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New Year Is a Tiger 

In New Orleans, on the last night of the year, tens of thousands of well-lubricated LSU Tiger fans and equally pumped Illinois supporters huddled in Jackson Square to see the New Year's baby drop from the leaden skies while jazz bands poured it on from the stage. LSU co-eds shrieked their inimitable ear-splitting signals, college men bellowed, the bluesy jazz smoked. The bars were overflowing and the New Year rode in on a wave of football sentiment. A batch of Sugar Bowl babies were poised to be conceived. On the edges of the crowd, weary bohemians kept their distance like resentful sloths watching their jungle fill with muddy orks.

New Year's Day dawned like a gloomy hangover over the French Quarter. A purplestockinged, gold-wigged giant stood on stilts in the rain below the statue of Joan of Arc mounted on her golden steed on Decatur Street. He had been there all night with a go-cup of whiskey, like an augur scanning for omens. A blimp buzzed over his head, lit up like the last century. Most people slept until way past noon, then they had large Creole omelettes and Bloody Marys for breakfast and talked hoarsely about the team. After a mediocre start, the Tigers had finished the season with five straight wins. Now they were in the Sugar Bowl. Could life be any sweeter?

And then the white stuff -- snow not sugar -- started falling on Baton Rouge. It was a miracle. The beignet of heaven shook and sprinkled cars and roads. It was a sign no one could miss. Men of substance had pulled all the strings for tickets to the Sugar Bowl and never was the question "Who you know?" more apt. At LSU, football is a cult, wrapped in religion and shot through with stars and stripes and Jim Beam. I know a man who lives in a purple-and-gold house. Even the bathroom sinks are purple and gold and the house hums team trivia when you sit on the tiger-shaped couch.

That night, the Tigers scored and scored. The Illini made feeble attempts to stop them. About 40-plus points later, the Tigers closed the book. The after-game crowd poured back into the French Quarter under the freezing rain and did not stop celebrating until bodies gave out. The giant on stilts under Joan sprouted roots. The ticketless mortals just stayed in, watching the game on TV with hot toddies on the bedside table, sneaking looks at the unusual white world out the window. Life can be a fairy tale in America if you have a warm room and a TV and your college team is winning. (And this would be my sportswriting style if I was a sportswriter. Which I'm not. Aren't you glad?)


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