Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bourbon & Time Eases All Pain

In January of 2004 LSU went to the BCS title game and played the University of Oklahoma. The game took place in the Superdome in New Orleans and was the first time LSU had sniffed the national title since 1958. It was a BIG DEAL. In fact, with 1958 being LSU's ONLY national title, it was the biggest deal. And I was lucky enough to still be at school there. (In my super super senior year, what of it?)

I drove the 75 miles down I-10 to New Orleans, taking the exit that wraps around the Superdome and parking in my favorite lot at the Hilton at the end of Canal Street, with the person I was dating at the time, before heading into the throngs of people along Poydras Street. I joined revelers in purple and gold in the cold January air.

We didn't have tickets to the game. They were an impossible get. You had to know someone in congress and pray that you were well liked by them. I was not that well connected.

We'd actually gone to an LSU girls basketball game earlier that day to try and win tickets, they were giving away a pair as a promo. We weren't that lucky.

Down in New Orleans, the air was electric. And freezing. I had very little discretionary money with which to buy tickets. I was a broke undergrad. (Ugh. How little has changed terrifies me.)

If you've been following along at home, you know I have amazing observational skills. They often serve me well. I notice this group of three guys standing a little ways off to the side of me, after we'd been walking up and down the street for a few hours trying to procure tickets to no avail. They seemed like corporate types, as they weren't adorned in the colors of either institution. I hear them discussing an extra ticket. "We can't scalp it. That's illegal. What do we do with it?" I like to imagine that their missing compatriot was passed out in his hotel room after enjoying too much of what New Orleans has to offer.

Upon overhearing this conversation, I interject that they are allowed to sell the ticket outside the stadium, just only for face value. (In retrospect these many years later, I should have just told them they could give it to me. Missed opportunities for a thousand please, Alex.) They then hem and haw before turning back to me and say, "Well, do you want it?" Why, yes, fine corporate gentleman with no rooting interest, I ABSOLUTELY will take that pesky lone ticket off your hands. I fork over the $200 for the ticket.

And promptly went about looking to resell it.

I know. You just gasped. "But how could you?! You LOVE LSU football! More than anything!"

Yes. Yes, I do. But at that moment in time I don't think my love of LSU football had cemented itself in my brain as completely as it has at this later point in life, if that makes any sense. And I was dating someone at the time who was very important to me and who I knew that there was no way in god's green earth I could possibly ever leave alone in New Orleans without having to bail that person out of jail later. I really didn't want that happening. Unable to procure a second ticket, I did the next best thing and sold it, flaunting the scalping laws of Louisiana.

I sold the ticket for a $300 profit to an Oklahoma fan. (It seemed unethical to rip off a Louisiana fan. In retrospect, a rich alumn might not have cared but younger me didn't consider things that way.)

Also, and I have no idea how it is post Katrina, but the Superdome used to be one of the worst venues in sports. Not sitting there cramped was alright by me.

I was perfectly content having free money with which to find a table at a nearby sports bar and drinking and eating without worrying about how much I couldn't afford it/finding bail money later. The person I was dating was afraid I was going to hate them for life, trading being together for being at the game. Even after we broke up and there was no love lost there (though, this is me, I'm completely apathetic at this point), I honestly don't regret not being in the dome at the game. Being in New Orleans, hanging with my fellow LSU lovers, being around the environment was plenty for me. I would have felt the same way were I down there this time and unable to get into the game. (I more regret being responsible about my job and leaving the city early to be at work the next day.)

We ended up at the House of Blues, drank beers, ate snacks, watched LSU break Oklahoma's will and ultimately win the game. I was elated. We were newly crowned national champions!

Once the game ended, we made our way immediately out of HoB and down Bourbon St., still not crowded yet as the throngs had yet to catch up to us. We were headed to Port of Call on Esplenade for a celebratory burger. On our walk, my companion had to make a pit stop. So we ducked into Lafitte's Blacksmith Tavern. I waited in the main part of the bar, worried I'd get kicked out of there because I wasn't buying anything. As I stood awkwardly (so much of my life is standing awkwardly it seems), I noticed a girl bawling her eyes out at the bar. She was with someone, but along with my natural observation skills is a natural nosyness, the curse of being the daughter of cops. I go to see what's going on and ask her if she's okay. I don't remember her being adorned in Oklahoma gear but she might have been.

