Since then the quarterback has been attending to the people in his apartment. "I've been staying up real late getting medicine and stuff," a bleary-eyed Russell said. "Plus, I couldn't eat after what I saw [at the Maravich Center]."
Is he worried about losing the big game? "What's losing a game," he said, "when people are losing their kids, their parents, their houses? Nothing."
Just ask Russell's teammate, defensive end Donald Hains. As of Sunday he still hadn't heard from his parents, who live in Diamond Head, Miss., which took a direct hit from Katrina. "I'm glad I have football," Hains said. "It's my only escape."
The LSU equipment manager, Greg Stringfellow, was up to his clipboard in everything but football. "The Minnesota Vikings just called," he said, staring at his Blackberry during Saturday's practice. "They're sending two semis full of supplies." A Detroit Lions fan named Vince Soulsby was sending 25. Out in the parking lot LSU athletes had already filled up one tractor-trailer with stuff they had donated or collected on their own.
Everybody in the athletic department was in chin-deep. Driving to campus, the football team's trainer, Jack Marucci heard a plea from the hoop hospital over the radio: Vaseline, gauze and 20cc syringes were desperately needed. Hey, Marucci said to himself, I have all that. Fifteen minutes later, he delivered them.
So, no, sports had nothing to do with the Gulf Coast's surviving Katrina, except everything. And that's because you always forget what sports can provide--can-do staff, fit and focused athletes, and huge, versatile arenas--in times of trouble.
Inside the field house--hospital, half the patients wore LSU purple and gold because so many students had donated clothing. As I gazed out at that sea of beds, I thought it looked as if the school's booster club was fresh from a train pileup.
"I never used to root for LSU much," said one purple-shirted diabetic, who'd been rescued by boat from the flooded Charity Hospital in New Orleans, "but after this, I guess we're all fans."
? If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to email@example.com.