College Football Playoff: OU fans recall the horrors of LSU fans at the Sugar Bowl
The bare-chested men standing alongside Interstate 49 were the first clue that the OU-LSU Sugar Bowl would be different for Sooner fans accustomed to New Year’s revelry.
Just south of I-20 in Shreveport, Louisiana, where OU fans would turn south for New Orleans, stood the shirtless guys, in cold weather, holding up spray-painted signs that read “Tiger bait.”
The LSU catchphrase did not lose steam in the French Quarter or the Garden District or along Canal Street.
Sixteen years ago, New Orleans hosted the national championship game, and Oklahoma fans were riding high. The 2000 Sooners won the national title in the Orange Bowl. OU won the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl, respectively, the next two seasons, and the Sugar Bowl would complete the consecutive-years grand slam of college football’s most tradition-rich bowls.
Instead, that Sugar Bowl trip became anything but festive for thousands of OU fans. Not just because LSU upset the Sooners 21-14. The stories of LSU fans behaving badly have become legion, and the tension on the streets of New Orleans was palpable even for neutrals in the days leading up to the Jan. 4, 2004, game.
“I have never been treated worse by any fan base,” said Randy Stansel, now 68, of Norman. “I can deal with ‘Tiger bait,’ but when you are in my face, drunk and spitting as you scream at me, it becomes more than annoying. The whole experience left me wondering what the alcoholism rate was in Louisiana. All schools have some bad fans. I was left with the feeling that LSU just has more of them.”
Now comes another high-stakes OU-LSU game, a College Football Playoff semifinal Saturday in the Peach Bowl, and memories of those few days in New Orleans resonate with Sooner fans.
Glenn Gantt, now 43 and of Dallas, saw the shirtless men on I-49. Gantt is more philosophical than most. “Some folks treat you like a welcomed guest and others like you're slime,” Gantt said. “We had some knuckleheads that were mean-spirited.”
Mean-spirited. That’s the word. College football is designed for good-natured trash talking and promoting your school. But more than five dozen OU fans reached out to me in the last week, saying that’s not what happened in New Orleans.
Some of the tales are scary. Of a group of young LSU fans trying to urinate on a couple of OU coeds after the game. Of LSU female fans not letting an OU fan out of her restroom stall in the Superdome. Of a young girl, eight to 10 years old dressed in a Sooner cheerleader outfit, being called a “whore” by a grown LSU fan.
The OU fan base has traveled across the continent, playing in bowls games and on campuses against some of the most renowned programs in the sport. But the Sooner faithful was not ready for what awaited in New Orleans, which is 70 miles from Louisiana State University’s Baton Rouge campus
These are their stories:
John Sullivan, now 60, of Houston: “The LSU fans were terrible/awful/deplorable. The experience was far worse than attending any OU-Texas or OU-OSU game. On literally every street corner in the French Quarter, we were accosted by drunken Tiger fans screaming ‘Tiger Bait’ and throwing either food, drink or Mardi Gras beads at us.”
Christi Bradshaw, 49, of Choctaw: “We went to the Sugar Bowl with our then 10-year-old son. LSU fans of all ages were screaming in our face and his. ‘Tiger Bait!’ They were ridiculous, and we are diehard fans and pretty hard to offend. We typically appreciate school loyalty and the back and forth between fan bases, but this was totally different. We couldn’t get out of the state fast enough the next morning.”
Steven Thomas, 58, of Okmulgee: “It was our worst experience ever for a football game. My wife and I tried every way to avoid them, and they would still walk across the street and poke you in the back and call you trailer trash. I am not one to take stuff like that, but I was out-numbered probably 500-1 at any time. We witnessed them pouring beer on elderly fans that were passing by under the balconies. Everywhere we ate they harassed us. We will never attend another game that involves LSU.”
Mike Myers, 51, Greenville, S.C.: “I can’t think of a place where I was treated worse by opposing fans. Never have so many people got in my face yelling ‘Tiger Bait.’ It was miserable. They had no boundaries on what they would do. The fortunate thing was that I didn’t have my young child with me at the game.”
Caleb Crandall, 40, Gas City, Ind.: “The LSU fans were the worst I’ve ever experienced! I go to OU-Texas every year and most years make the bowl games. My friends and I routinely had people throw beers in our faces, chant in our face, physical confrontations, and curse in our face.”
Warren Parham, 58, Dallas: “As a grad of both schools, I was a fan of LSU before that game, never since. I knew that their fans were going to be rough, but of all the games I had been to in Baton Rouge, nothing prepared me for the onslaught of rude and vulgar comments before and after the game. Fans were worse after the game because they had been drinking all day.”
