Louisiana State University likes to play its football games on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. It likes night games so much it told ABC-TV to get lost when the videots wanted to move Saturday's Alabama game into sunlight. Bye-bye $500,000. The question, then, is why LSU likes the dark more than it likes a half-million big ones?
As any student of human nature and college football knows, the difference between a 1 p.m. kickoff and a 7:30 kickoff is a fifth of Jack Daniels, straight up. Around here, it is known as the home-bottle advantage. When the rooster calls dawn, these folks are wild about football; with the moonrise, ol' Jack kicks in and Tiger Stadium becomes an explosion of crazies screaming your ears off.
"All those Cajuns down there make it hard on opposing teams," said Tommy Wilcox, an Alabama freshman safety who grew up in New Orleans and often came to Tiger Stadium for games.
"They don't care about anything except huntin', drinkin' and football. When a game is played at night, they have more time to booze it up, and when they get going, there's nowhere for that poise to go except onto the field."
"The noise level is unreal," said David Hannah, a senior tackle who is the only Alabama player who has played here. "It's almost impossible to hear. And they've got that tiger right outside our locker room, making him growl at us."
Fed 12 pounds of horse meat, vitamins and minerals every day by the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, the tiger mascot Mike IV weighs 500 pounds. The vets no longer allow the LSU cheerleaders to poke the tiger with cattle prods, causing him to roar, but if Mike IV chooses to roar, there is a microphone hooked up to transmit the exhilarating sound all over Tiger Stadium. If an Alabama player is upset by a tiger's roar at his door, too bad for him. LSU, after all, does keep Mike in a cage.
"And the cage just happens to be outside the visitors' locker room," said Paul Manassah, LSU's publicity man. "Seems like a good spot."
When LSU told ABC-TV it didn't want to switch the game against the nation's No. 1 team from night to day, the television people were furious. ABC said it had been double-crossed by the LSU athletic director, Paul Dietzel. According to ABC, Dietzel long ago promised to switch to daytime and reneged after a similar switch two weeks ago wound up with LSU losing to Florida State, 24-19.
Dietzel came up with all kinds of reasons to play Alabama at night. All kinds, except the real one, which is that LSU's only chance to end its eight-year losing streak to Alabama is to play in front of all the Jack Daniels.
Dietzel said his customers want night games so badly that they asked for $60,000 in refunds from the Florida State game. He said Louisianans drive hundreds of miles to get here and can't make it for a day game. He said it was about time somebody told television where to get off.
What he didn't say, Charlie McClendon did.
"This is our element," the LSU coach said of the night, "not Alabama's."
You need every edge you can find against the Bear, is what McClendon said.
"Our crowd in the daytime is, umm, moderate," he said. "In the nighttime, it is just excellent as can be. They are involved in the game more. They're kind of ready to play. They've got their game face on. Ask Southern Cal."
Then the nation's No. 1 team, Southern California came to Tiger Stadium the third week of this season. Southern Cal plays mostly in your ordinary stadiums filled with sane people who can drive themselves home afterward. A three-touchdown favorite over LSU, Southern Cal won, 17-12, and had to work a miracle to do that. $"You can't let yourself be shocked when LSU makes a first down and the place goes berserk," said Mike Brock, an Alabama senior guard.
The noise is so bad that Bear Bryant, the week of Tiger Stadium games, used to play tape recordings of cataclysmic noises -- a lot of disco, maybe -- at his practice sessions. He has given up that gimmick.
"Couldn't get nothing loud enough," the coach of the Tide said.
"I tell our guys to be ready for a lot of noise and to expect LSU to come after us like wild men," said senior Hannah, an Alabama team captain. "I tell them to be sure they have their heads on straight. I tell them to be ready for a brawl."
Sometimes, McClendon said, he isn't all that sure the noise helps.
"Notre Dame came down here once," he said today, "and when they come out of the locker room, we've got 78,000 people screaming, 'go to hell, Notre Dame, go to hell.'
I went to Ara (Parseghian, then the Notre Dame coach) and told him, 'Those people up there are starting the fight and we're gonna have to finish it. If they had to be down here, they might not be so loud.'"
McClendon didn't finish the story. LSU won that game, 28-8. A picture from it is on his office wall.
Y.A. Tittle, the pro Hall of Fame quarterback, played at LSU. "Y.A. told me that he one time threw an interception," McClendon said, "and as the guy was running it back for what looked like a touchdown, halfway to the goal line the lights went out. Just, bang. Dark."
McClendon loved it. What Jack Daniels can't do, General Electric can.
Alabama comes to town undefeated this year, undefeated in its last 21 conference games, looking for Bryant's unprecedented 100th victory in a decade. McClendon says Alabama's defense is the most aggressive he's seen anywhere, anytime, and if Teadman Shealy, the 'Bama quarterback can run for 100 yards against everybody else, McClendon sees no reason he won't do it to LSU, which has lost three of its eight games.
"I'm gonna find that damned light swithch," McClendon said, laughing. "I'm gonna need it."