“It all makes a body tingle. These folks go berserk when the band marches on the field. A huge roar is heard for the Invocation, for heaven’s sake. They not only know the words to the national anthem, they sing them, loudly. And, when the Tigers win the (opening coin) toss, as happened Saturday, there are tears of ecstasy.”
These word were penned in an October 8, 1979 Sports Illustrated article. On September 29, 1979 the greatest assemblage of college football talent ever to appear on one roster played in the greatest football game I ever saw. The University of Southern California came to Baton Rouge ranked No. 1 with a roster that included four Hall of Famers, 12 future first-round draft picks and two Heisman Trophy winners in the same backfield. The Tigers had none.
My beloved Fightin’ Tigers whipped the mighty USC Trojans on that crisp fall evening when I was 12 years old, no matter that the scoreboard read USC-17, LSU-12 as the stadium clock read 0:00. I watched the infamous face mask play over and over the other night and still could not tell if the call was correct.
That year, the Tigers had a 4-3 home record but, for my money, 1979 was the greatest year the Tigers ever had. It was the year when I began to understand the mythical, mystical, magical place that is Tiger Stadium.
The first time I set foot in Tiger Stadium was in 1971 when my Granddaddy, Wade H. “Doc” Sigmon, starting taking me to games.
I don’t remember much about that first game other than the Tigers clobbered the Tulane Greenwave 36-7. Doc was loyal to both schools since he had attended each for undergrad and medical school. I vividly remember the hideous half-gold, half-green bow tie he wore to LSU-Tulane games. That bow tie was the only concession Doc would allow any opponent, for he bled purple and gold through and through.
He played college football himself at Appalachian State University in the state of his birth, North Carolina. Doc served in the Navy during WWII where he met and fell in love with Gran, Doris Schexnaydre, who hailed from St. James, Louisiana. They soon married and moved to Newton, North Carolina, where my mom, Judy, was born on August 2, 1944.
Soon enough they came to their senses and moved back to St. James Parish.
Doc went to LSU on the G.I. Bill and medical school at Tulane thereafter. While an intern Doc was given his four season tickets by a kindly doctor who was his mentor. Alas, this was a few years after the Tigers’ glorious 1958 National Championship season.
I believe those four tickets in the north end zone, 17 rows up and inbetween the goalposts were his most cherished possession. He sat in Section 216, Row F, Seats 5-8, right next to the Student Section (Doc always sat in seat 5). Every time he entered Gate 6 (the gate which the Golden Band from Tigerland enters now) he knew in his heart the Tigers were going to win. He told me so.
It didn’t matter a lick if “Bear” Bryant’s vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide was the opponent or The Rice University Owls, Doc believed Coach Mac (Charles McClendon) and his boys would find a way. The Tigers beat ‘Bama 20-15 in 1969, the only time Doc got to see it in Tiger Stadium. Till the day he died in the late ‘80s Doc regaled me with stories of that Saturday night. He never claimed to have witnessed Billy Cannon’s famous Halloween night run.
On game day Doc was all business.
“Wop, you better be ready to go if you’re comin’ with me,” he’d tell me.
That’s what he called me.
I got to go to a lot of games with Granddaddy in the mid-70s since the Tigers had a pedestrian 17-14-1 record from 1974-76. It didn’t matter to me. Every game seems like it’s for the national championship when your 7 years old, I guess.
Doc didn’t tailgate. We ate lunch at the Student Union and then it was on to Tiger Stadium. Doc refused to miss pregame warm-ups. I loved it. Our seats are at just the right elevation to catch the extra-points when the kicker hits it solid with just the right hook to it. During warm-ups you have the place to yourself, and it’s quite a bit easier to catch those extra-points.
I felt cheated in the late -80s when David Browndyke was LSU’s placekicker because, being left-footed, his kicks curved the other way. Now, the grounds crew raises an “All-State” net to keep footballs from going into the stands during extra points. I deeply resent the fact that the net is not raised in the south end zone.
Catching those extra-points was ritual. Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night is all about ritual and memories for me. I can count on The Golden Band from Tigerland’s march onto the field which culminates in those four signature notes of the pregame salute at every game. I get goose bumps just writing about it.
Victory brought euphoria and defeat wrought devastation, but neither lasted very long. After all, the Tigers had a game to play the next week. To this day there is no emptier feeling in the pit of my stomach as the one I feel when the Tigers play the final game of every season.
