This series will be a joint one between Stephen and I and we intend to write one per season. We have a friend group that attends one big non-Tech game per year and we intend to document those experiences here. You can expect some fun tailgating stories, some hot takes, some fawning over stadiums, and some ramblings about “atmosphere”, but most importantly you’ll find the honest account of a few guys on a quest to experience all that the wild and wacky world of College Football has to offer.
In the first installment of our yearly fellas trip, we somehow lucked our way into probably the best matchup of the 2019 season: #7 Florida vs #5 LSU in Death Valley. When we first came up with the concept of these trips Tiger Stadium was one of the locales that we immediately gravitated towards. We decided that an LSU home game was a fantastic way to kick things off and settled on the Florida game because we figured it would be a decent game on a weekend that everyone was free. As the season progressed both LSU and Florida kept turning into better and better teams. All of a sudden we had tickets to a Top 10 matchup in a night game in Death Valley. And oh yeah, it was College GameDay too. I really don’t think we could’ve put ourselves in a better situation if we tried.
Thursday 5:01pm: I (Stephen) leave work as quickly as possible, heading to spend the night in Atlanta to “break up the drive”. In hindsight, it added two hours to my drive home on Sunday night and it was a mistake.
Thursday 8:27pm: After sitting on Moreland at a stupid intersection that didn’t have a green arrow, I finally land at The Local, my personal favorite chicken wing establishment in Atlanta. Korean Buffalo sauce for days. I regret ever leaving Atlanta. “The things we do for love” - Tyrion Lannister.
Thursday 11:25pm: Dark Horse basement for some karaoke. Some poor girl named Mary sings what is the absolute worst rendition of Cake’s The Distance I have ever heard. I was so appalled that I talked to the house drummer about it when the night concluded. His name is Dusty and in hindsight, he did not care one bit about my opinion of Mary’s singing.
Friday 9:07am: We almost never make it out of the 285 perimeter as the guy driving tries to eat Chick-fil-A and yeet 2 lanes of traffic at once. The other guy and I laugh for 5 straight minutes until we pass the airport. Next stop New Orleans.
Friday 11:15am: We’re in the middle of nowhere. This gas station has a floor to ceiling mirror in the bathroom… the driver decides this is the optimal time for a longer than #1 bathroom break. A family is changing their toddler on the tailgate of a Toyota Tacoma like 6 feet from the front door of this gas station.
Friday ~2:00pm: My first experience at Whataburger. Agree with the Fast Food Power Rankings. This ish is good. More on good burgers to come. Something something “Can I take your order?”
Friday 3:25pm: We valet the car at none other than Harrah’s on Canal Street in an attempt to pass the time until the flying members of our group land. It doesn’t go great, the money’s gone. That’s just the way she goes boys... 35 minutes in, we find out we still have 3+ hours until Chris lands…
Friday 7:45pm: I (Chris) land in NOLA and meet up with Joe at baggage claim, we get picked up by Stephen and the rest of the crew that drove from Atlanta.
Friday 8:10pm: It starts absolutely POURING. I (still Chris) voice my sneaky desire to have it be monsooning at the game (because I wanted to see a repeat of this), but no one else in the car agrees; they would prefer to stay dry. Deep in his heart of hearts, Stephen knows that It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, and that he didn’t pack a raincoat.
Friday 8:45pm: DRIVE THRU DAIQUIRI ESTABLISHMENT. Something called a Swampwater came through a window in a cup with a tiny piece of paper over the straw.
Friday 9:15pm: Arrive at Elsie’s Pies. Have our eyes rolled at us as we go with the cliche of “We’re out of towners, what do you recommend?” Nobody orders wrong. Literally everything tastes like the best [Danzig] bite of food I’ve ever had. Their website isn’t lying, everything is made with love.
Friday 10:30pm: We arrive at our AirBnB. It’s quaint and has a piano. We find the piano is mostly for show.
Saturday 9:35am: We go to Wal-Mart for various supplies and discover that the CFB Playoff Trophy had been on display there the day before. Everyone in the clothing section is already in LSU gear. They are buying more LSU gear, except this new gear has sleeves and/or fleece because the game is expected to get a little chilly towards the end.
Saturday 10:15am: We pick up Mary Lee Donuts for breakfast. We actually had to go to a second location because the first ran out of donuts (this is how committed to getting those donuts Stephen was). The second location smells heavenly and does not disappoint.
Saturday 12:30pm: We watch the first half of the Tech game. For context, four of us are Tech grads and one is a Clemson grad. Four of us had a really bad time. The fifth just laughed at our misery.
Saturday ~2:00pm: We get to campus and meet up with our And The Valley Shook contacts at their tailgate. Note to all listeners: your phone network doesn’t work when there are EIGHTY THOUSAND PLUS PEOPLE TAILGATING ON A CAMPUS. We circle one area for 15 minutes only to find we’ve passed the tailgate 3 different times. I (Chris) am carrying the cooler with Stephen for much of this circular journey while Stephen tries to pin-point GPS coordinates with pop-up tent-sized precision. Just for the record.
