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A Football Odyssey
Ron Fimrite
November 18, 1974
In which the writer, accompanied by Artist Franklin McMahon, travels from Baton Rouge to Norman to Ann Arbor in 48 hours to watch three big college games and recapture his youth
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November 18, 1974

A Football Odyssey

In which the writer, accompanied by Artist Franklin McMahon, travels from Baton Rouge to Norman to Ann Arbor in 48 hours to watch three big college games and recapture his youth

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"Here, Bill, let me have a look-see. Same thing happened to my Winnebago...."

LeBlanc, LSU, class of 1940, is a balding, long-faced Baton Rouge businessman of many trades—real estate development, contracting, plumbing—who, though unfailingly courteous, betrays certain xenophobic suspicions during the football season. There is always the dark possibility, however remote, that some auslander may not regard LSU football as the ultimate art form.

"Ah wasn't too sure about you at fust...but ah think we'll get along just tine from now on. Glad you're interested in the Tigahs...."

LeBlanc's reverence for his alma mater is untainted by logic, reason or maturity. Louisiana State in the '30s seemed wholly the creation of Huey Long, the state's demagogic governor and United States Senator. The Kingfish, as he was not always affectionately known, pumped state funds into the campus coffers, personally ruled on administrators, even faculty members, led the Tiger band at halftime and freely proffered unwanted counsel to the various football coaches he helped hire and fire. Long saw LSU as the country-cousin antagonist of the city-slick, snobbish private school, Tulane. LSU was Long's baby; for the Cajuns from the bayous it represented freedom from poverty. The country youths who got their education at LSU in this time remain eternally grateful. Their devotion to the Old School is unshakable; a Yalie's allegiance to Eli is, by comparison, tenuous, even frivolous.

LeBlanc's home is a reflection of his own fidelity. A nearly life-size plywood replica of the LSU Tiger, festooned with crepe streamers of purple and gold, hangs above and to the right of the living room fireplace. A stuffed tiger doll, also nearly life-size, stands guard before the couch. On the bar there is a photograph of Mike III, the official team mascot, who growls portentously before each home game. Near Mike there is a cartoon of an LSU tiger suckling at the teats of an Arkansas Razorback. A ceramic tiger lurks in the grass alongside the swimming pool in the backyard. And in the LeBlanc bathrooms, guests scrub with bars of soap on which have been carved tiny, grinning tigers. It is impossible to wash one's hands of the imagery.

Crews LeBlanc, Bill's 23-year-old son, is at the helm of the Wanderlodge, and brother Doug, 21, is on the public-address microphone as the football party clambers aboard, plastic glasses in hand. Recorded broadcasts of great moments in the history of LSU football are played on the speaker system. Memories are warmed by hysterical accounts of Billy Cannon's game-winning 89-yard punt return against Mississippi in 1959 or of Bert Jones' last-second touchdown pass also against Ole Miss in 1972. The passengers cheer again these epochal achievements.

Doug LeBlanc interrupts the nostalgic broadcast. "As is traditional on these occasions," he announces as the Wanderlodge bounces off the driveway onto the shaded street, "we will begin our trip with a prayer. Today's prayer will be rendered by United States Senator J. Bennett Johnston Jr. Senator Johnston...."

The Senator, a Democrat, rises unsteadily to his feet as the big mobile home lurches down the street.

First off, he suggests, the Lord should see to it that the Wanderlodge safely negotiates the journey to the stadium parking lot. Once the game begins, He should do everything in His power to protect players on both sides from serious injury. Finally, and for this Johnston disqualifies himself as an objective beseecher, He should assure that, in the inevitable victory, the LSU fans and players behave as "good winners." Amen.

"The bar," says Doug, regaining the microphone, "is now officially open."

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