NEW ORLEANS – With a morning practice behind them, the LSU football team headed East Wednesday afternoon, making the short 80-mile bus trip down I-10 for the BCS Championship Game.
The trip included one bus enduring transmission problems, helicopters hired by ESPN to carry the Tigers’ arrival at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel and a smattering of fans along the route to cheer the team as it made the trip.
Les Miles talked about remembering Hurricane Katrina and “the passion for this city” his team feels.
“There's no other place we wanted to play,” he said. “When our team voted to accept the Oregon game (last spring), they really pointed at this game. They wanted to qualify for this game. It was a feeling the staff, the team had all along. There's no other place for us to play. We're right where we needed to be.”
The four players who accompanied Miles Wednesday are all Louisiana natives. Two were in the Superdome in 2008 when the Tigers claimed the 2007 BCS National Championship – Will Blackwell as a true freshman and Brandon Taylor in the stands to root for older brother Curtis, a starting safety.
Still, the surreal arrival from Baton Rouge turned the four into kids in a candy store.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Taylor said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime memory.”
While Blackwell and Taylor have been to the dome to witness LSU history, Randle is back on familiar footing as well. He said he never lost a game at the ’Dome during his prep days at Bastrop High.
Reid, by contrast, has never played in the second jewel of Louisiana’s football landscape.
He’s less concerned about the venue that what’s at stake, though.
“I remember watching (the 2007 game) at home and going crazy,” he said. “To be in the (BCS Championship Game) and actually play in it is a dream come true. It’s one of the steps in my long list of goals.”
More notes and quotes from the Tigers’ arrival in the Crescent City:
All four players stuck to the company line of this being a business trip for LSU. None was more serious than Reid.
“It’s fun to be here but it’s not going to be fun if you don’t win,” he said.
When asked about the Tigers’ defensive goals, Reid was to the point.
Alabama produced six points on two field goals when the teams met in November, and missed four other kicks. Because of the perceived missed opportunities, many national pundits have claimed the Crimson Tide the better team.
“That doesn’t bother me,” Reid said. “That game has no effect on this one. That game is in the past. We’ve got to go out with a clean slate and not give them any points. If we make them mistakes it’s easy for them to get in the end zone or get field goals.”
Miles said his team’s unity council told him the players wanted an early curfew during their six days in New Orleans – Reid said it has been set for midnight.
“New Orleans is a big city,” Blackwell said. “It’s a … uh … fun city and with the guys on our team and being young, it’s easy to get caught up in all that. We’re going to do the best we can to not let any of that affect our goal.”
In part due to the curfew, Miles said he doesn’t expect much revelry – New Orleans-style or otherwise – until and unless there’s a reason to.
“Celebration may be put off for a while,” he said.
If form holds true, the Superdome will be decidedly pro-LSU on Monday. Perhaps not as much as when the Tigers faced Oklahoma or Ohio State, though, since Tuscaloosa is a much easier trip for the Bama fans.
Still, Miles and his players were confident there should be a home-dome edge.
“Tiger fans are loud,” Blackwell said with a smile. “We’ll have to see during the game who the advantage goes to.”
Added Miles, “I would guess in New Orleans we might have an edge in the seating. But we need to be prepared for the noise.”
During the course of the season, most college players don’t have time to watch much other football.
That has changed since the bowl season began, and by the time the Tigers and Alabama take the Superdome floor, every other game will have been played.
“It actually made me more anxious to get here,” Taylor said of watching other games. “We see teams that won, the players standing on the stage with all the confetti falling down.”
Miles was named the 2011 Walter Camp Coach of the Year on Wednesday.
The award is selected by the nation’s 120 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches and sports information directors.
He adds the Camp honor to the Home Depot and AP National Coach of the Year awards he won in December.
Under Miles, LSU is 75-17, including a 41-15 mark in SEC regular-season games. He is the only head coach in the history of the SEC to win at least 11 games five times during his first seven years in the league.
This season’s SEC crown was the Tigers’ second under Miles to go along with the 2007 BCS National Championship. During his seven-year tenure, 139 of Miles’ players have graduated with 104 earning SEC Academic Roll distinction.
Former Tigers coach Jerry Stovall won the Camp award in1982.
Mathieu motivated by family tragedies