Through gasping sobs she tells me, "I can't believe we lost!" I console her, half laughing, and say, "Awww! Sweetie! It'll be okay! It's just a football game. There will be others!" She says, "It's just not fair! You don't understand! You have all this (motions to our surroundings, meaning the city of New Orleans)! All we have is (sobs)...is (sobs)...COWS!" I genuinely laughed, gave her a hug, rejoined my companion after being assured this poor Sooners fan was safe, and went on my way.

It remains, to my mind, one of the funniest football related interactions I have ever had.

Until tonight. Not so much with the laughs. It should have occurred to me then, especially considering my school hadn't been there in almost 50 years, that these opportunities don't often present themselves. Even if you're an Oklahoma fan with 7 titles under your belt. Even if you're an LSU fan going to the title game for the 3rd time in a decade. It may come on the heels of another 50 year drought.

I went into today not really feeling it. I was having a hard time, feeling depressed, with a lot of tangential stuff related to game buildup/not being there, as mentioned a few posts ago, and other bigger life stuff. I just...I don't know. I knew without knowing? I tried to be excited. I wanted to be excited, the way I had been for Oregon and Florida and Auburn and West Virginia (Bama 1 carries way too much crap with it) but I just wasn't. Which made me feel worse somehow. LSU is playing in THE biggest game of the year and I can't get off the mat for it? What is wrong with me? (Rhetorical question.)

I stayed at home and watched the game with my favorite junk food, Abita, and Chuck watching with me. The dogs were annoying the piss out of me, despite making sure to run them at the dog park so that they wouldn't be crazy, which didn't have the desired effect, until I finally kicked them out and could focus on the game. It didn't work. I was in all my LSU gear, head to toe, top to bottom, and yet...

It was pointless. I'm not gonna break down the game. There are far smarter people than me who can do that. You can look at the score and know a lot: 21-0. Our defense kept us in it a lot longer than we probably deserved. The offense was just...there aren't even words. I swore up a storm on Twitter. By the 4th quarter, when we couldn't get our offense moving even given chances, I started watching hockey highlights. I couldn't take it.

It likely would have been easier to stomach a well fought battle or a close game. "Chin up, chaps! You fought hard and came up short in the end! Cheer cheer!" You can always say that at the end of a game you are contending in (if you're in Dickensian England anyway). But we were never ever in this. We lost the coin toss. We could have stopped there. However, even in such a thorough shellacking, I'm less likely to slit my wrists than I thought I would be. It's likely been replaced by rage at wondering WTFF my head coach was thinking because I am at a complete and total loss.

But it was only replaced by rage after the tears.*

I suddenly knew exactly where that Oklahoma fan was coming from. In a world where, as you get older, so much is a grind and things suck and you feel a bit helpless, college football is our bright spot. To come to the top of the mountain, to be the best of the best, to have dominated every opponent all season long (save for Bama 1 which was still a win, mind you), to go through the elation of it and the nerves, to tie your hopes to that of your teams, only to then watch it all just wash away in such a spectacular failure is an awful awful feeling. It's never JUST a football game.

And we are left for the next 8 months with that collective failure as our football legacy. Just...ugh.

We try to put the anger and rage and hurt away, channeling it into something useful (at least that's what I'll do. I hope the team does as well), and circle November 3, 2012 on the calendar for the rematch. A night game in Tiger Stadium.

There is one upside: I feel a lot less despondent about not being in New Orleans for the game. I'm not convinced even my presence could have willed my team to a win. I'll save/get/make/steal money and hope to have the opportunity to attend the aforementioned rematch. I thought I'd be angry with this team, this game, the coaching for a long time. I thought I'd have a "Guh, I don't even want to watch this!" attitude in September. I could envision it all in my head. But even a mere five hours after the game, the rage begins to subside and you start to think about rebuilding. Hope springs eternal each first Saturday of the football season.

An aside: Our head coach at the time of the 2004 game was Nick Saban. And every time on ESPN all night tonight whenever they would mention this win being his third national title, as he raised that crystal ball over his head, I would get so angry that they left out the part where the first one was AT MY SCHOOL. Though: as the stinging emotions of this night do wane, I'm much happier with Les as the captain of this wacky, zany ship than I think I would ever have been with Saban and his stick up his ass ways. You keep him, Bama.

As I mentioned on Twitter, and became the title of this post: bourbon and time eases all pain. Let's raise a glass and start prepping for 2012. 

Geaux Tigahs.

*To clarify: there were no gasping sobs. I was not the wreck the poor Oklahoma fan was. I was sober, despite a few Abitas, and more enraged than anything. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up a bit at it all.

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