Ever wonder what it's like to play in Baton Rouge?
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
One of the more memorable experiences I think anyone could have in major college football is to play LSU in Tiger Stadium on an autumn Saturday night.
I experienced this twice in my career at Alabama – we lost one and won the other.
An enemy team, such as the Alabama Crimson Tide, that enters Tiger Stadium to take on LSU, has placed itself in what can be described as a semi-organized riot.
Thousands of screaming fans, seemingly wanting to kill you, not to mention the LSU players who are revved-up with pure hate.
You seem to be in a closed-in arena with thousands of fans screaming and throwing things.
You feel trapped.
I believe the Christians in the Roman arenas must have experienced the same feeling.
For those of you who have not experienced such things, from the prospective of a team member, allow me to lead you through the events leading up to the game.
The first thing that tells you that you might be in for a little trouble is when your team bus leaves the hotel. There is a massive crowd around the bus before you attempt to board, pushing, shoving, cursing and giving you the finger.
You want to tell yourself this all in fun, but looking into the glassy, inebriated eyes of these screaming fans, you can tell they are in earnest.
After, or if, all team members and coaches finally board the bus with their lives intact, the poor driver attempts to leave the parking lot as these bang on the side of the bus and throw things. Along the route to the stadium and throughout the entire school campus, LSU students and fans line the streets cursing and giving the finger.
Purple and gold signs curse you. Tailgaters stop eating their crawdads and throw things at you.
As the team bus nears the huge stadium, you see this mass of human bodies and you realize you only thought there was a big crowd at the hotel. That wasn't a crowd. Oh, no, that was just a friendly gathering.
Compared to the raving mad fans at the stadium, the hotel was just a church service.
Fans surround your bus and begin to rock it side to side. They scream profanities and for some reason question your ancestry.
Bodies are pressed so tightly against the door, the bus driver has a hard time opening it. Something inside wants you tell the drive to close the damn door and get the hell out of here.
But, you don't. You have to go through with it.
Then, Coach Bryant stands up. He looks back at the team, with just a hint of a smile as if he's enjoying this, and says, "Well, boys, this is it, let's go."
He steps down from the bus as an opening in the tightly pressed bodies appears. A path in the crowd opens, as if it was Moses at the parting of the sea. The LSU fans that were cussing you just a few minutes earlier step back to let him pass.
It's quiet as they simply gaze at "Bear."
He lumbers past them with his hat cocked down almost over his eyes, and you're following close behind him. You're thinking they will have to go through him to get to me.
As you enter somewhat of a small locker room for such a big stadium, all the crowd noise becomes a roar. You have to shout to be heard.
The team leaves for its traditional walk around the field before dressing for the game. Several thousand fans are already in the LSU student section chanting for you to go back to the lower parts of the earth.
Coach Bryant just tips his hat.
Back in the dressing room, as you're getting taped or tightening your pads, you hear a louder than normal roar. It doesn't sound human; a deep bass growling sound. You try not to listen and get your mind on your business as you go over last minute details with assistant coaches and wish your buddies good luck.
Finally, the time comes. After a short talk, Coach Bryant sends out the first group for warm-ups.
You are in this group.
Everyone in this group jumps to their feet and heads for the door. You burst through the door and there, right in the door, is a large cage. In this cage, a huge orange and black striped beast instantly leaps for the first players through the door, letting out a horrible growl.
This huge, ugly tiger appears to be extremely agitated, and wants to attack anything red. You have only enough room to tiptoe by the cage to get to the field. (This is the only time you will ever see the Crimson Tide tiptoe onto a football field.)
Of course, this was planned tactic by the cheerleaders, and the poor guy who was the first through the door was probably not worth much in the game.
Skip forward to when the game begins.
You realize LSU fans basically are sitting on the sidelines with you. You have more frantic, screaming people who are not there to see the game at all. Think about it; all they can see in the backs of the Alabama team standing on the sidelines.
They appear to have attended the game for the sole purpose of harassing me and my teammates.
Of course, this the game you kept your helmet on all the time. From time to time, whiskey bottles have a tendency to fall from the sky at frightening speed. It's just another unique way to dispose of a glass bottle down in Baton Rouge.
After the game, the bus goes directly from the stadium to the airport. Win or lose, you are grateful to get out of Louisiana.
Several years later, you attend one of these games as a fan and find the people nice and polite as compared to your last visit. You realize going into Tiger Stadium as an opposing team member is a unique experience.