Hurricane victims anxious for distraction of Tigers-Vols
BATON ROUGE, La. -- As Mike the Tiger slept, kids and parents crowded into a corner to get a close look at LSU's mascot in his enormous, enclosed sanctuary Sunday.
Elsewhere around campus, broken tree limbs were being sawed off huge, old oak trees, cleanup crews gathered smaller fallen branches into piles and white pickup trucks carrying workers and toting away the mess left by Hurricane Rita made up the bulk of the traffic.
The day before LSU's long-awaited home opener, Baton Rouge was hot and windy, but for the most part dry, and recovering from the second hurricane to slam into Louisiana in less than a month.
Erin Larmann, like most of the people around here, looks at the Tigers' game against Tennessee on Monday night (ESPN2, 7:30 ET), which was pushed back two days because of Rita, as part of that recovery.
"I definitely think it's about time," said Larmann, who was forced out of New Orleans by Katrina and has been staying with friends in Baton Rouge. She and her family got out unharmed. "Everybody is looking for something to celebrate about -- celebrating how fortunate we've all been."
Not far away, the American flag flew at half-staff for those who have not been as fortunate.
No. 3 LSU has played just one game because of Katrina and Rita. Three times the Tigers had their home opener delayed by storms that ravaged Louisiana's Gulf Coast and sent thousands seeking shelter in the state's capitol.
The only game the Tigers played, they won, 35-31 over Arizona State in Tempe. That game on Sept. 10 was supposed to be played at Tiger Stadium.
But then the LSU campus was housing thousands of evacuees, and being used as a staging area for relief workers.
Slowly, the campus has returned to normal. No longer are people sleeping in the basketball arena.
"We served a role there," LSU athletic department spokesman Michael Bonnette said. "We did our part in trying to help through a difficult time, but since we've kind of come back to a normal state. School's in and things are the way they are supposed to be."
Football season still hasn't started in one of its hotbeds.
New LSU coach Les Miles and his talented team were supposed finally get their home season started on Saturday, but with Hurricane Rita heading toward Louisiana, Tennessee pushed for the game to be delayed again.
The Vols even considered forfeiting if the game wasn't moved to Monday night.
With so many around Louisiana hoping to escape all the bad news for a few hours, another postponed Tigers game only added to the exasperation brought about by Rita.
"Are we going to ever get a game?," said Edward Collins, who lives about 40 miles away from Baton Rouge near Hammond but was spending Sunday fishing not far from Tiger Stadium.
The postponement turned out to be a good idea.
Rita dumped at least 5 inches of rain on Baton Rouge and did another number on its trees. While it did no major damage here, it wouldn't have been a good day to be traveling around Louisiana or into the state, as Tennessee planned to do.
Having escaped Rita's worst, people in Baton Rouge could turn their thoughts to football.
But is it still too soon for the Tigers to be playing games? Is it disrespectful to so many residents who have felt the brunt of the tragedy?
One caller to a sports talk-radio show suggested that, saying LSU should consider canceling its season.
It was hard to find anyone else in Baton Rouge who agreed.
"We're starving for football," the next caller to the show said.
Lucie Agosta, 45, of Baton Rouge, said it's not just about football.
"We need something positive," she said. "We need to change venues."
Pfc. Jason Nieves of the 82nd Airborne, who has been distributing supplies to hurricane victims all over Louisiana, said playing football in Baton Rouge sends a good message about the recovery effort.
"It shows people that there is progress being made, things are moving forward," he said.
Crews are expected to be on campus clearing debris into Monday, but Bonnette said they should finish before fans start arriving.
Classes have been canceled at LSU because of the hurricane clean up, which should alleviate parking problems. Traffic, however, is expected to be especially heavy.
But LSU officials aren't deterring tailgating. It's what makes LSU games so special and makes the Tigers, even more than the Saints, Louisiana's team, said Chris Boyer of Harahan, a suburb of New Orleans.
"The atmosphere is just so different. You'll spend all day out here," he said. "We'll see people we haven't seen since the last game of last season."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press