Saturday ~3:30pm: Each tailgate on this campus has their satellite televisions set up and tuned into uga-SC. They are all existing in different dimensions where some parties are on 3rd down while others are lining up for a field goal. A snap, hold, and kick later, a wave of screams and euphoria rolls over the campus as if LSU had just beaten the dawgs themselves. It was awesome. Turns out, it’s a good day anywhere when georgia loses.
Saturday ~4:15pm: After stuffing our faces with pulled pork, cheese grits, smoked mac n’ cheese, baked beans, and a whole host of other fantastic food (shoutout @zrau and his lovely parents), we voyage away from the tailgate towards the stadium to go see Mike the Tiger’s enclosure. He was pretty much just laying there, but it is still wildly cool that LSU really has a live apex predator 100 feet from their stadium. Stephen grumbles in his Coach O impression for 15 minutes straight about Mike. Joe gets actively annoyed at Stephen for this, and Stephen legitimately has trouble going back to his normal speaking voice. It was like those stories where someone bumps their head and starts speaking fluent Spanish.
Saturday 6:00pm: Literally everyone starts heading to the stadium (an hour early). Us Tech fans are very confused by this notion.
Saturday 7:00pm: Kickoff. This involved paratroopers parachuting into Tiger Stadium.
Saturday 7:05pm: We immediately start trying to learn chants, cheers, and traditions. There’s a good amount of spelling. The Clemson grad is thrown off by doing T-I-G-E-R-S at a different pace.
Saturday 8:23pm: There is a fight a few rows in front of us, both LSU fans. One of them is an extremely large dude that I would never pick a fight with; it’s unclear what the catalyst was, but they eventually settle down.
Saturday 8:35pm: A guy four seats from us proposes to his girlfriend at halftime. Romance. The Florida fans surrounding them put aside their alligator arms to congratulate the happy couple. There have been actual fireworks shot off at this point, which was fun.
Saturday ~9:00pm: Florida takes its first lead and the UF fans around us start doing that “it’s great... to be... a Florida Gator” chant that I (Chris) absolutely loathe.
Saturday ~9:30pm: Florida flinches. Drive stalls. Stephen proclaims “that’s the game.” With a 10 point wager on LSU covering -13.5, odds are looking up.
Saturday ~9:55pm: Florida gets a bs automatic first down that puts them on the 2 yard line. A back door cover is imminent, odds are looking down.
Saturday ~9:58pm: 4 plays later, LSU makes a lifelong fan out of Stephen Murphey. You can’t tell me the players didn’t know what the spread was...
Saturday ~10:00pm: The game ends, LSU covers, and we attempt to head home.
Sunday 12:34am: We actually get home. This was a preposterous process involved several cancelled Ubers and a lot of walking. We put 5 people and a cooler in a Hyundai Accent. 3 of the 5 of us are over 6 feet tall. We watch a little #Pac12AfterDark, pound gatorade and cheese-its, and go to bed happy and exhausted.
Sunday 10:30am: Waffle House. Bless.
Sunday 12:44pm: Those of us flying home (including me, Chris) are dropped off at the NOLA airport. My flight wasn’t until 7:00 and I cannot stress how long those 6+ hours were. Stephen bets me that he will get home before me.
Sunday 9:05pm Eastern: Stephen gets to Atlanta. The road is still long. Two hours ‘til home.
Sunday 11:25pm: Stephen beats Chris home by 5 minutes. Do not test my resolve to win. The trip concludes and somehow everyone but Bill makes it to work on time. First trip in the books. Next year, Stephen calls early dibs on North Dakota State @ Oregon on Labor Day Weekend.
The Actual Game
The actual game was a blast to watch. LSU has some incredible athletes and Joe Burrow was playing out of his mind. I was pleasantly surprised with how Florida hung in the entire game too; They didn’t end up covering, but I think that’s not actually accurate to how the game played out. Up until the last few minutes when UF blinked, the entire game was back and forth. Every time LSU scored, UF would march right down the field themselves for six. The only difference between the two teams was two plays: a huge interception (on an insanely athletic play by the DB) and an awesome goal-line stand. Without those, we might have gone to overtime.
In particular I’d like to call out how fun to watch the LSU receivers were. They were absolute magic with the ball in their hands and if you weren’t already on your feet, you stood up when they caught a pass. It felt like they were effortless making defenders miss and routinely gaining extra yardage. Oh, and Joe Burrow only had 3 incompletions all game.
Favorite Anecdotes and Personal Highlights
- I had no less than 4 conversations in a 15 minute porta-potty line that were all surprisingly delightful. Also, such a pain in the [Aerosmith] to not tailgate at the fraternity house… so many toilets not open to the general public.
