As we brace ourselves for the annual LSU/Alabama smash down this Saturday I am reminded of my brush with former LSU coach Nick Saban in 2008.
My timing was bad. I was driving from New Orleans to Marksville. Heading west along I-10 the traffic was moving smoothly but began to build up around Gramercy.
I was aware that one of college football’s biggest rivalry games was being played in Baton Rouge that day. Certainly, all the passing SUVs with tiger tails attached to their antennas would have also been a reminder. I just had not expected the traffic to be building up so early. I thought I would be going through Baton Rouge within the time between the tailgaters, who had probably been on the road by dawn, and the non-tailgaters who had no reason to sit in the sun for an extra two hours before kickoff. But my estimation was wrong. Seemingly everyone was in a hurry to get to Baton Rouge that day as though they needed to stand in the shadow of Tiger Stadium while getting their game faces ready.
By the time I crossed into East Baton Rouge parish traffic had slowed to a creep. By the Bluebonnet Exit other arteries were feeding traffic to the already clogged interstate.
For the next 20 minutes or so I inched along. If the vehicles on the interstate had been an IQ test, I would have been the one that did not belong in the group. Here I was heading for Marksville on the day when everyone else was going to Baton Rouge.
But then something extraordinary happened. Suddenly I could hear approaching police sirens forcing traffic from the left lane into the middle lane where I was. Moments later a police escort whizzed by followed by busses moving at high speed. What was this prized cargo given the prerogative of having a lane to itself? It was, I realized, the Alabama football team.
As the team busses rumbled by, I had an impish thought. What if I would maintain my pace in the middle lane until the last bus passed and then swing into the left lane to follow the fast moving busses through town?
That’s what I did, and it worked perfectly. Way up front in this caravan I envisioned Alabama coach Nick Saban sitting in the first seat not realizing the opportunities he was creating behind the caboose.
I sped behind the team busses across Baton Rouge as far as the Dalrymple Drive Exit where the busses turned off, but so too did the game traffic. From there on I was racing toward the goal line.
I was so please with myself was I that I called the sports talk show that I had been listening to and told the radio guys what I had just done. One of them summarized it perfectly: “You were like a Fullback with the Alabama line blocking for you down the field!” Exactly.
And Nick Saban was leading the way.
By the time I was driving back that evening the game was still being played so traffic was no problem. From the high-rise that crosses the river Tiger stadium could be seen glowing to the right.
Beneath those lights a thriller was taking place. There was already an edge to the game because of Saban’s return to Baton Rouge as a visiting coach. Through four Quarters two long-time powerhouse schools battled it out, only to go into overtime. The Tigers were valiant against the favored Crimson Tide but lost a heartbreaker 27-21.
By the time the game ended I was past Gramercy heading east. Soon the Alabama busses would be back on the interstate. I owed Nick Saban a favor, but, no, he would have to find his own blocking.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 p.m., REPEATED AT 11:30 p.m..WYES-TV, CH. 12.