New Orleans ... and by "accommodations" I mean our pal Tim reserved 3 rooms at an Econolodge in Metairie. Three rooms for a group of roughly 20. Do that math a moment. Yeah.
(Note: I won't get into the sleeping arrangements, because everyone's married now and it would be uncomfortable. But, as Robert Redford said in "The Natural," Some mistakes you never stop paying for.)
Now here's where my memory gets a little fuzzy and I may be making portions of this up: We were originally supposed to be sitting in Tiger Stadium in a group of 4 (the rest of the tickets were somewhere else) and our group was myself, Peter, Amanda and Tim (the guy who booked the motel). However, in a twist that only makes sense if you know the guy, Tim decided Saturday morning that he hadn't participated in nearly enough Bourbon Street debauchery the night before, and informed us he was staying, freeing up his ticket. That meant our seating group now included our mysterious friend Pam, who nobody really knew at the time (we knew she was eleventy feet tall and that was about it). And we were running late.
Lucky for us, Baton Rouge, like every other college campus, is a frigging traffic quagmire on game day. We wound up parking illegally somewhere roughly 15 minutes before kickoff, and sprinting to our seats (somewhere in the upper stratosphere). On the way, someone shouted, "Y'all sure are in a hurry to see an ass-kicking."
Without breaking stride I shouted back, "Aw man, we OWN this stadium!"
I was, um, wrong.

The Game: The recap I found online filled in some of the gaps, but here's what I remember: We actually played pretty well that day, even took the lead early in the fourth quarter (capping a drive that was briefly interrupted when two students broke free from the bleachers, mooned the Alabama sideline and attempted to sprint away (it was not, shall we say, successful).
Aside from the game falling apart in the fourth quarter — like everything else that season — I have one other random memory from the game: a critical sequence in which LSU appeared to have fumbled a punt that we recovered. An Alabama player on the punt team definitely collided with the returner and caused the fumble, but initially the ruling on the field was that the defender was blocked into the returner (hence, no penalty). Bear in mind: at the time, instant replay was not a thing in college football.
So the refs huddled to discuss the play and — at least from our vantage point high above the earth — appeared to look at the jumbotron (absolutely illegal) before (correctly) ruling that our player hadn't been blocked into the returner at all. It was and still is the right call, but they arrived at it the wrong way. Ah well ... that's just the way things went in 2000.
Anyway, LSU eventually took a 30-21 lead late; we mounted a last-ditch comeback and had an onsides kick (just like 1998) that ultimately resulted in nothing. LSU 30, Alabama 28 was the final.

The Goalposts: Undoubtedly the funniest part of the game was the prospect of LSU snapping its 30-year hex vs. Bama in Baton Rouge, and the ensuing celebration that would undoubtedly take place. People who watched the game on television told us later that CBS showed a close-up of the goalposts at Tiger Stadium ... which were coated in Vaseline, roughly an inch thick, in an attempt to discourage potential climbers.
Furthermore, as the fourth quarter wore on, and it became obvious LSU was going to claim that special win after all, the public address began to make the obligatory announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, for your safety and the safety of others, at the conclusion of tonight's contest, please stay off the playing surface." The prevailing response: "BOOOOOO!!!!!"
Honestly, I remember being giddy. I had never seen this in person. We weren't going to win anyway, so what was the point?
The students, of course, immediately flooded the field as soon as the clock hit 0:00, attacking the goalposts the way a zombie horde would attack a Celine Dion concert. The Vaseline, it should be noted, deterred them for approximately .0087 seconds. And as the posts began to wobble, the PA piped up again: "EYES UP, PEOPLE ... GOALPOSTS ... ARE HEAVY."
Eventually they did come down, of course, both of them. And as the elated fans were parading their new trophies around the field, the PA piped up once more: "FOLKS ... IT'S BEEN A GREAT NIGHT ... CAN WE PLEASE ... PLEASE JUST CLEAR THE FIELD AND LET'S GO HOME?"
One Bama fan summed up the experience better than any other, exiting the stadium as the mob worked feverishly: "TEAR IT DOWN!! IT'S YO MONEY!!! TEAR IT DOWN!! IT'S YO MONEY!!!"

The aftermath: This one is pretty straightforward: LSU carried the momentum from its win to a Peach Bowl berth vs. Georgia Tech, who they walloped. The next year they won the SEC; two years after that, they won the national championship (that Saban guy, it turns out, is a pretty good coach).
As for Alabama, the misery of 2000 wound up carrying over for the rest of the decade, as we've documented here endlessly. Since LSU broke the Tide's win streak in Baton Rouge, they've pretty much dominated Bama on any field: with last year's win in Baton Rouge, the Tigers are 8-3 vs. Bama this decade. Although everyone pretty much agrees the playing field is much more level since Nick Saban moved to Tuscaloosa.
The group that made that trip to Baton Rouge is a pretty diverse one. Most notable are Peter and Amanda, who argued incessantly pretty much all the way to Louisiana and all the way back to Tuscaloosa ... and have now been married for nearly six years, and have a two-year-old daughter.
Everyone knows you shouldn't let the good ones get away.

