Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: LSU (page 1 of 4)

LSU vs Texas A&M – Johnny Football swamped in Death Valley…

People often ask me about the best college football destination in the country. I’m usually reticent to answer because there are so many variables to that question, and, depending on the circumstances, there are a handful of places across the country that could be considered the “best” on any given week. Invariably, however, I always list LSU as one of the most sublime places in the country to spend a college football Saturday. Having caught a few games here before, I can personally attest that between the Cajun food, ample drink, authentic hospitality, a rabid fan base, ear splitting 93,000 seat stadium and smash mouth SEC football, LSU is one of the premiere destinations in the land.

So when my friend, and Texas A&M ring bearing alumni, Federico texted me over the summer about the November 23rd matchup in Baton Rouge, I immediately circled my calendar. While he had done the circuit of Big 12 destinations back in the Aggies long forgotten past, with their move to the SEC conference came a whole new list of road destinations for him to experience. Appropriately, LSU was at the top of that list.

I fly in to New Orleans early on Friday morning to give myself a day of exploration in the city. Despite the breadth of my travels, I had never actually visited NOLA before. While the allure of the infamous French Quarter and a few giant Hurricane drinks has a certain croc wearing, touristy appeal, I opt to spend the day a bit more tastefully. I pull into the National WWII Museum on Magazine Street as the doors are opening for the day, and shell out eight dollars for parking. An avid WWII history buff, I’ve traveled to sites of historical significance all over the world, but this museum in New Orleans is reputed to be among the best.

It costs me $32 for an all access pass for the day, which grants admittance to all the features spread throughout the several buildings on campus. Up first is the 4D movie “Beyond all Boundaries”, a 40 minute historical overview of both the European and Pacific campaigns that was produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. As the film plays on the screen, guard towers and gun turrets rise out of the stage, and later smoke fills the entire theater as a bomber fuselage is lowered from the ceiling as part of the “4D” effects. I spend the rest of the afternoon casually wandering the extensive displays and historical artifacts spread throughout the galleries. In addition to some of the smaller pieces, the museum boasts an impressive collection of recovered machinery. In the US Freedom Pavilion alone, a Sherman tank sits proudly on the floor while a collection of old warbirds hang from the ceiling; including a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell and the seductive, sweeping lines of a P-51 Mustang, among others.

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I break only for lunch, and take a quick stroll down the street to Cochon Butcher – a casual lunch offshoot of the infamous Cochon Restaurant. Translated literally “Cochon” means “Pig” and, accordingly, the small café features a bevy of house made charcuterie offerings available plain, or stacked into well crafted sandwiches. Naturally, I opt for both; the ever popular pork belly sandwich and a personal charcuterie sample platter. The rich belly sandwich is served with mint and cucumber, the crisp flavors offsetting the unctuous, fat laced pork into a perfect balance. The charcuterie sampler features a range of their daily specials, neatly arranged on a wooden tray: duck liver mousse, country terrine, soprasseta, duck pastrami and coppa di testa. It’s a carnivores dream come true.

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After my WWII touring is done for the afternoon, I brave the rush hour traffic in New Orleans to pick Federico up at the airport, as a log jam of cars flows out of the terminal. From there, we hustle west an hour along I-10 and pull into the overstuffed parking lot of Mike Andersons in Baton Rouge. Evidently, we aren’t the only ones with the same idea, as the Cajun seafood joint is jammed for the big game, and it’s an hour and a half wait for a table and oyster po’boy. The A&M faithful have come out in droves, and when the Aggie War Hymn pipes in over the loudspeakers, more than half the restaurant collectively rises to their feet, locking arms and swaying while they confidently belt out the chorus. From there, we enjoy a few nightcaps at The Chimes pub on the outskirts of the LSU campus, edging past a few collar popped frat boys squabbling on the sidewalk. I work my way through a handful of the flowing Chimes taps, opting for a selection of the local Abita seasonal brews while Federico samples from their equally impressive whiskey selection.

As the gameday morning rises, the weather turns foul and an ominous mist hangs in the sky like smoke. We slip into some free parking on Lake Shore Drive, and shuffle over to campus, passing by Mike the Tiger’s plush habitat as hordes of onlookers try to snap a photo of the LSU mascot. It’s there that we meet up with my friend Mandy, the same host from my visit back in 2010 and a die hard LSU fan. Soon after we shake hands, we’re corralled onto the median of the street as the crowd parts for the LSU player walk (which like every other SEC school, LSU claims to have invented). Blue lights flash and police sirens whale away as two busses pull up, the doors swaying open as the crowd roars. Head coach Les Miles steps off first with a police escort, followed by two single file lines of players from each bus – offensive players on the right, defensive players on the left. Garbed in neat coat and ties, the players walk purposefully towards the stadium but stop for the occasional high five and handshake with kids. The famed, and highly talented, LSU Golden Girl squad follows after the players. Teeth chattering as they promenade, their scantily cut leotards do little to allay the drizzle.

