By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
This one, West Virginia nation, will be different. Trust me. I’ve been there and a football Saturday at Baton Rouge, La., is an experience like nowhere else.
Hostile, intimidating, invigorating … that’s LSU football.
They call it the Earthquake Game, although there was not really an earthquake. The year was 1988 and LSU was facing No. 4 Auburn in Tiger Stadium. With 1:41 left, the Bayou Tigers scored on a TD pass from quarterback Tommy Hodson to Eddie Fuller.
That set out a roar from the crowd that was so immense it registered as an earthquake on a seismograph in LSU’s Howe-Russell Geoscience Complex.
Things like that happen at LSU. Always have, always will. Go back to 1972 for what they call “The Night the Clock Stopped Game”.
LSU was ranked No. 6 but staring defeat in the eye as unranked Mississippi led, 16-10.
Only four seconds remained on the scoreboard clock … the longest four seconds in history.
Quarterback Bert Jones threw deep and incomplete. It was a long play, one that had to have taken all four seconds, but as fans looked up at the clock there remained one more tick.
That was all Jones needed, completing a pass to running back Brad Davis, who took it into the end zone for a 17-16 triumph.
So legendary was that moment that a song was written to commemorate the game. It was called “One Second Blues” and it was featured on an album entitled “Hey Fightin’ Tigers.” That album did not sell well in Mississippi.
The incident had another repercussion, for there was a sign at the state line as you crossed from Mississippi into Louisiana that read: “You are now entering Louisiana. Set your clocks back four seconds.”
One final thing, the Ole Miss yearbook that year reported the score of that game as “Ole Miss 16, LSU 10+7.
Yes, sir, it’s a different world down there. We up here in West Virginia may think we are intimidating with our Mountaineer Mascot shooting off his rifle, but it ain’t nothing to the sounds they get out of Mike VI.
Mike VI is the LSU mascot, a live Bengali-Siberian hybrid, the sixth in a line of mascots that dates back to 1936. He lives across the street from Tiger Stadium in a habitat especially created to make him feel right at home, with 15,000 square feet of lush plants, a live oak tree and a waterfall and stream running through plants and trees.
On game day he is put in a cage and taken around the stadium. In the old days, they used to rattle the cage to make him roar but that was challenged as being cruel, so for a number of years they pumped in a recorded roar.
Today, Mike VI roars on his own and the tradition is that LSU will score a touchdown for every roar.
And where does he stay during the game?
Parked right outside the visitor’s dressing room, meaning the West Virginia players must go past his cage coming out and going onto the field, a not so subtle reminder of what may be in store.
When it was suggested Sunday to Coach Bill Stewart that the only way to get his players ready for that, he laughed heartily and said, “That’d be a good promotion, but I don’t think the administration will let me have a caged tiger down here at the field.”
Stewart knows, however, that a night game at LSU is something none of his players have ever experienced and that it isn’t something easy to handle.
“I’ve been there before and I know it’s going to be fun and challenging, and we just need to play our game,” Stewart said, when asked how he’ll handle it. “The field is still 100-yards long with 10-yard end zones at 52-yards wide, so I’m just going to tell the guys to stay the course.%
“We’re going to rally around each other, believe and trust in our coaches and we’re going to bond and have that love that only a team can have. Hopefully it will be enough to get us through.”
It will not only be loud and hostile for the players, but for the fans, who are sure to get a taste of what it’s like for visiting fans to come to Morgantown.
Tailgating is an art at LSU, even more than it is here. Those who rate such things normally have the LSU experience near the top, often overlooking WVU completely.
While 60,000 WVU fans drink beer and shout “Let’s Go, Mountaineers!” in Baton Rouge it’s 90,000 fans, who get a whole lot of practice partying at Mardi Gras time, drinking and yelling “Geaux, Tigers!” while heckling visiting fans and calling them “Tiger Bait! Tiger Bait!” as those stroll by.
This has been known to set off more than parking lot incident over the years.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.