They have raged, raged like the Gulf of Mexico during a storm — for more than a decade now, since Nick Saban left Baton Rouge for the NFL, then made a U-turn back to the Southeastern Conference at the most infuriating destination of all, Tuscaloosa.
LSU fans have raged for a while, of course. Ross Dellenger, a Sports Illustrated reporter who worked for a time in Baton Rouge, remembers that they were enraged at Tiger Stadium in 2001, carrying a two-year grudge because Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville had smoked a cigar on the tiger’s eye at midfield after an AU win in 1999. There is no scientific way to measure whether the rage was higher then than it was in 2008, when Saban was both hung and burned in effigy on his first return to Baton Rouge after taking the Alabama job.
LSU didn’t win that day. It did win in 2010, when Gambler Les Miles converted fourth downs and fake punts and beat an Alabama team that didn’t fulfill its potential that year. (LSU also had a very good team.) It wasn’t long before the rage erupted like Vesuvius, though.
In 2012, Alabama came back to Baton Rouge after having snatched away the glory of LSU’s “Game of the Century” win by smothering the Tigers in a BCS Championship rematch that rankled many LSU fans from the moment it was made. So the hell-mouth opened again, burning as long as it had oxygen. Instead of that championship loss being avenged, LSU has watched Alabama win, and win, and win, with each victory in the streak acting like discarded plutonium on the fire. There has been no balm, only close game after close game, and, on top of that, every old grievance that LSU could find, from the SEC schedule to the SEC replay center in Birmingham to every time Alabama has hoisted another championship trophy.
This isn’t just anger. You can get angry at a friend, talk it over, work it out. This is rage, a feeling from an entire group that feels that it has been denied its due not only by the visible nemesis but by something deeper; some hidden cabal, what James Carville called “a conspiracy.”
So LSU fans will rage on Saturday. That’s their right. They may rage like they have never raged before, or it may be very much like they have raged in the past. The question is, will it translate on the field this time?
LSU’s head coach seems to think that this time, it will happen. The massive rage bombardment will transform LSU from a formidable team into a battalion of Incredible Hulks.
“Everybody’s going to pick it up, starting with me. Everybody knows that,” Ed Orgeron said at his Monday press conference. “This team plays well when they’re mad. I coach better when I’m mad. I like it, it’s good, we need to be that way.”
So far, there hasn’t been much swapping of bulletin board material. Some people tried to make something out of Saban saying that LSU linebacker Devin White, whose first-half suspension sparked the latest uproar, was a “great player,” but it was nothing more than a compliment. Orgeron, to his credit, was civil to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa when they chatted at a high school game last Friday. At some point on Saturday, there will be just be a football game between two good teams, and rage probably won’t be the factor that decides it.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.