It’s Saturday Night In Death Valley
Les Miles has never lost a regular season non-conference game at Tiger Stadium. His overall record in home games at Baton Rouge is an astounding 50-7.
Alabama’s legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant had this to say about LSU’s home: “Baton Rouge happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team. It's like being inside a drum."
What makes this stadium so unique? Why do so many teams struggle to win at Tiger Stadium?
Well, for starters, over 92,000 eccentric fans have had all day to enjoy food, libations and get as loud as possible. A few years ago when ESPN’s College Game Day crew was in town for LSU-Florida, the cameras caught a glimpse of a medium-sized alligator cooking rotisserie style in a large barbecue grill. Walking through the parking lot outside Tiger Stadium is a feast for the senses as all sorts of local concoctions are being prepared and sampled. The smell of Cajun and Creole cooking hangs in the air, along with rum, bourbon, and Abita beer.
Oh, and a live Bengal Tiger named Mike stares down opposing teams as they enter the field. As if thousands of screaming fans and intimidating athletes weren’t enough, a large alpha predator stalks the sidelines. It is truly one of the most unique venues in all of sports.
Some other factors that make watching a game at Tiger Stadium unique is the fact that LSU typically wears white jerseys for home games. Most teams traditionally wear their “colors” at home. This means the Baton Rouge faithful get to see a variety of colorful uniforms adorned by visiting teams throughout the season instead of the customary, yet dull white jerseys. Also, most stadiums have the typical “Y” shaped goal posts. Tiger Stadium contains “H” shaped goal posts which enables the team to run through the posts when taking the field. Again, it’s something unique about the stadium.
One of the most famous games played at Tiger Stadium occurred Oct. 8, 1988. LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson threw a touchdown pass against Auburn that propelled the Bayou Bengals to victory over the Tigers from the Plains. The resulting eruption from the crowd actually caused an earth tremor that registered on a seismograph meter in LSU’s Geology Department across campus.
What about that name “Death Valley?” Like many things on the Bayou, there’s legend, there’s lore, and there’s plain lost-in-translation. There was a gas station called Deaf Valley in 1924 that was situated near the stadium. Many associated the fans, which were loud and raucous even back then, with the aptly named gas station. Some say it was always called Death Valley, but locals have a hard time enunciating death, so it sounded like they were saying deaf. Others claim it was called Deaf Valley to differentiate itself from Clemson’s Death Valley. Whether it’s Deaf or Death, no team wants to enter the Valley and feel the energy and enthusiasm from so many rabid fans.
Nothing like having Mike the Tiger sitting outside the opponent's locker room, either. SEC players get to play in a lot of great stadiums. Other conferences only have two or three great places to play, but the SEC is full of them.
Got to witness an SEC game in the upper deck on a Saturday night as a teenager. If you think the fans in the lower bowl are rowdy, you haven't been seated near the top of the entire stadium.
With apologies to The Grove and Knoxville, Baton Rouge is my all-time favorite place to watch a college football game. Put it on your sports bucket list, folks.