- A guy in our group bought a Leonard Fournette Jags jersey ‘cus DUUUUUVAL (also because he lives in Florida) and got VERY mixed reactions from different factions of the LSU fanbase. Best response: “Four-nette? I reckon that’s one more than Three-nette…Geaux Tiguhs buddy” Worst Response: “I’ll kick your [Foreigner]ing [Aerosmith] dude…” What we found out like 2 minutes later was that the Saints played the Jags the next day… yikes.
- Circling back to earlier, the sheer number of people there 40 minutes before kickoff was astounding… It was great.
- Absolute best thing for me was stopping in the middle of the pregame antics to just stare out into the distance for a solid minute and appreciate the moment I found myself in. This was a picture of said moment occurring in real time:
- The 15 minute span in which we saw both a fight and a marriage proposal within 20 feet of us was absolute poetry. I assume this is the wavelength that most of the state of Louisiana operates on.
- The first time we tried to set out to see Mike the Tiger, a guy gave us super specific directions to a location on the other side of the stadium. Upon arrival, it turned out to just be the statue of a tiger. We had to ask again and got sent to the actual location of the REAL tiger we were after. I’m still not sure why this guy thought we’d want to see this statue instead of a living and breathing ferocious jungle beast. But the guy that gave us directions at the tiger statue seemed to have been placed by the Bayou Gods themselves. He was with no group, was talking to no one, and was in the right place at the right time to give us the one thing we needed in our lives at that very moment. Thank you anonymous man, you and your fleece jacket and transition lenses will be forever in my debt.
- After UGA lost we were high fiving all of the people around us and the guy that we had been talking to just started yelling Ramblin’ Wreck at us. It was such a pure and wholesome unexpected moment and I was genuinely surprised that this LSU guy actually knew our fight song. It was one of those “we’re all one fan family” moments that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
- All the guys from And The Valley Shook. Could not have asked for better tailgate hosts.
- Ashley, our Airbnb host.
- Tim from Harrah’s for throwing a ball into a roulette wheel 7 straight times on the 21% probable roll that saw me go from up 25% to straight out in 5 minutes,
- Richard Johnson (@RJ_Writes)and Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) (our SB Nation overlords). These guys took time out of a (very) fun tailgate to talk to us about Georgia Tech football. God bless ‘em.
- Whoever brought the ice luge, because some true characters took a round or two off of that thing,
- Everyone we met and talked to for being super friendly and hospitable. Seriously, everyone was amazing.
There was something palpable in the air, however overused that expression is. I can’t describe it further than that, but watching the sun set over that stadium was truly magical. You always hear the words “When the sun finds its home in the western sky”, but it’s one of those things you really have to experience to understand. I texted Chris a few days prior to the game that I was “borderline expecting a religious experience”, and I think that’s about how I would sum up what Tiger Stadium at night is like. It’s like going to church with the most fervent devotees you’ve ever seen and having a shared enlightenment. I will forever be comparing my future college football experiences to this one. My only regret was not sitting closer to the student section because they look like they had one hell of a time from start to finish.
I love Bobby Dodd with all my heart, but there really is nothing that compares to Tiger Stadium. First off, it is absolutely MONSTROUS. The word “behemoth” comes to mind. I swear it took us 25 minutes to walk down from the top level to the exits. Second, it is L O U D. And not that fake kind of loud you get from pumping in music (*cough*Sanford*cough* (Stephen: *cough*US*cough*)), the real kind of loud that comes from 102,000 fans screaming their eyeballs out. I was actually struck by how little they utilized a speaker system. When the band was playing they were loud and when they weren’t playing the crowd was louder. It’s the epitome of what I love so much about the college atmosphere: it’s entirely organic and human-powered. I’m also a sucker for stadiums singing songs together, so getting to yell along to Callin’ Baton Rouge was such a joyous experience for me.
Overall, the energy of Tiger Stadium was simply incredible. By the end of the game I was completely exhausted; I got sucked right into whatever magic that place possesses. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like the outside world seems to no longer exist. Everything else seems to melt away and for a few hours you’re in a dream. I don’t think it’s a place where you can just sit back and watch a game. It’s a place where you have a shared experience with everyone else in the crowd, a place where you feel like you’re more than just yourself, a place where you feel like there’s nothing else in the world that matters as much as what’s happening in front of you.
Get yourself some fellas. They’ll make a ten hour road trip or flying from the polar opposite side of the country worth a day and a half trip. I’ll be back in New Orleans in March/April (short-term memory loss) for a conference, so maybe I’ll get to catch up with my old roulette buddy again. I wish we had more time in Baton Rouge to take in more than 2 actual meals, but when you’re trying to fit a whole city’s worth of experience into one weekend there’s only so much candle you can burn.
I had an amazing weekend. It was like everything I love about college football all rolled into one perpetually mesmerizing experience. The fans were awesome, the game was superb, and if a night game in Tiger Stadium isn’t on your bucket list it should be now.
As far as a look-ahead to next year, I’ve got my eye on the Big 10. There’s a big Ohio State @ Penn State matchup looming and that’s something I absolutely want to be a part of. Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma is also looking like a strong candidate.