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There are a lot of LSU fans just like me," Curly Brisset, 46, was saying at twilight last Saturday outside Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge amid the unbridled hysteria of fans getting tuned up for the evening's game with No. 1-ranked Southern California. And to show just what kind of a fan he is, Brisset reached for his wallet and whipped out some pictures...of his New Orleans home. It's lovely, unless one happens to have an aversion to a $200,000 home painted purple and gold, which happen to be LSU's colors. The four antebellum columns, the fence, the gate and the mailbox are decorated with the same color scheme. And that's not all, folks. There's a painting of a tiger on the double front doors.
"I thought you might notice that," said Brisset. "A lady did it. Took her 11 days and nights. Cost me $300. When I was having the doors put up, my neighbor was sneaking around in the bushes and I heard him call to his wife in this anguished voice, 'Gloria, he's at it again.' " Curly admits his house is a conversation piece, maybe even a traffic hazard. Less dedicated LSU adherents obviously don't hold it in such high regard—the place was egged three times last week.
One of the photos shows Brisset's purple Cadillac—he's a Caddy salesman—with the purple interior parked out front. How come no gold top, Curly? "That would not be in good taste," he sniffs. Inside the car are well-worn tapes of LSU songs and rebroadcasts of the Tigers' most stirring games.
LSU's biggest star ever was 1959 Heisman winner Billy Cannon. Years ago, when Brisset's wife, Rosemary, was pregnant, they were at a game and Curly said, "If we have a boy I'm naming him Billy Cannon Brisset." Rosemary said, "You wouldn't dare." Today, Billy Cannon Brisset is a student manager for the Tigers. Curly didn't attend LSU, but he simply loves its football team to death.
Indeed, nowhere else in America can fans match the bonkers-beyond-bananas support that LSU backers bestow on the Tigers. In their eyes, nothing is too outrageous, as long as it's done in behalf of ol' LSU. Witness: there's one guy who swears he'll pay $1,000 to anyone who catches him not wearing purple socks. Witness: Jim LeBlanc and his family wear simulated tiger-skin outfits to games. "We like to show our colors—or stripes," he says. Witness: Tiger Stadium is better known to visiting teams as Death Valley. In this sort of setting, Curly is just one of the boys.
Last Saturday evening 78,322 such zealots arrived in a frenzy and worked up from there as their Tigers whipped USC all over the field—until 12:23 remained in the final quarter. Then the Trojans, behind 12-3 and surveying what looked like the wreckage of their anticipated national championship season, found life in Death Valley. They scored two touchdowns—including the game-winner with 32 seconds left—in the noisiest stadium in America, to triumph 17-12. That ran their record to 4-0 and prompted USC Coach John Robinson to say, "We have the heart of a champion."
That was no overstatement, especially considering that Southern Cal had the misfortune of encountering an LSU team which, pumped up beyond belief by its raucous fans, went out and played the entire game without its feet ever touching the ground. That was the only way the Tigers could've stayed with the Trojans, who already have been proclaimed by three football coaches as the best college team ever. Now, that might just be an overstatement. "Flattery is seducing," says Robinson. "That's a lot to live up to." Had the Tigers been able to hang on for the victory, it would have been their biggest win since 1971 when they whipped Notre Dame 28-8. Former Governor John McKeithen, a fan of properly wild devotion, says, "For that game, we got 'em in the stadium, locked the gates and kept 'em there until we beat 'em."
Southern Cal narrowly escaped a similar fate and knows it. And have no doubt, the spectators played a big, big role in the near upset. "Nothing is done at LSU to inhibit the spirit of our fans," says Athletic Director Paul Dietzel. "And they will get cranked up." That's a tradition in Cajun country, where life's main preoccupation seems to be finding new and better ways to keep the good times rolling. Indeed, the sainted Billy Cannon, now an orthodontist, laughs and says, "Great fans. Great. They're with you through everything, win or tie." But he's joking, because nowhere are the rooters as loyal in defeat.
It all makes a body tingle. These folks go berserk when the band marches on the field. A huge roar is heard for the Invocation, for heaven's sake. They not only know the words to the national anthem, they sing them, loudly. And, when the Tigers win the toss—as happened Saturday—there are tears of ecstasy.
To get ready for Death Valley, Robinson rented a crowd-noise tape from Universal Studios and installed a high-powered sound system at his practice field to broadcast the roars during last week's drills. Alas, the first day the system didn't work too well, but Robinson was his usual philosophical self. "That's O.K.," he told the crestfallen technicians, "our team isn't perfect either." Anyway, added Offensive Guard Brad Budde, "great teams aren't intimidated by the crowd." Certainly Budde played as if he couldn't be intimidated by a stadium full of genuine tigers. He put on the kind of performance that has stamped him as the best offensive lineman in the country.