1979 was the year, a glorious year. We lost three games in Tiger Stadium, 3-0 to Alabama, 17-12 to USC and 24-19 to Florida St. Those opponents finished Nos. 1, 2 and 6 in the final rankings. The Tigers were outmanned in each contest but never outplayed. The Tiger faithful remained to salute the Tigers and share the pain of coming so close in that USC game. Many tears were shed. I remember how proud I was to be a Tiger that night and wouldn’t have traded places with a Trojan for anything.
It was Coach Mac’s last year and everyone knew it before the season started. The Tigers left everything they had on the field in every game and the same can be said of the 79,000 Tiger fans. The west upper deck had just been added to increase Tiger Stadium’s seating capacity from 67,000 the year before.
I think that year took a lot out of Doc because losing the only coach he’d known was like losing a family member. He never expected to win another championship but always knew the Tigers could, and would, win the next game in Tiger Stadium, even if Bear Bryant was coming to Baton Rouge.
Tiger Stadium instilled Doc with hope and belief in the possible. It brings out the best in a football team and, on many occasions, 92,000 fans.
After Doc passed away it was hard for me to sit in Section 216, Row F, Seats 5-8. A few things changed along the way. LSU changed the row designation from “F” to “6” which was unfortunate since I’d already gotten a tattoo of the former on my right arm. The Golden Band from Tigerland was moved from the northwest curve in Tiger Stadium to its current seats, in the next section from Doc’s. The Golden Girls are only four seats away and one row above. Man, does it ever get loud.
The fond memories are too many to recount but a few particularly stand out: Matt Mauck to Skylar Green on a broken play to beat Georgia in 2003, Rohan Davey’s touchdown pass to Robert Royal in the first play of overtime to beat Tennessee in 2001 (Davey had the best day of any quarterback I ever saw in Tiger Stadium), of course “the Earthquake Game” though it was pretty dull until Tommy Hodson hit Eddie Fuller for the winning touchdown against Auburn in 1988. Each of these plays occurred in the north end zone, so close that it seemed as if I was part of the action.
I’m sure you have your favorites.
And then there are those forlorn memories. I have never felt more drained of energy and emotion as when the Tigers lost to Arkansas 50-48 in triple overtime in 2007. The Hogs’ Darren McFadden scored the winning points in the north end zone too.
Some nights are like that: A catharsis that no Greek tragedy could ever approach.
I was disgusted when the New Orleans Saints were allowed to play in Tiger Stadium post-Katrina. I attended the Saints-Dolphins game, mostly to witness Nick Saban’s return as Miami’s coach. The sight of the NFLers soiling the hallowed ground was revolting to me. I am even bothered when the Bayou Superfest comes to Tiger Stadium annually. To me Tiger Stadium should be reserved for my beloved Tigers.
I’ve carried the torch since Doc’s been gone. I’ve seen some amazing things and experienced a depth of emotion which I really don’t feel anywhere else. I never boo a Tiger player or coach (this was really put to the test during the Curly Hallman days). I’m proud and satisfied when the Tigers play hard, no matter what the scoreboard reads.
I’ve sat in Doc’s seats for over 40 years now. The folks who sit in Section 216 with me have become like family I see at six to eight reunions every year.
A few years back my sister, “T” (Therese Ramirez), started coming to games with her husband, and my cousin, Johnny. In 2011 against Kentucky, the crowd around us booed when Jordan Jefferson entered the game, after a suspension, in place of Jarrett Lee. “T” was so outraged that I thought she would challenge the booing fans to a fistfight. Doc sure would have been proud.
Since 2000, Nick Saban’s arrival has been called “the golden age of Tiger football” and I guess it has been. I wish Doc could’ve been here. No matter what, I’ll always be a fan of Coach Saban’s. I’ve had the great fortune of seeing my beloved Tigers win two national championships which I don’t believe would have happened without him. Gerry Dinardo must also be credited for “bringing the magic back.”
But Les Miles is my guy and, for my money, the best coach who has ever paced Tiger Stadium’s home sideline. I want to go to battle with a coach who realizes that “the grass in Tiger Stadium is best…” to eat.
That’s how I roll in Tiger Stadium. I am the ultimate homer and, like Doc, I believe my beloved Tigers will win every time they step onto the hallowed ground that is the playing field in history’s greatest stadium. And every time I step into Tiger Stadium I get to be a kid again, holding my Granddaddy’s hand.
So, in the words of the greatest coach in LSU Fightin’ Tiger history, “Have a great day!”