Did everybody enjoy the open date weekend? Spend time with family? Maybe enjoy a little lower-stakes football (at least in terms of LSU interests)? Maybe take in the basketball opener? Good!
Remember seeing this happen?
Watched it live with my dad.
Man, tough way to lose, right? Just rips your guts out. Later that night, I saw that this happened.
Great, isn't it? Die hards, showing up to let those players know that sure...it was a brutal loss to a major rival -- the biggest gut punch in a season that's been full of them for the Bulldogs...but it's still great to be a Georgia Bulldog, and we still have your back.
And I thought to myself, "well...that would never happen here."
And you know what? That's pretty fucking sad.
Georgia's had a tougher year than LSU to date. They lost a huge non-conference game on a dropped field-goal snap. They got their one big win and then proceeded to lose the best running back in the country, along with God knows how many other starters or key contributors to injury, spurring a couple of close losses (nevermind losing a player to the worst targeting call in the penalty's short history). And then your star quarterback leads a tremendous comeback, on the road, versus one of your biggest rivals, only to lose on a fluke of a Hail Mary. Pretty damn tough season, but their fans are still in it.
Does anybody expect a rocking crowd next weekend when Johnny Football and Texas A&M come to Tiger Stadium? Because I don't.
Ed. Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to come clean: I won't even be there. My family's had a Thanksgiving Week trip to Disneyworld planned for about a year now, so I will be in route to Orlando on Saturday, though I'm certainly hoping to get there in time to catch the game on TV. And for those of you in a similar boat, understand that this rant is not aimed at you.
There was approximately 75K or so at the LSU-Florida game, which was still a huge matchup at the time. A few weeks later, two particularly galling losses, and it seems pretty hard to imagine that number getting back up to 90. For the last week, the radio and message board set have made something pretty clear.
That they don't think there's anything left to play for.
I'm going to be 32 years old in January. I've been an LSU fan my entire life, and that hasn't always been easy. Believe it or not, it wasn't always easy, even when Nick Saban was here. I've been lucky enough to see the Tigers play for a national or conference title eight times, winning one or both six out of the eight times, all in the last 12 seasons. For the 20 years before that, nothing close to that. Do you think I regret any of those other years? Of course not. You want to tell me I watched all of those games for nothing? Or that those players went out there and played for nothing? Go try it.
I didn't become an LSU fan because they were the popular team. Or because it was easy. Or to validate myself by rubbing it in to fans of other teams on the internet. I did it because I love being in Tiger Stadium. I did it because of my family, and because it's home. Those things were true in seven-, eight- or nine-loss seasons, and they're damn sure still true in a three- or, God forbid, four- or five-loss one.
If you can't stay loyal to a sports team in a disappointing season (nevermind the fact that half of this fan base came into the year predicting a three or four losses), you're simply a fair-weather fan. No matter what you tell yourself.
"But Billy, I hold LSU to a high standard and I demand excellence of this program!"
So do I. And when this season is over, I expect the powers-that-be in the coaching staff and athletic department to take steps to continue to improve with a strong recruiting class and an offseason program that will prepare the team to do better in 2014.
But so long as there are games on the schedule, LSU has something to play for. Are you okay with four or five losses? No? Well if you don't want the players to be okay with losing these games, maybe you should show up and let them know that you support them. Doing that isn't "accepting mediocrity." It's being a fan.
"But Billy, day games on CBS suck!"
No argument out of me. I'm all for the SEC finding new network partners besides CBS. Hell, I'm in favor of finding a new conference, if there was another one that was a financial match, but that's nothing new. 2:30 kickoff games have always sucked, and they always will. But that's not changing. Go. Cheer. Be loud. Be an LSU fan.
"But [traffic/crowd/parking excuse]"
Those things were there in 2011 when LSU was undefeated all season, too. They'll still be there in the future when LSU is playing and winning big games as well. They're going to be there regardless of the team's record.
"But Billy, the team quit at the end of the Bama game!"
They absolutely did. They should be embarrassed, and I hope the open date included multiple shaming sessions. In fact, I really, really hope that some NFL scout made it known to La'El Collins that no NFL team is interested in a left tackle that lets his quarterback crawl off of the field.
So are we going to really show them and quit too? Compound the situation? Is that the kind of atmosphere we want around this program? And yes, fans do bear some responsibility in creating that atmosphere and setting that mood.
If we want to know why we've seen LSU dog it after losing to Alabama so many times, maybe it's because nobody around the program really cares about anything else.
LSU fans want to talk about how great home games are, how great they are, when the Tigers win. Great fans don't wuss out if the team does.
"But the defense..."
Sometimes great programs have to rebuild on one side of the ball. If there's a coach on LSU's campus in any sport that's earned that right after carrying more than his share of the program's load in recent years, that coach is John Chavis.
Besides, the Saints have stunk on defense for just about all of Sean Payton's tenure. Never stops people from filling up the Superdome and cheering like mad.
"But [insert doom-and-gloom cliché re: the program's health]..."
Ain't it fun doing this every couple of years?
In 2002, LSU had a disappointing recruiting class on the heels of the team's first SEC title in decades, lost the top player in the state and then lost five games. Was that a sign that 2001 was a fluke? How about 2005, when "that dummy Miles" didn't know what he was doing, per half of the fan base? Or 2008, when they lost five games? Or 2009, when the offense fell off the map? Or 2011, when *gasp* LSU finished second in country but got embarrassed in the title game?
You know, one day the Chicken Little crowd will be right about the demise of the Les Miles Era at LSU. Coaching tenures end, and frankly, most of the time they don't end well. But if I can mix my metaphors for a second, a batter under the Mendoza Line gets a hit every once in a while too. But the hitting coach doesn't sit there expecting a 56-game hitting streak after every fluke hit, does he?
The "LSU is doooooomed!" crowd has been, and will continue to be wrong many, many times before they finally get it right. Pardon me if I don't expect them to have it pegged just yet.
Again, has it ever occurred to anybody that the reason so many Tiger teams blow off the rest of the schedule might have something to do with the fact that all LSU fans talk about is what Saban is doing in Tuscaloosa? Alabama is on an unprecedented, historical run, even by the standards of great programs. And part of the reason that's going on is because that program focuses on every snap of every game. Not just one game against a rival.
They're the clear top program in the SEC right now, and put some distance between themselves and No. 2. But are you going to stand there and tell me that LSU isn't No. 2 right now? Who's ahead? Auburn, which was 0-8 a year ago? The aforementioned Georgia? Florida, a program having its worst season since the 1970s? Texas A&M? The Aggies have never finished better than third in the West Division, and won't do any better than that this year. Missouri may actually beat them to Atlanta.
LSU might not be Alabama right now, but nobody is. That doesn't mean that the program isn't in a damn good spot to get back on top, and get there faster than anybody else in the conference.
So again, if you have a chance to be in Tiger Stadium on Saturday, do it. Show up early, stay to the end and cheer your damn guts out. LSU might win, LSU might lose, but either way, if LSU's playing a game, they're playing for something.
And if that's not good enough for you, well then maybe you're just not much of an LSU fan.