Supporters fete champs, Southern U.

Updated: January 25, 2004, 1:17 AM ET
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. -- More than 25,000 fans sat in a steady downpour in Tiger Stadium on Saturday to celebrate LSU's championship season.

The big crowd acted as if it were a game night, chanting "LSU, LSU," and cheering the team that won the Bowl Championship Series title -- the Tigers' first national title since 1958.

"We can't celebrate this too much," said Rose Ryan, 19. "This team made history."

The event was part of a citywide celebration that began with a "Parade of Champions" which honored both LSU and Southern University.

LSU (13-1) won the BCS title with a 21-14 victory over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4 and Southern (12-1) won the Southwestern Athletic Conference title.

The LSU band played the school fight song "Mike" and the school mascot -- a Bengal tiger -- was paraded around the field in his cage and roared as he does on game nights.

The LSU players, wearing white jerseys with their numbers on them, ran onto the field as their names were read one by one. Several wiped tears from their faces as they took their seats. The steady cheer for the team became a roar when coach Nick Saban finally strode the length of the field.

"This was really wonderful," said quarterback Matt Mauck.

Mauck, who turns 25 next month, graduated in pre-med in December and is getting married in February. He announced earlier this month that he will forego his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

He and receiver Michael Clayton, who will also enter the NFL draft early, were co-captains of the team, and joined Saban on stage for the presentations of half a dozen trophies LSU won this year.

"After listening to all these stories about the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, these are the good old days," chancellor Mark Emmert told the crowd.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive presented the conference trophy to LSU, noting that it was the second one the Tigers had won in three years.

Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan presented the BCS trophy. After it was wheeled forward, Clayton took the crystal football from atop it, walked to the front of the stage and held it aloft in one hand and extended his other hand to signal No. 1.

Clayton told the crowd that when he was a senior in high school he went to an LSU game and wasn't very impressed. Later, however, he watched the Tigers win and saw the crowd's excitement.

"And I knew I wanted to be a part of something special here," Clayton said. "Next year, I won't be here, but the team will be playing again for a national championship. I guarantee that."

Saban called the LSU fans the best in the world and said they made Tiger Stadium the best place in the nation to play football. Then he saluted his players.

"This is the most special group of guys and the most games I ever won as a coach," Saban said.

Rumors have swirled around Saban all year, suggesting he would leave for the NFL. Saban didn't refer to them directly, but reassured the fans that he was happy being where he was.

"You make Tiger Stadium the most special player in the world to play a football game," Saban told the fans. "This is the greatest place to be the coach of any place in the United States in any league."

The event ended with the raising of the 2003 National Championship flag in the stadium end zone.<

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press