The spirit of Southern hospitality was alive and well on Louisiana State University’s campus as the Tigers welcomed the Gamecocks this weekend for an unprecedented Saturday in Death Valley.
Though the University of South Carolina didn’t quite have the home-field advantage it had planned, the team still entered Tiger Stadium to cheers following the Golden Band from Tigerland’s performance of the USC alma mater as an addition to its pregame routine.
LSU freshman Samantha O’Donnell said her friend, a USC student, wasn’t able to attend the game, but could feel the welcome all the way back home.
"I was talking to her yesterday, and she said she couldn’t believe how well we were treating them like family," O’Donnell said. "She was actually really excited."
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The field wasn’t decked out in USC colors, but the South Carolina state flag and the Gamecock flag flew over Death Valley, taking up residence on a flagpole usually reserved for the LSU and Louisiana state flags. The hype videos that characterize the Tiger Stadium warm-up featured footage of the USC campus and football team alongside clips of the Tigers, as well as an SEC-sponsored video promoting the spirit of unity among conference teams.
LSU Student Government Vice President Hannah Knight welcomed the Gamecocks to their temporary home shortly before kick-off, ceremonially passing the key to Tiger Stadium to USC Student Government President Jonathan Kaufman.
Knight said it was a busy week trying to put everything together with such short notice but also lots of fun. "It’s our turf but still their home game, so we wanted to give them a home team experience," Knight said.
Kaufman said the recent flooding in South Carolina as well as the response to the tragedy have been unlike anything he has ever seen.
"This is simultaneously one of the worst disasters that happened to us in a really long time and one of the most incredible shows of resilience," Kaufman said. "It’s a negative situation, but it’s incredibly positive that we’re turning it around."
Though USC fans were disappointed they weren’t able to host the game in Williams-Brice Stadium, Kaufman said the LSU campus turned out to be an ideal gameday environment. The LSU Parade Ground — a hub of tailgating often dominated by waves of purple and gold attire — became neutral ground as fans of both teams amicably greeted one another before the game.
Kaufman said that as he walked around campus, LSU students and fans invited him to various tailgates and told him to let them know if there was anything they could do to help. "Every single person has been just over-the-top nice," he said.
The pregame festivities kicked off at 11 a.m. with a tailgate on the LSU Parade Ground co-sponsored by LSU Campus Life and LSU Student Government. The event offered fans of both teams a taste of a popular Louisiana gameday staple—jambalaya.
USC alumni Shaun and Caitlyn McCrary made the trip from Charleston to Baton Rouge for their first game in Tiger Stadium.
Shaun said as soon as rumors started circulating that a shift in the game’s location was possible, he put all other plans on hold to be available for travel. Shaun and Caitlyn said they received an "awesome" welcome from Tiger fans who brought them to the front of the tailgate line, offered words of support and asked about the condition of their home.
LSU junior Joseph Doiron said the gameday atmosphere on an SEC campus is often dominated by the rivalry between opposing teams. However, he said he was glad to see his university set competition aside to bring USC donations and a chance to enjoy a good meal.
"I think it was a good thing for both cities to come together beyond football," Doiron said. "It’s going to be an SEC football game, but still at the same time a South Carolina home game."