With a hint of nostalgia in his voice, former LSU coach Les Miles harkened back to January of 2008. LSU won the national title in New Orleans with an authoritative 38-24 victory over Ohio State in the Bowl Championship Series title game at a raucous Superdome.
With No. 1 LSU essential hosting No. 3 Clemson in this year’s College Football Playoff title game at the Superdome, Miles recalls throngs of fans everywhere from the team hotel to awaiting the buses at practices. “There’s crowds everywhere,” Miles said of New Orleans. “It’s a great place to play. It’s a great place to eat. It’s going to be fun for both teams. A little more fun for LSU, now.”
Miles recalled the Superdome being so loud that even LSU couldn’t execute its snap count on the opening series of the game. So just imagine what it was like for Ohio State. “LSU loves that city and that city loves LSU,” Miles said. “LSU’s football team just means a lot more in the state of Louisiana than any other. It’s a great advantage for LSU.”
A heartbreaking loss by New Orleans’ first football love, the Saints, will cast a pall over the city for the next week. The 26-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings shifts the focus to the city’s second football love – coach Ed Orgeron and star quarterback Joe Burrow’s undefeated Tigers.
There’s still a full week of buildup for the game, which will put a vice grip on the city’s and state’s attention. Political commentator James Carville, a New Orleans resident who attended his first LSU game in 1950, jokes that the predominantly Catholic background of people in Louisiana makes them skeptical of good news. He said the entire scenario of this historic LSU season unfolding with a climax in New Orleans is like a fever dream for a tortured fan base.
“No one has any experience in dealing with this,” he said. “I can’t even imagine this happening. It’s going to be wild.”
Clemson officials acknowledge their bad luck that LSU’s historic season coincides with New Orleans hosting the title game, something that’s determined years in advance. (Alabama faced a similar scenario in the 2012 BCS title game and still managed to thump LSU, 21-0, in the Superdome.) Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich called it “more of a road game” for Clemson, which has won 29 consecutive games and is the defending national champion. “From our perspective, it’s the next game on the schedule,” Radakovich said. “They have incredible tradition and a great fan base. It’s something that our fans are going to embrace.”
How many Clemson fans will be there? Clemson’s ticket allotment is 20,000 of the 74,000 seats at the Superdome, which means at least a quarter of the stadium should be dotted with Clemson orange. LSU also gets 20,000 tickets, which means the fate of the remaining 35,000 will determine just how much of a home-field advantage LSU gets.
While some of those tickets will be distributed to corporate partners, there’s a good chance that the seats in flux end up being bathed in LSU purple and gold. Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen said this is the most he’s ever been asked about a ticket for a sporting event that doesn’t involve his own school.
According to data from StubHub, there’s a strong expectation that LSU fans are going to dominate the secondary market. Fans from Louisiana represent 34 percent of the StubHub buyers, compared to 6 percent from South Carolina, where Clemson is located. And the ticket business is booming, as the average ticket price is $1,972, or 21 percent higher than last year’s title game in the Bay Area. The cheapest ticket to get into the LSU-Clemson game is nearly $940.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn played against LSU in the Sugar Bowl following the 2006 season. What was it like to play LSU in the Superdome? “[It was] 100 percent a road game,” Quinn told Yahoo Sports.
Quinn said that during the week, as the Irish players explored the French Quarter, they thought they’d have a decent crowd representing them at the game. Reality hit when they arrived at the Superdome for what turned out to be a 41-14 LSU win. “It was about 90 percent LSU fans,” Quinn said. “We had to go silent count for the majority of the game.”
None of this is surprising to Miles, who led LSU to back-to-back victories in the Superdome at the conclusion of the 2006 and 2007 season. The latter of those delivered LSU its last national title, a quirky 12-2 season befitting of the coach who delivered it. “I have to say that this comes close to going to church on Sunday,” he said of LSU fans attending games. “I think people would feel more guilty if they didn’t go to the football game.”
To illustrate what LSU means culturally in Louisiana, Carville tells the story of being in Los Angeles and asking someone at a bar how they thought the Trojans would be. He joked that if you ask a stranger in a bar in Louisiana about LSU, you’d get a 15-minute answer. In Los Angeles, which lacks the same parochial nature, he said the response to asking about the Trojans may be: “The rubber machine is in the bathroom.”
Carville adds: “The intensity around USC is one-tenth of what it is here. It’s a different culture.”
And that culture gets a celebration of itself in the form of an LSU home game in the Superdome on Jan. 13 with the national title on the line. Someone tell Trevor Lawrence to be ready to operate in a silent count.
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