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Following the player procession, we meet up with Mandy’s aunt Karen, host of the infamous Van Geaux tailgating rig. If there is such a thing as professional tailgating, Karen would rank among the best, and she welcomes us with the same gracious hospitality I enjoyed back in 2010. Their converted DHL truck overflows with provisions, and I make several raids on an overflowing tray of incredible home made tamales. Soon, the weather grows angry, and ask the sky turns fowl and we’re forced to find shelter and take refuge under a bus shelter as an afternoon of blissful LSU tailgating is ruined.

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We file into Tiger Stadium early to escape the deluge, huddling into the crowded concrete concourse as it’s mobbed by thousands of others retreating from the rain. Fed buys a flimsy plastic poncho for $8, and I hunt down the boudin vendor for a tube of the Cajun meat delicacy. It’s a safe bet that Tiger Stadium is the only college football stadium in the country that offers fresh boudin and jumbalaya among its food vendors. Waiting until only a few minutes before kickoff, we finally emerge from the tunnel and are blasted by an icy wind that whips the drizzle in sideways. Fed’s cheap poncho is immediately tattered, revealing his crimson Aggie shirt to bare in a sea of purple and yellow slickers – Louisiana natives all better prepared for the elements. As the ball slides out of receivers hands during the final minutes of warmup, the greasy weather portends a miserable afternoon. Fed and I shiver in the mist, an unseasonably cold fall afternoon in the giant belly of Death Valley.

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True to form, the game proves a tough one for the visiting Aggies. Already nursing a hand injury, electric Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel is stifled by the misty weather. He sails errant passes over the heads of his receivers, the ball fluttering in the mist as he completes only 16 of 41 attempts. On the ground his feet slip on the grime, failing the normally surefooted and elusive captain, and he is stuffed into the turf repeatedly by the dogged LSU pass rush. It’s one of the worst performances in the Heisman winner’s short two year career, as he tosses two interceptions against only 224 yards, and the imposing confines of Tiger Stadium lay claim to yet another victim.

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The LSU offense proves better built for the elements. Pounding the ball on the ground relentlessly, the Tigers amass 324 yards of rushing offense. Senior running back Terrence Magee chews up 149 yards alone, averaging over 11 yards per carry as he streaks through the porous Aggie defense. Quarterback Zac Mettenberger plays a serviceable, mistake free game – flipping short passes to his receivers who break free of the flimsy Aggie arm tackles for extra yards. In the end, LSU walks away with a confident 34-10 victory, eliminating any last hope for a Johnny Manziel appearance in a BCS bowl game.

Thank you to Mandy and Karen for their always gracious hospitality and incredible setup!  Hope to see y’all again next year, and folks like you are the reason LSU is such a special place!!!

Special thanks to my friend Federico for making the trip down to Baton Rouge.  Can’t wait to hit another game with you next year man!

Tiger Stadium Wide

Full Clickthrough Gallery Below:

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Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M vs LSU

Unlike the Poinsettia and Armed Forces Bowls that I attended recently, the Cotton Bowl Classic represents one of the most historic and prestigious Bowl Games in College Football. Tracing its roots back to 1937, the Cotton Bowl is the 5th oldest Bowl Game in the country, predated only by the Rose Bowl (1901), Sugar Bowl (1934), Orange Bowl (1934), and Sun Bowl (1934). Together, these five bowls represent the core of traditional Bowl games, although both the Sun and Cotton have recently found themselves excluded from the BCS. Traditionally, the Cotton Bowl Classic features a Big 12 team versus an SEC opponent, and this years contest would represent the 75th playing of the game.

Interestingly, however, for the first time in its history the 2011 Cotton Bowl Classic would be a bit of a misnomer. During the last seventy five years, the game has been played in its namesake stadium the “Cotton Bowl” itself, an eighty year old facility occupying the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas. With the arrival of the new Jerry Jones inspired Cowboy Stadium monstrosity in Arlington, however, the game has been moved to this sparkling new location replete with sushi, Grey Goose and glow stick worthy décor. Perhaps AT&T ought to consider dropping the word “classic” from the game title.

Despite being outside of the prestigious and lucrative BCS bowls, the Cotton Bowl was easily one of the more intriguing Bowl match ups of the season this year. As you have read on this blog before, both Texas A&M and LSU are two of the most revered game day atmospheres in the College Football landscape, and they each represent some of the most ardent fan bases in the game. While it certainly doesn’t equal the intrigue and prestige of the Connecticut versus Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl match up, I relished the opportunity to witness a clash between two of my favorite adopted College Football squads.

