Bucket List Birthday

IMG_6477My husband was born while his father was in Iowa, coaching Bob Griese and Purdue to victory. His mother should have been given the game ball, but it went to the head coach’s wife (it was her birthday). That’s just one of those family fables I’ve heard many times since becoming a member of his family. Having a father as a college football coach, most of Tom’s family’s stories involve an 11-inch pig skin ball. Flash forward 50 years and it was obvious what I would get Tom for a birthday gift. Two tickets on the 50-yard line to a sick college football game.

Last year, over dinner on a Saturday night, when it was just the two of us, I asked Tom what was on his bucket list. It was one of those questions that could spark a long, interesting conversation. He thought about it for awhile and then said, “Death Valley”. Hmmm… Death Valley? I didn’t want to seem clueless about the bucket list item of the man I’ve spent most of my adult life with, but I honestly couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. “Is that somewhere in Arizona?” “Lis, really? Come on. You should know where Death Valley is. It’s the football stadium where the LSU Tigers play. I want to see a game in Death Valley.” I smiled and changed the conversation.

When the tickets went on sale, I used my past experience buying excellent seats for Broadway shows (more of my type of bucket list item). I bought two seats in the middle of the stadium three rows back from the field. Since it was in Baton Rouge, LA, a 90 minute drive from New Orleans, I decided to make the weekend more palatable for me and planned a stay in NOLA including delicious meals and interesting city walks.  Several months ago, I told him to take Friday October 16th off from work as I was taking him away for a birthday surprise weekend. When I gave him his gift, and told him where we were going, he was extremely happy. Especially because I had chosen the best game of the season (according to him). Two undefeated teams, LSU and Florida in Death Valley on a Saturday night. He couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate.

Friday night we walked down Bourbon street, taking in all sorts of crazy and then had an incredible dinner at Peche (James Beard Winner – Top 10 Restaurants 2014). Saturday we started the day with breakfast at the Camellia Grill followed by a walk on Tulane’s campus, a visit to Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District and a long walk down Magazine street to Shaya (James Beard Winner – Best Chef in the South 2015) for lunch.  And then… it was game time.

We arrived in Baton Rouge around 3 for a 6:10 kickoff. I’ve been to tailgates, but not like this. Here are a few fun pictures…

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The stadium holds 102,321 people, and they were all there grilling burgers and drinking beer. It was surreal. People didn’t just set up tables and grill a few hot dogs. They had double flat screen tv’s on moveable walls with couches. Each tent had a generator with a trailer hitched to their truck to bring all the equipment. And I’ve never seen prettier girls all dolled up for a football game. Cute short dresses with cowboy boots were de rigueur.

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We entered the stadium about 90 minutes before kickoff just to take it all in. What I found was that unlike Broadway, the 3rd row is not necessarily the best location to see over the heads of the players standing on the sidelines, however, we were so close to the action it felt like we were sitting with the team. When Leonard Fournette (Tom’s pick for the Heisman) came running into the sidelines I, felt like I could reach out and give him a high five. When a ball flew into the crowd Tom and I both got our hands on it. We watched the ESPN guy go back and forth on the moving ladder chasing the ball, and we watched athletes get taped and players get coached.

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Watching football is something I’ve always done while I’m doing something else (except when my boys played – then I really paid attention). But this game was something totally different. I had no idea that the entire stadium would stand during the game. The only time people sat was during TV time-outs. Imagine 102k people standing on their feet, chanting the same cheers in unison. It was hypnotic. I loved it all and I’m torn about where we’ll see a game next year; the Grove, The Horseshoe or The Big House – I’m open to suggestions!

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