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LSU fans painting New Orleans purple and gold

1/4/2004

NEW ORLEANS -- You would think it's a pep rally. You would think it's one giant celebration of everything that ever was, is and will be Tigers. You would be right.

In a city known for its monstrous conventions, you would think this was just one more -- some sort of a massive purple and gold LSU reunion. It's that unavoidable. Everywhere you turn here this weekend, that's all you can find -- loud, often obnoxiously excited LSU fans screaming, scribbling and shouting, "Geaux Tigers," every chance they get.

On Sunday morning, instead of alarm clocks, wake-up calls or the simple howl of a rooster, most college football fans woke up with the never-ending echo of "Tiger Bait" rattling in their brains.

On the streets, in bars, restaurants, hotel lobbies, restrooms and hallways, the cheer has been inescapable.

"I don't think this city has seen anything like this," said 42-year-old Marla Conrdreaux, a local parking lot attendant a few blocks from the Superdome. "Maybe if the Saints were playing here in the Super Bowl, but even then, that's a bunch of adults. This is a bunch of drunk college kids."

Is it ever.

There are two words that best describe what Bourbon Street was on Saturday night and what the five-block radius around the Superdome is like on Sunday: Spring Break.

Picture co-eds in either too-tight or too-loose tank tops. Picture ever-widening puddles of drool at the feet of nearly every man wandering the streets. Picture thousands upon thousands of beer kegs, even more Hurricanes and, oh yes, a non-stop aerial assault of purple and gold beads.

Outside the Superdome Sunday afternoon, there were four grown men painted in purple from head to toe, wearing gold Speedos. One scantily-clad woman had "L" painted above her left breast, an "S" painted above her right breast and a giant "U painted on her navel.

LUS?

"No, silly," the 22-year-old Jackie Nouveau said. "It's L-S-U. The idea is for your eyes to travel."

I see.

At nearly ever corner, bands played at a deafening pitch, while nearby DJs competed to be louder. Hundreds of fans held signs, raised their fingers and all-out begged for an extra ticket. But few were to be had.

At one corner, Baton Rouge native Nancy Hazlette stole the show with her purple and yellow oversized poodles. One was completely shaved, with only one patch of hair left to spell "LSU." The other had the word "Tigers" carved in its side. Everybody wanted a picture.

"It's been a big hit," Hazlette said. "Everybody seems to want to come by and take a picture. We usually tailgate at every game, but we only color the dogs purple for big games. And this one certainly qualifies."

An estimated 200,000 fans were expected to converge here this weekend -- not including the roughly 80,000 that will actually be in the game.

Cars, trucks and SUVs were driving up Poydras Street, the main thoroughfare through the heart of New Orleans, blasting the LSU fight song. One such car, a gold and yellow painted El Camino, had two giant megaphones atop the cab.

Yet nothing has been more prevalent, more overbearingly obnoxious than the endless yelling of "Tiger Bait." Almost every single Oklahoma fan that made their way through the French Quarter on Saturday night or to Superdome on Sunday was greeted with a row of fingers pointed in their faces and "Tiger Bait" yelled at them.

Once, a kid pointed out of the backseat of his Dad's SUV when he spotted three Sooner fans minding their own business on the sidewalk.

"TIGUH BAIT! TIGUH BAIT! TIGUH BAIT!"

"You think they'd come up with something new," Sooner fan Bill Hinkel said. "I mean pointing at me and calling me Tiger Bait? C'mon. That's about as ridiculous as me walking up and down the streets constantly yelling, L-S-Who?

"It's OK, though. We'll see who's laughing Sunday night."

And there's the interesting part. Sometime around midnight tonight, one of the greatest party cities in the nation, and one of its wildest, most over-the-top streets, will be overcome with a party that is sure to rival the greatest Mardi Gras ...

... or it will be a haven for mass depression. One 60-minute football game will decide the difference.

Are we really secure?

So much for the snipers, the assault rifles, the camouflage-clad National Guard, the ultra-sensitive hand wands and the six-inch chain link fences surrounding the Superdome.

I walked into the stadium some three and a half hours before kickoff on Sunday untouched.

While a line of OU fans stood waiting to have their backs checked and their bodies wanded, I walked through an opening in one of the fences. A national guard standing there gave me a friendly nod as I walked by.

I figured more security would be waiting for me, but it never came. When I made my way to the main media entrance, I walked in the door, flashed my credential and headed straight for the press box elevator. Nobody patted me down. Nobody sent me through a metal detector. And nobody wanded me. My oversized computer bag went unmolested as well.

Earlier this week, representatives from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, not to mention SMG, which manages the Superdome, told reporters how the heightened state of alert our country was in would lead to ultra-tight security, similar to the compound-like atmosphere that surrounded 2002 Super Bowl.

Hmm. Makes you wonder …

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.