Joining me on the day were a handful of old friends Bryce and Jared, along with a newcomer, though big follower of the Pigskin Pursuit – Merritt. Luckily in town for work, Merritt had rushed out to the local Wal-Mart to procure herself an LSU t-shirt in a show of SEC solidarity (much to the chagrin of her bruised Alabama undergrad pride). The rest of us had opted for Aggie maroon, since we are in the Lone Star state after all.

Prior to the game, we met up with Kipper again for some tailgating festivities amongst the wafting aroma of his dual pit trailer. Enamored with his barbecue, I came to find out that Kipper in fact competes in regional barbecue competitions and has garnered a couple of first prizes on his chicken. On this day, however, I couldn’t take my eyes of the mouthwatering Turducken that he smoked, stuffed with a Cajun inspired crawfish and shrimp dressing. An enticing culinary nod to the two squads taking the field on the day, it was every bit as delicious as it looked.

On the carpet, the Aggies came out firing first, jumping out to a 10-0 lead amidst a shocked Tiger defense. The potent Aggie offense was rolling, and audible high pitched whoops flooded Jerryworld. The celebration was to be short lived, however, as the LSU defense stiffened up and the gears started turning on their unpredictable offense. Erratic quarterback Jordan Jefferson took the lead, connecting on one of three touchdowns on the day with receiver Terrence Toliver. Jefferson, who had been benched a handful of times this season, really found his stride in this game, using his agility to elude capture on several occasions. The Aggie defense simply could not make a big third down stop, giving up a handful of agonizing third down conversions longer than ten yards. Celebrated A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a converted wide receiver who had reeled off five straight wins for the Aggies, was uncharacteristically inaccurate, tossing three interceptions at critical times. In the end, LSU walked away with a convincing 41-24 win, and Bryce and I remained after the game amidst hordes of purple and gold clad admirers vociferously belting out “Neck” in celebration.

This was a fantastic matchup between two classic College Football teams worthy of the Cotton Bowl heritage. While LSU may have prevailed on this night, both teams are going to be interesting to watch next year. They both feature a bevy of underclass starters, and should find themselves atop the rankings next season. Though I need little convincing to go watch either Texas A&M or LSU play…

This marks the end of the Pigskin Pursuit for 2011! It’s been a pretty wild 19 game ride that has taken me from coast to coast this year. But be sure to stay tuned for some more updates, and a sneak peek at what’s in store for 2011! There are some big surprises on the horizon and you’ll want a preview…

Thanks to my friends Brian and Federico for helping me find tickets to this game, it’s a shame you guys couldn’t join, but we’ll certainly catch up for a few games next year.

Thanks for Merritt for diligently following and finally being able to join me on the Pigskin Pursuit! Hopefully we can find our way down to Tuscaloosa next year.

Special thanks to Bryce and Jared for meeting up with me for yet another stop on the Pigskin Pursuit. Always a pleasure to have you guys along, and the tradition will continue in 2011!

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Hold That Tiger! LSU vs Tennessee

I love Louisiana.

 

Yes, I said it.

 

Like other great states (I’m looking at you Massachusetts and Texas), Louisiana has a robust identity. When you are in Louisiana, you know you are in Louisiana. It has a culture, heritage and identity completely unique to itself and it permeates all aspects of life there. The food, music, topography and language are all distinctive to the state and ingrained through generations into the social fabric. Furthermore, Louisianans are proud of this heritage, and like few other places I have been there is a shared solidarity among them that celebrates it. Whether it be kindness or “southern” hospitality, Louisianans take every opportunity to share that pride with you, and welcome you into their homes.

 

 

Nowhere was this hospitality more evident than with our host for the weekend, and proud fifth generation Louisianan (Louisianite?), Mandy. More appropriately, Mandy, and an assortment of her extended family that graciously welcomed us into all aspects of LSU and the broader Louisiana experience.

 

If it’s one place that people know how to tailgate, it’s LSU.Tiger fans have elevated tailgating to an art form in Baton Rouge.Sprawled among the campus under towering live oaks, you’ll find some of the most elaborate spreads and mouth watering Cajun fare simmering away beneath a sea of purple and yellow tents.

 

Starting our own festivities for the day, was one such pre game tailgate with Ron and Karen along with their famed “Van Geaux” tailgating machine. A reclaimed DHL delivery truck, Van Geaux housed the most welcoming tailgate setup we have attended in our all of our trips thus far. After wrestling our overflowing cooler of adult beverages over, we were greeted by a fantastic setup ranging from cookies and sausage balls to a coffin sized crock pot full of home made chicken and Andouille Gumbo. Better than all of that, however, were the dozens of other friends and family members that welcomed us with open arms and never let a cup go empty regardless of the colors some in our party were wearing. It was truly remarkable hospitality that almost made going into the game an afterthought.

