Tigers feel right at home in the Dome
NEW ORLEANS -- Once upon a time in the bowl business, teams regularly played for the national championship in their backyard. Miami won three national championships on its home field, the now-demolished Orange Bowl. Florida State won one there, too. The Hurricanes and the Seminoles took turns beating up on poor visiting Nebraska most of the time.
As the Big Eight champion, the Huskers served as the "host" team. The reason it took former Huskers coach Tom Osborne 22 seasons to win a national championship is that he too often finished the year in a neutral bowl game that was anything but.
The BCS is supposed to have solved that problem by whisking the top two teams out of their host bowls and into a championship game. But every time the crystal football shows up in New Orleans, LSU shows up to claim it.
"This is our stadium," Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery said.
He sat at a table on the field at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during media day Friday, three days before No. 1 LSU will play No. 2 Alabama in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. As soon as the Tigers' interview period ended, preparations for the Saints-Lions playoff game Saturday night would begin.
"Not only do we have the support of Louisiana, but we have the New Orleans Saints, too," Montgomery said. "This place will be rocking. Saints people may not even leave their seats. They may just stay here."
"It's right down the street," Tiger defensive tackle Michael Brockers said (true, if that street is 80 miles of I-10). "I'm hoping the stadium is going to be 90 percent purple and gold."
Alabama players and coaches hoped for something closer to 60-40.
"We're obviously preparing for the worst, as far as noise goes, the home-field-advantage aspect of it," said Crimson Tide center William Vlachos, who must make the line calls amid the din. "We've been practicing that since practice started, silent cadences. I think we'll be prepared for it."
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Alabama will crank up the speakers at its practice Saturday to simulate the crowd noise. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said the Tide may catch a break from the makeup of the crowd.
"There are usually a lot of corporate tickets in a game like this," McElwain said.
By contract, each team receives 17,000 tickets to the Superdome, which should have 72,000 people Monday night. The remaining 45,000 tickets are divided among Sugar Bowl season-ticket holders, corporate sponsors and the 125-person Sugar Bowl Committee, which is allowed to buy a minimum of eight tickets and a maximum that depends on seniority.
Since committee members must live in Louisiana, it's safe to say that the vast majority are LSU fans. At least one of them has a rooting interest in the Crimson Tide. Former Sugar Bowl president Ronnie Burns is the brother of Alabama running backs coach Burton Burns.
Asked whether his brother would be wearing crimson Monday night, Burton Burns said, laughing, "Maybe his underwear."
There may be no head coach more familiar with what Alabama will be up against Monday night than Tide head coach Nick Saban. Eight years ago, he brought LSU to the Superdome, where the Tigers defeated Oklahoma 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl to win the national title. Saban brushed aside two questions about the advantage LSU enjoyed that night.
"We knew we're going to have to overcome adversity in this game," Saban said, "and the circumstance that we play in here is just one of the adversities that we'll have to have the mental toughness to deal with."
Sooners head coach Bob Stoops told me years later that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't have had his team practice in the Superdome during the week. Too many eyes were watching the Sooners, he believed. Saban pretty much responded that Oklahoma would have had to practice outside the state lines to avoid that dilemma.
Maybe, in this era of the secondary ticket market, Alabama will show up in greater numbers. On StubHub, the dominant colors are not purple and gold, or crimson and white. They are green and more green.
"I think this game is going to be about who wants the tickets more," said Alabama offensive tackle Barrett Jones, the Outland Trophy winner. "Who's willing to pay for them? I think we're allowed the same amount they are. The other ones are going to be who pays more for them, and I have great confidence in our fans. They followed us all the way to Pasadena [for the 2010 BCS title game]. We had more fans than Texas there. I know that they're going to show up and support us."
They had better. Four years ago, when LSU pounded Ohio State 38-24 to win the BCS national championship, the Buckeyes fans gradually grew silent beneath the onslaught of the Tigers and their fans in the Superdome. LSU strong safety Brandon Taylor, then a high school senior, sat in the stands that night with his family.
"It was the loudest game I've ever been to in my life," Taylor recalled. "I had committed my junior year of high school. After they won the national championship, it was set in stone."
LSU guard Will Blackwell, a redshirt freshman that year, celebrated with his team on the sidelines.
"If we can't play this game in Tiger Stadium," Blackwell said, "the only place we'd rather play it is here."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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