Death Valley East

Louisiana State University quarterback Matt Mauck throws during practice at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003. LSU will face Oklahoma in the 2004 Sugar Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2004.

AP Photo/Dave Martin
Published: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 12:47 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The parade of purple and gold is starting to pour into the city, from all corners of the state.

The Cajun shrimpers from the bayou are coming, and so are Creole fans from the sugar cane farm communities. Fancy folks from debutante society will show up, and so will the beaded Krewes famed from Mardi Gras.

By Sunday night, they will all pack the Superdome like never before, revved-up and ready to root for LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

"I think it's going to be a madhouse," said one of the school's biggest stars ever, Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal.

Maybe even a little wilder than that.

Throughout the sports world, LSU fans are considered among the most rabid and raucous anywhere. They stream toward Tiger Stadium with their "Geaux Tigers" signs, tailgate with grilled alligator and boiled crawfish and scream when a real live Bengal tiger mascot is wheeled onto the field at Death Valley.

And that's just for any old game against Western Illinois.

When LSU played in the Sugar Bowl two years ago, the crowd became so rowdy that coach Nick Saban borrowed the referee's microphone and urged people to settle down.

Now this is for the Bowl Championship Series title, with the No. 2 Tigers taking on No. 3 Oklahoma. It's a chance for LSU to win its first national title since 1958.

"Are you kidding? This is going to be nuts!" political strategist and CNN "Crossfire" host James Carville said Tuesday. "If you're 35 years old and living in Louisiana, you're coming to New Orleans."

"My prediction is it will be the first football game in history where there are more people outside the stadium than inside," said the LSU graduate from Carville, La. "LSU is a rallying point for the state. It brings the people together."

Carville won't have to wander around Bourbon Street or the nearby French Quarter at kickoff. He already has his seat in what will certainly become Death Valley East.

But another LSU alum, Chicago Cubs second baseman Todd Walker, is staying away "because I don't want to get trampled."

Walker was voted most outstanding player of the 1993 College World Series when the Tigers won the title. Last October, he helped Boston reach Game 7 of the AL championship series, where it lost in extra innings at New York.

Surely that final game in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry _ regarded by many as the most spirited in sports _ would equal the emotion of this Sugar Bowl. Right?

"Not even close," Walker said. "I think what you're going to have that night at the Sugar Bowl will be more than any other event ever. I mean it.

"When I was in school, we'd go to all the sports _ girl's volleyball games and gymnastics and everything. And you play in front of the craziest fans in America."

A crowd of about 78,000 is expected, and each school got 16,000 tickets.

But in a state known for political chicanery _ the Kingfish himself, illustrious governor Huey Long, helped write one of LSU's fight songs in the 1930s _ don't look for too many more Sooners fans to make it inside.

The Oklahoma fans that do fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport will drive right past a huge LSU billboard on their way into town.

Sooners coach Bob Stoops didn't sound overly concerned about the hostile environment. His team practices with pumped-in crowd noise, and he said his players were adept at silent counts.

"Like any away game or game at a neutral site, when you play well, you hear your people. When you don't, you hear their people," he said. "They only let so many into the stadium.

"It's going to be just electric, when you fill it up with the sound," he said.

Rufus Alexander has heard it all before. The only active Sooners player from Louisiana, the linebacker grew up in Baton Rouge, near the LSU campus and about 70 miles from the Superdome.

"Well, those fans can get after you pretty good," he said. "And there are going to be a lot of them."

Said Saban: "I think our fans do make a contribution to the outcome of games."

"It's going to be tough for Oklahoma to go down there and get a win," O'Neal said.

Carville vividly recalled going to every LSU home game in that 1958 season.

"Those seats I sat in _ my sister still has them today," he said. "Southeast end zone. We could've moved to a different spot over the years, but we wanted to stay right there. It's a social event.

"People just like their football in our state. We don't have an Oklahoma State or an Auburn or a Georgia Tech," he said. "We have LSU, and it gives them something to feel good about."

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