 

However, I glanced down at our tickets that yet another of Mandy’s uncles had procured for us and noticed they were in the fourth row, so with a little corralling into the game we eagerly filed and settled into some of the best seats in the Tiger Stadium.

 

LSU versus Tennessee proved to be one of the more interesting games I have ever witnessed. With the exception of a field goal, the Tigers scored exactly twice on the day: on the first play of the game and the last play of the game. In between was an offense that sputtered to establish any momentum, and couldn’t sustain a drive all afternoon. The final series has been rehashed on TV all week, as the Vols thought they had the game won when LSU botched a shotgun snap on the final play. A hailstorm of debris came raining down from the LSU student section in protest of the botched ending, making me glad I had opted for LSU yellow.
 

Unfortunately, the temporary Tennessee victors forgot that you aren’t allowed to throw a bakers dozen jerseys out there on defense, and the yellow flag on the field would give LSU one final play.The Tigers took advantage of this fortunate second chance and crashed into the endzone for the win.Lost in the fact that LSU won, however, was how poorly head coach Les Miles managed the clock during the final two minutes of the game.I’m sure the fickle fans in Baton Rouge will not be too quick to let that get swept under the carpet.

 

 

This is our second time back to Tiger Stadium for a game, and I can assure you that LSU is an absolutely phenomenal experience.

 

The festivities weren’t over after the game however as more of Mandy’s ever gracious family invited all of us over to “visit” after the game. What followed was one of the more simplest yet delicious feasts that I have sunk my teeth into anywhere in our College Football travels. Jay was a master chef for the evening as fresh caught gulf shrimp were deftly battered in a homemade breading recipe and fried up Cajun style in the backyard. Eager open faced rolls awaited these golden nuggets from heaven along with all the fixin’s, and what followed was one of the shortest lived Po’Boys in the history of Louisiana. Deep fried sweet potato hush puppies accompanied the Po’Boys, the mix for which was acquired through Jay’s elusive connections to a local proprietor. These sweet potato hush puppies were absolutely sublime. On the scale of addictiveness they ranked somewhere between heroin and raw nicotine.

 

Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the feast in Kenny and Sandy’s backyard as I was a bit preoccupied with gorging myself into an early triple bypass. Some things are better left to the imagination anyway.

 

In the end, in case you haven’t realized it yet, LSU versus Tennessee was the perfect College Football weekend. It blended the perfect mixture of amazing friends (both old and new), welcoming family, unique culture, native foods, tailgating, gameday atmosphere and an incredible, competitive game. It’s the best of what College Football represents and an experience we won’t soon forget.

 

 

Special thanks to Bryce and Kate for coming along with us, especially all the planning that Kate put into making this weekend special. Sorry again about the Vols.

Thanks again to Mandy and Jake for making us part of their family, and all the incredible work that Mandy did into making this such a memorable experience. We hope to get you to Texas sometime.

And of course, thank you to all of Mandy’s family members, Karen, Ronald, Kenny, Sandy, Jay and a host of other incredibly kind and generous folks that opened their homes and tailgates to us.

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Pat’s BBQ

If you had to picture the quintessential road side Barbecue joint, Pat’s Barbecue in Tyler, Texas would be the image that comes into your held. Nestled into the piney woods of East Texas along the side of a rural county highway, Pat’s has all the hole in the wall rustic charm that one looks for in a proper barbecue shack. Having been around since the 1970’s, the building itself is a charred icon to generations of smoked meat, as a charcoal patina stains the interior of the rickety screen clad structure. The screens were a welcome reprieve for us on a breezy fall afternoon as we squeezed into one of four tables in the smoky interior for a late Sunday lunch.

 

While the ambience and charm at Pat’s is among the top handful of barbecue places I have ever been, the food itself resides somewhere closer to average. The sausage, both spicy and regular, were standard fare and tasted accordingly. The ribs and brisket were better, both had decent texture and moistness, but lacked a real depth of smokiness and flavor. Pat’s does use an appropriate old style brick pit, so I’m not quite sure why they didn’t have the same depth of flavor as other traditional BBQ joints. Finally, unsolicited sauce is the unfortunate norm at Pat’s, and I had to firmly ask twice that no sauce adorn my vittles. Others in our party weren’t so fortunate…

 

In the end, Pat’s is still certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in East Texas cruising along I-20. The rustic ambience alone is certainly worth the visit, especially juxtaposed to some of the modern metal BBQ monstrosities that I have visited around the state. The barbecue, while not exceptional, still satisfies and is certainly preferable to anything else you’re likely to find along the highway.

 

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