By Jared Cooper
In the third installment of his 13-part series highlighting the SEC college towns and Atlanta, the site of the SEC Championship Game on December 4, SportsPowerWeekends.com founder/editor Jared Cooper takes a closer look at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home of the LSU Tigers. LSU will host the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday at Tiger Stadium at 2:30 PM CT.
Previous articles: Athens, GA
; Gainesville, FL
We’ve taken you between the hedges in Athens, and introduced you to the Gators in Gainesville, but in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we’ll be venturing into an actual swamp, or at least the one at the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center. The home of the LSU Tigers, Baton Rouge, situated alongside the Mississippi River, is a confluence of many cultures and flavors, and lives up to its motto, “authentic Louisiana at every turn.”
Baton Rouge is a versatile city: it is the capital of Louisiana, but houses universities like LSU and Southern. It is young, as it was named one of the 10 best places for young adults by Portfolio magazine, but it is professional, as illustrated by being named the No. 9 place to start a business by CNN Money.
Most notable about Baton Rouge, however, is how it comes together on Saturday nights in the fall to create one of the greatest home-game atmospheres in all of sports, let alone college football. The LSU Tigers will take on the Tennessee Volunteers in a rare day game at Tiger Stadium, but don’t fret; Death Valley is still plenty intimidating in the sunlight.
Let there be no doubt, when you are hungry in Louisiana you go Cajun and Creole or you go home. Go to The Chimes Restaurant and Tap Room and don’t be shy; with crawfish etouffee, catfish, New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, and a variety of fried seafood platters among the many local favorites on the menu, you are in for a treat. Wash it down with an Abita or one of their dozens of other beers on tap and there is hardly a better way to start your weekend.
The night is still young as you go from one of Louisiana’s favorite pastimes (food) to another (partying). Boudreaux & Thibodeaux’s is a good spot to let your hair down and listen to some live music. As part of the “Live After 5” fall series, Blaine Roy & Second Wind will treat the crowd to some country/southern rock. At midnight the bar switches gears and turns into a dance party. There is something for everyone at B&T.
With LSU playing its only day home game of the year, you will not have a ton of time to take in the city before starting to tailgate and preparing for the main event. That doesn’t mean you should just sleep in though.
Head into downtown Baton Rouge after grabbing a quick bite at Louie’s Café; that is if you didn’t stop in their last night after B&T’s. Check out the Old Louisiana State Capitol Building (also called the Castle of Baton Rouge), which is adjacent to Baton Rouge City Hall and the Old Governor’s Mansion. You will also pass the nearby USS Kidd, where you can walk the decks of the Fletcher-class destroyer, known as the “Pirate of the Pacific,” that serves as part of a memorial to honor America’s Armed Forces. Make your way up North River Road to the Louisiana State Capitol, which is the tallest state capitol building in the United States, and was once the tallest building in the south. The building is nestled between State Capitol Park and Arsenal Park, and makes for quite the spectacle.
As the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been. Well, now that you know where Baton Rouge has been, you should be excited about where its people are going; Tiger Stadium. The accolades heaped on Tiger Stadium seem to go on and on. The Sporting News proclaimed Tiger tailgating and “Saturday Night in Death Valley” as the top gameday tradition in all of college football, ESPN.com named it the scariest place to play in 2007, and it was named the most spirited student section by ESPN the Magazine in 2008. For the time being, we will focus on another piece of lofty praise from ESPN the Magazine regarding Tiger Stadium: the country’s top tailgating location.
The Tigers have the eighth-largest on-campus stadium in the country (92,400 fans) with another additional 20,000+ who show up on gameday just to tailgate. LSU estimates that over two-thirds of Tiger fans tailgate for five or more hours before each game. All of the best Cajun food (jambalaya, seafood gumbo, duck, gator, rabbit, shrimp, etc.) that you can imagine is being cooked up all around you. Soak in the scene.
About two hours before kickoff you can witness the “March Down the Hill,” where LSU coaches and players walk down Victory Hill between Tiger Stadium and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Shortly thereafter, the mascot, Mike the Tiger, will precede the greatest band in all the land, the Golden Band from Tigerland down the same hill. Make sure to be at your seat at least 15 minutes before kickoff to see one of the top pregame routines in college football as the band takes the field.
The Tigers have a 32-6 record at home under Les Miles, who instituted the tradition of having the players and coaches sing the Alma Mater after each home win. Before the 2009 season, Tiger Stadium added an 80-foot wide, 27-foot high high-definition video board to the north endzone of the facility. Renovations to the area surrounding Tiger Stadium on North Stadium Drive are also forthcoming.
After the game you’ll probably need some time to unwind, but this is a Sports Power Weekend, so you’ll need to keep your head in the game. If you head back into downtown Baton Rouge you can check out the Shaw Center and go up to Tsunami on the sixth floor. More than being known for having the best sushi in town, Tsunami has the best view of the sun setting over the Mississippi in Baton Rouge. Get a drink there if you aren’t looking for a full dinner in this upscale $55 million, five-year-old building.
For a more low-key dinner you can head out east to Dempsey’s for some potboys and authentic Louisiana cooking. If you want to stay local on campus, you can always go to the trusty chain Raising Canes for some chicken fingers and sandwiches. This happens to be former LSU All-American safety LaRon Landry’s favorite restaurant on campus.
Finish off your long day with a drink and some LSU highlights at Hound Dog’s or Roux House in downtown, or if you are still feeling energetic there is the gameday party at Varsity that seemingly goes on all night.
From perhaps the best home game atmosphere in college to arguably the best in the NFL, the nearby Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints are hosting the division-rival Carolina Panthers. Before making the one hour and 20 minute drive southeast to New Orleans for the 12 PM CT kickoff, make a pit stop at Frank’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge for some breakfast biscuits.
After the game, familiarize yourself with New Orleans a bit. The Allstate Sugar Bowl is held annually at the Louisiana Superdome and will feature the champions of the SEC. Unless of course the SEC champs are playing in the BCS National Championship Game. Again.
Jared Cooper worked for the National Football League’s PR department for four years before creating SportsPowerWeekends.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@SportsPowerWknd) or contact him at Jared.Cooper@SPWtravel.com.