One addendum: Per my request, here is my friend Amanda's version of the story ...
Ebay was still pretty new then, and I was really into buying tickets on Ebay that season. I found a group of 7 tickets, and I found a group of people so I was pretty sure that I could bid on them. We ended up paying about $70 each, so $70 x 7, about $490 including shipping. I ended up having to walk from the bank to the post office to buy the money order with $490 cash, plus the cost of buying the money order, so I made Peter walk with me since I was carrying that much cash.

Tim Roberson reserved a hotel in Metarie, which was for more than just our party of 7. I think he had 7 hotel rooms. Our party of 7 was me, Peter, Will, Alison Britton, Sealy, Pete, and ?. Others on the trip included Lane and Valerie, who ended up spending the entirety of the game in a casino, even though they were both underage at the time. Buddy, Lori, Lisa, Blair, Heather Deal, Eric Elliot, Eric St. Clair, probably Scoob and some of the C.C. folks. I remember Buddy carrying a Big Ass beer down bourbon street. Keener and Clint Hathcock were also there, as was Daniel.

Peter borrowed his dad's Saturn for the trip, and in Peter's car were him, me, and Will. I'm sure we had to listen to that stupid orange CD (which Peter tells me was Nickel & Dime), and probably Smalltown Poets, too. Alabama hadn't lost a game there in over 30 years, as I remember it. We drove to Metarie, checked into the car, and then we drove into New Orleans to eat dinner. Peter was about to kill someone because he was so hungry. Peter was getting so testy that we started arguing as I told him how to drive. He told me to be quiet since I was his ride back home. After I said I could fly back home (meaning go to the airport and book a flight), he loudly muttered "yeah, on your BROOM." We ended up eating at some random Wendy's because that was the first place we could find, which I think was near the Superdome. Peter was meanwhile was putting curses on the city of New Orleans

We ate dinner, drove back to the hotel, and met up with everyone else, then drove BACK into New Orleans. At this point, somebody was driving somebody else's car and we ended up on a ferry on the Mississippi River trying to turn around (Sealy driving Valerie's car?). We ended up getting a huge table for 20 people, and it was so late we all ended up getting dessert. Will was sitting at the head of this very long table, and the waitress was flirting with Will. After some of them had started to leave, she hands Will the check, and it's something along the lines of $328.78. This meant that we either had to pay in cash, or somebody had to pay on the credit card, so it took about 20 minutes for everyone to leave because we're trying to divide everything up.

At this point, it's midnight, and Will sees some friend of his (or was that the next trip?) It's midnight, and we go to Cafe Du Monde and we EACH order the biggest Iced Coffee / Latte concoction you've ever seen, which meant that nobody was going to get any sleep all night. We hung out there for a while, discussing whatever we discussed. Then, we met back up with the other people who Peter was having to drive, and we got back to the hotel around 2 a.m.

Will and Peter refused to wear pajamas and instead slept in your clothes, which I thought was really weird. Sleeping arrangements were not as planned. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, That's all I've got to say about that.

At 4:30ish in the morning, Will curses, jumps out of bed, and walks out of the room. Amanda and Peter finally go to sleep.

The next day we drove to Baton Rouge. Can't remember if Pam rode with us or not. We saw a bunch of Alabama fans in limos and such on the way. We walked around campus some, found something to eat, and then it was time for the game. We sat in the upper section. I have little memory of the ball game, except Clint Hathcock (I swear it was him) (editor's note: it was not) shaking his shaker and chanting "it's your money, tear it down" as he was coming down the stairs while the LSU fans were trying to tear down the goalposts. Outside the stadium, LSU fans were heckling us "round the bowl, down the hole, roll tide roll."

We stopped at a Fuddruckers to eat dinner, and then went back to the hotel. We decided not to go back to New Orleans since we were late getting back and we hadn't slept the night before.

This trip also offered a clear signal that Peter and Will would not make good roommates. As soon as Peter heard Will talk in his sleep, Peter jumped up, grabbed a pen and paper, and wrote down the exact quote and the time (2:08 a.m.)

I don't remember much of the ride home. We had some type of strange conversation on the way back.

Peter realized when we got back that he lost his "brain" (his PDA) and didn't find it until May or something. There was also a rumor when we got back that Blair was hoarse because she and Peter had "hooked up" on the trip, even though the two were never in the same room, even in public. Peter realized after quickly denying the rumor that he could have had some fun with it, since he had a clear memory of the entire trip, but there may have been periods where her memory would be, shall we say, fuzzy.

Come to think of it, maybe losing his "brain" altered his life, since he might never have actually talked to people, run for president of Wesley, asked me out, changed his major, or preached his first sermon if he were still playing solitaire on that.

What am I leaving out?

All in all, a good road trip, but not as funny as the trip when Will took a vow of silence and tried to use a pay phone at the same time. Still one of the funniest things I've ever seen that I'm not sure I actually visually witnessed.

Other random memories
Tim Roberson having a cow about people paying for the rooms ahead of time
7 rooms with 49 people in them
$70 for hotel room, $70 for tickets
That's all we've got until our memory is further jogged.

1 comment:

--:: Eric St. Clair::-- said...

Nick and I were on the first row, I can verify the vaseline on the goalposts. The security guards told us that they weren't stopping anyone right before the game was over.