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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : They've Got Spirits : LSU Football Is Big, and the Proof Is at Tiger Stadium

September 26, 1987|RICHARD HOFFER | Times Staff Writer

"Then, too, I think the fans' heritage has a lot to do with it, how they handle their emotions," added Ferguson, who broadcast games from 1946 to 1983. "They're a fun-loving, free-wheeling type of person, and I think that has a lot to do with their French heritage. In north Louisiana, even, they are more reserved than these folks. They're a different breed."

These conditions conspire to make it difficult indeed on the visiting team.

"It's a strange place," agreed Ara Parseghian, who brought a Notre Dame team here in 1971. "The crowd is right on top of you, no track to buffer the noise. We knew what to expect, we had played in big, noisy stadiums. But there's no crowd like this. They never stop, and it's like one, continuous pep talk."

Parseghian maintained, however, that the crowd doesn't make it impossible to win here. "The crowd doesn't make any tackles or block anybody," the old coach reminded.

So, how'd it turn out, coach?

"We got our tails handed to us," he said.

Hardesty, sports editor of the Baton Rouge States-Times for nearly 40 years, said the stadium really got its reputation for intimidation in the late 1950s, when Mississippi suddenly lost the ability to win there.

"Ole Miss would come in and, for some reason, just freeze up when the crowd noise started," he said. "I think it was in 1961, they had a terrific team, ranked second and LSU was third. They thought they were finally going to win here. But when they came out onto the field it seemed their eyes were glazed. They were in a state of shock."

Ole Miss lost again.

Well, why wouldn't their eyes have been glazed. Like USC in 1979, Ole Miss probably came in Friday night to work out at the stadium and, like USC, was greeted by hundreds of kids shouting, "Tiger Bait."

When USC walked from the bus to the stadium, a strikebreaking atmosphere prevailed. All that was missing were 2 X 4s and a gantlet. Several hundred fans remained to watch a "closed" workout, giving the Trojans, who won that game in a wild finish, a pregame taste.

Then, too, how settled would your nerves be if you had to suit up in a room next to a 500-pound Bengal, who might loose a roar from time to time. He's actually put next to the visiting team's dressing room before game time, believe it.

About this Bengal: It's not your ordinary papier-mache mascot. This guy--Mike IV, part of a 51-year tradition of big cats--would have some fun with that stupid Notre Dame leprechaun, put it that way. He'd drag Traveler down from behind just for the fun of it. And the fans would toast him for it.

Mike, who lives in a nice zoo-like cage 50 yards from the stadium and is cared for by the veterinary school, makes a mockery of those schools that dress up students in big-cat heads. Make a snack of them. The cheerleaders roll him around the field--in a cage, of course--before the game and, if they're lucky, get an amplified roar out of him.

"In the old days, a cheerleader would stick him with a broom, get him to roar," Hardesty said. "Although, with the first one, you never had to do much. He was kind of mean."

It probably doesn't inspire confidence to learn that Mike IV got loose once. Not during a game, or the name Death Valley might have real meaning. But the night before a game, some Tulane students, it is believed, opened his cage and let him out. He was soon located on a nearby track, presumably looking for a stray gazelle, and taken down with a tranquilizing gun.

The next day, his trainer discovered some small pines nearby that had been snapped in two. He was half-horrified that, if he looked further, he might find an empty pair of shoes somewhere. He didn't.

"They can't play the game without him," Ferguson said. "When the first one died, people were destroyed. Held ceremonies all day long. He's stuffed now, in a museum."

That tells you something, too.

Today, Ohio State will not enjoy the full experience. "Day games are not what this is about," Hardesty said.

The crowd will not be fully lubricated or fed, the swamp gas will not be properly illuminated, and Mike IV might not be in a feeding frenzy. Still, with 80,000 people, all eager for a good time, there could be a small share of excitement.

It could, it's possible, even rank with that USC game, which Ferguson considers the record-holder for sheer noise.

"It seemed to me there were 80,000 people, practically joined by hand, in a frenzy not for either team, but for the occasion," he said. "They were cheering the event and they didn't stop for three hours."

Ferguson paused to consider the prospects. "Oh, we'll have a stud of a time."

As he said so, the motor homes were lumbering into place in the Traveling Tiger lot.

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