David Cloninger

LSU fans turn other cheek to help South Carolina

A welcoming sign this weekend at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport
A welcoming sign this weekend at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport

Heard it for years. “Watch out for that bunch at LSU.”

The Tiger faithful have become known as some of the most hospitable fans in college football. The tailgating spreads offer any manner of Cajun culinaries and every tent is a community, a neighborhood ringing Tiger Stadium before it’s time to go watch the purple and gold thrash another unworthy opponent.

All that came with an asterisk — *If you’re an LSU fan. But wear a shirt, cap, scarf or shoelace in the opposing color and be prepared for a miserable afternoon.

One guy usually starts it. They find you and start pointing, extending an index finger while doing a version of the Tomahawk Chop, muttering, “Tiger Bait! Tiger Bait!” until it becomes a crescendo. More join in, until the poor opposing fan is surrounded by a Tiger-striped multitude, half shouting “Tiger Bait!” and the other half shouting “Go Tigers!” (“Geaux Tigers!” in this case).

It’s fan passion, same as any other team, but LSU routinely places highly in those preseason blogs on which team has the most obnoxious fans. Stories of being an Ole Miss or Alabama or Tennessee fan squished into the middle of Tiger Stadium rival anything heard at a campfire ghost story.

Crazy. Mean. Taking savage pleasure in making life hell for the opposing fan. “Those Tigers are bad, and that’s before the game ever started,” I once heard.

Which is why it’s wonderful to see LSU, a fan base that knows more than any what South Carolina is going through, turn the other cheek. The Tigers lived through a catastrophe like the one that struck the Palmetto State and were thankful of the help they received to get through it, and now they’re paying it forward.

The Tiger Band will play USC’s fight song and alma mater because the Gamecocks’ pep band can’t make the trip. The stadium PA will play “Sandstorm.” The field won’t be painted USC’s colors, but LSU fans suggested it.

Fans have asked me all week about where they can donate to disaster relief. There will be Red Cross volunteers around the stadium Saturday to accept cash donations. “Again, it’s a home game for South Carolina, but our fans and our groups that work all our games are on board and willing to make this a great experience,” athletic director Joe Alleva said.

LSU fans remember the horror of seeing lives taken by a wall of water, of coming home to find a lake where your house used to be. They remember how sympathetic Arizona State was in 2005, when LSU had to move its game to Tempe in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Of course the Tigers still want to win, but they also know there are a lot more important things than football. The Gamecocks are wounded, a struggling team going on the road to play a team gunning for the SEC championship, and now carry the extra burden of hoping to give their devastated fan base something to smile about.

There will still be a few “Tiger Baits!” but they’ll be overcome by pats on the back, hugs and “Hang in theres.” I’m sure the few USC fans who make the trip will be welcomed as brethren by LSU, because South Carolinians are now brothers to Louisianans. We have each seen what Mother Nature can do.

The outpouring of support and compassion has reversed LSU’s reputation. The Gamecocks, little brothers on the field, are being protected.

Sports can hurt, but it can also heal. LSU knows that and is providing what it can to another ravaged community.

Geaux Tigers.

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