I promised back in March to deliver another road trip adventure. Here she is, folks! We go back to the 1997 season when the Auburn Tigers journeyed deep into Bayou Country for a very important conference game with the LSU Tigers. Auburn stood at 2-0 with victories over Virginia, in Charlottesville, and Ole Miss, at home. The Bayou Bengals were also 2-0. Their wins came in Tiger Stadium versus UTEP and in Starkville against Mississippi State. Both teams were ranked. Auburn was No. 12 and LSU No. 10.
My son, Luke, and I hit the trail on Friday, September 19 for the Saturday game down in Louisiana. The trip would take us from Atlanta, down I-85, eventually hitting I-65 in Montgomery, AL and on to Pascagoula, MS for the the evening. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott there on the Gulf Coast, but not before stuffing ourselves on a buffet at a nearby casino and losing a couple of rolls of quarters. We were hoping that was not a portent of things to come. After watching some Mr. Show, with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, we hit the hay.
A bright, hot and humid Saturday morning greeted us for the remainder of the drive to the Red Stick. Our entire family had made the trek in 1988 only to see our Tigers’ national championship hopes derailed, 7-6, in what is now infamously known as the “Earthquake Game.” Luke and I also attended the 1995 game at Tiger Stadium. LSU, 12-6.
We were hungry for a road win over the other Tigers, to say the least.
We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott, rewards points are nice, and went to get some lunch at a famous place, now closed, that served up some mighty fine po’ boys. We were the only patrons representing the visiting team in that eatery, and we did not get hassled either. We were ahead of the game!
Then it was time to circle back by the hotel and check on the Bama-Arkansas game which the Hawgs won, 17-16. That was an excellent choice of scores. For the uninformed, Auburn stunned no.2 Alabama by the same score in the epic “Punt, Bama, Punt” game in 1972.
Now it’s off to the lovely campus of Louisiana State University for a night game. Shudder!
We found a good tailgating spot which was not terribly far from Tiger Stadium. We were plenty early to take time and roam around the venerable, but highly inhospitable, ole gal. On the way there, and back to our vehicle, various insults about our team and our garb, were hurled at us. Welcome to Baton Rouge.
In all fairness, we did receive some welcoming words from a group or two. Tailgating in the SEC is one of life’s great pleasures and they do it very well at LSU. The boiling pots of crawfish, jambalaya and other Cajun creations is a sight to behold and smell. Yaaaaay Heeee!
Before long, though, we had to scurry back to the ’93 blue Saturn sedan for a couple of rounds of courage and the walk to the game. This is a time when your anticipation, and anxiety, is completely off the charts and your heart is beating like a rabbit’s. The excitement is at a fever pitch!
Now, let me emphatically say this. There is nothing like a night game in Baton Rouge at Tiger Stadium. Nothing! If you are a college football fan, and have a bucket list, put this at, or near, the top of it. Now! Get your pen, or pencil, and paper. Write it down. Now!
Luke and I squeezed through the crushing crowd at our gate which lead us through a portal and into a lower seating section of the south end zone.
Buckle your seat belts! Here we go!
The visiting Tigers came out on fire. They scored first on a 26 yard-pass from Dameyune Craig to fullback Fred Beasley. Craig, oddly enough, recently departed his position as wide receivers coach at Auburn to take an assistant coach position at LSU. Hicks Poor hauled in a 25-yard TD pass from Craig to go up 14-0 with 7:28 still remaining in the opening stanza. Wow!
LSU struck back on three-yard run by Cecil “The Diesel” Collins to cut the margin to seven. Collins ran over, around, and through the Auburn defense that night for 232 yards on 27 carries. Day-um!
At halftime the score was locked at 21. It appeared that Auburn could not stop Collins and that could, very well, spell their demise in the last quarter as he would continue to pound that defense.
At halftime we happened upon some old friends of mine from down in Lower Alabama and my hometown of Camden. We so enjoyed meeting again but soon it was time to get the second half underway and break the deadlock.
The only score in the third quarter was a 34-yard field goal by Auburn’s Jaret Holmes. The score stood 24-21, Auburn, as quarter four got underway.
Cecil Collins continued his land assault on Auburn’s D and Dameyune Craig did likewise, through the air, to LSU. Collins broke off on a 42-yard scamper, early in the final quarter, to give the hometown Tigers a 28-24 lead.
Both defenses held their ground and neither allowed a score for 12 or 13 minutes. The drama was as thick as the humidity enveloping Tiger Stadium. LSU was forced to punt with about three minutes left in the game. Auburn took the ball deep in its own territory. Luke buried his head in his hands and said he couldn’t watch as the East Alabama Felines would get one more crack at the, now formidable, LSU defense.
Ten Auburn players stood ready for huddle as Craig got his last second instructions from head coach Terry Bowden. Craig then began a gallop to his awaiting band of brothers. I told Luke that our Tigers were going to win and asked that he look up as I pointed to Craig and boldly stated, “And there is the reason why.”
The noise in Death Valley rose to a crescendo and was, literally, deafening. You could not even carry on a conversation amongst the roar in that bowl. Auburn began a march toward us and the south end zone. One first down, then another, and another as the clock ticked, ticked, ticked away and Auburn made its way deep into LSU territory.
There were now 46 seconds on the Tiger Stadium clock and Auburn found itself at the LSU one-yard line.
As Craig, again, jogs onto the field, the 80,538 fans assembled in this hallowed venue create an ear-shattering twelfth man. One inhales and the smell of bourbon opens the nasal passages.
Auburn comes to the line of scrimmage. Craig makes every effort to communicate with his troops as he barks up and down the line-of-scrimmage. It seems as though we can reach out and touch the 22 Tigers there before us. Craig takes the snap. The visitors offensive front, pads low, makes a huge surge forward. A hole, that I could run through, opens on the right side of Auburn’s line, and tailback Rusty Williams rumbles through it and falls into the purple and gold of LSU’s end zone with 30 ticks remaining on the clock.
There is a moment of stunned silence as the LSU Tiger faithful sit in disbelief.
The Auburn band plays “War Eagle” over and over.
Shortly, the game itself is over.
Auburn 31, LSU 28.
The two teams of Tigers, ultimately, tie for the SEC West title and Auburn goes on to play the Peyton Manning-led Tennessee Volunteers for the SEC Championship.
Football on Saturday night. Church on Sunday morning.
Life in the Deep South.