Through the Wind and the Rain
Monday, September 26, 2005
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Six miles from campus, an already shredded American flag flapped as the wind increased under a menacing sky. And just a quarter-mile from where a toppled "Show Your Tiger Pride" billboard lay, Louisiana State's football team practiced indoors Friday, shielded from the approaching Hurricane Rita.
As much of this community showed signs of recovery after Hurricane Katrina, a second natural disaster this weekend threatened to disrupt lives again. But many, including the LSU football team, were determined to function as usual, even amid constant reminders of the storm that had occurred weeks ago and the one that arrived early Saturday. Herb Vincent, LSU's associate athletic director, said the community has been "begging for normalcy," some of which could be provided Monday night when LSU's football team, considered by many the lifeblood of the state, will finally play a home game. Two games already were rescheduled because of Katrina, and Monday's game against Tennessee was postponed from Saturday because of Rita.
"They need it," LSU Coach Les Miles said. "This state would be miserable without football."
As he walked around Free Speech Alley on campus last week, Miles saw students carrying books and heading to class -- "It felt good," he said. Gone were the sights of the previous two weeks: Black Hawk helicopters routinely flying over the practice field, and the basketball arena, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, serving as a temporary hospital for Katrina evacuees.
There were other indications of life returning to normal in this football-crazed state, even as the outer bands of Rita struck Baton Rouge with heavy rain and gusts of 50-mph winds Friday evening.
On Friday, dozens of students ignored torrential rain to play flag football in bathing suits. Inside a sports bar, 15 televisions simultaneously flashed a bright red screen indicating a tornado warning. No one flinched.
Less than an hour later, three reporters huddled near the door of LSU's practice facility to avoid the rain. A team manager opened the door only to say that the coaches did not want them to look through the windows at practice.
And during Miles's weekly radio show, one caller, Blake from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, asked the coach about this pressing issue: how two injuries would affect the team's depth chart. Another caller, Kevin, ripped into the first-year coach for not wearing the team's colors on the sideline during practice. Miles's response: "Nice talking to you, Kevin."
It did not take long for typical contention between rival schools to reemerge.
"If they can practice, why can't they play Saturday?" said Sharon Glass, one of the few Tennessee fans near campus Friday evening. "Our boys would play."
The Southeastern Conference announced Thursday after a conference call with officials from both schools that the Tennessee game would be moved to Monday because of Rita, which was closing in on eastern Texas and western Louisiana.
Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton said the Volunteers were prepared to forfeit the game if they deemed it too dangerous to fly the team to Baton Rouge the day of the game. Visiting teams usually stay in an area hotel the night before road games, but none was available.