Kevin Morris, 59, Oklahoma City: “From urinating fans atop the balconies on the French Quarter, to stumbling drunk LSU fans at 10 a.m., I will never forget seeing the worst fans in college football. No one from LSU treated us well at that game.”
Mark Cosby, 59, Overland Park, Kan.: “We had a great time with the LSU fans. They were extremely passionate about their Tigers — purple and gold from head-to-toe. They definitely enjoyed partying both before and after the game. It was crazy on Bourbon Street following the game. I've experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the after-game environment was every bit as festive (and inebriated). It was a tough game, but the Tiger loyal were a good group.”
Russ Whitehead, 71, Woodward: “Must have been called ‘Tiger bait’ a thousand times. Most of it was good natured. We were in a Sooner red Jeep so we drew a lot of attention! Mostly kids would surround the table in restaurants and chant. Stood in front of the Jeep at stoplights and pointed at us and hollered ‘Tiger bait.’ We probably asked for some of it. We tried to give as good as we got. A few very rude ones. Not many. It was fun.”
Andrew Hewlett, 33, Norman: “I have long heard LSU fans were terrible for that game. Overall, my family and I were treated incredibly well by LSU fans, so I feel as though I cannot relate to OU fans that consistently spread that message. On the post-game stroll from the Superdome to the French Quarter hotel, it did seem as though some bandwagon fans that were there seemingly were more interested in drinking did get a little mouthy.”
Kelly E. Wise, 36, Dallas: “I attended as a junior at OU with a number of sorority sisters. We were constantly yelled and screamed at — even in the middle of the day. Constant commentary on our looks, repeatedly cursed at and generally treated incredibly poorly. However, I’d be remiss to not acknowledge a couple of LSU parents who were incredibly kind. We walked out of the Sugar Bowl after our devastating loss and asked the mounted police officers patrolling the area which direction to walk to get a cab. They pointed us in a direction, and off we went. After we had been walking for 5-10 minutes, a Tahoe or similarly-sized SUV pulled up next to us. Inside were two LSU fans who appeared to be my parents’ age. They insisted that we immediately get in the car and that they would take us wherever we needed to go. The group of us protested, as we recounted that the New Orleans police had pointed us in that direction to get a cab. The LSU fans were not having it, and insisted that we get in their car because we could not be walking around in that neighborhood. We were scared and exhausted, and we ultimately got into their car and they dropped us off at our hotel. As college kids we had no knowledge that the area around the Sugar Bowl was not an area where a group of unknown, clueless, college girls could quickly find themselves in a bad situation. I sincerely hope that those LSU parents got the flowers we sent them when we made it safely back to Norman.”
Norman Arnold, 53, Edmond: “As a regional sales representative, I covered the entire state of Louisiana for about 20 years. Great people. Passionate. They are proud of their heritage and their food. They love the Saints and they love their Tigers. We stayed on Bourbon Street. Tiger Bait chants were rampant, aggressive and in your face. The scene on game day was a madhouse down on Bourbon Street. The key element, in my opinion, was the fact that the game was in New Orleans, in LSU’s backyard. The party atmosphere, the unfamiliarity of the foes, and the fact that OU had just gotten demolished by K-State (in the Big 12 title game) was a lethal combination. I walked away putting LSU right on a pedestal with Texas Tech fans. Since that time, I have attended a few LSU home games. What an atmosphere. One of the best tailgating experiences you can ever have. The smell of everything they’re boiling and grilling is heaven. My opinion of the Tigers quickly changed.”
COMPARING FAN BASES
Mitchell Brown, 31, Yukon: “Absolute worst experience fan-wise that I have ever experienced. One-10 scale, 10 being very kind and respectful — USC fans in a blowout, 8. Texas fans at the Cotton Bowl, 4-5. OSU fans in Stillwater, 4-5. LSU fans, 2. LSU fans wanted to physically touch you up after the game. Incredibly disrespectful. A good description of most of their fans: raging.”
Jeremy Nielson, 45, Saratoga Springs, Utah: “I was also at the OU game in Tuscaloosa earlier that season, and the contrast could not have been more stark! Bama fans in Tuscaloosa were wonderful. Very friendly, and first class all the way.”
Robert Bowman, 51, Rockwall, Texas: “I’ve attended a lot of OU away games since the ‘90s — Notre Dame, Alabama, UCLA, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, every Texas game since ‘92, and all the national championship games. Hands down the LSU fans were the worst.”
Barry Duren, 62, Duncan: “My buddy and I spent three days in New Orleans. We did the usual things. Bourbon Street, hitting Acme Oyster House and the WW2 museum. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere we went, LSU fans would walk up to us and get in our face and say ‘Tiger bait.’ While eating dinner a couple of times we were approached during the meal and yelled at. It was really odd. Humorous at first but then it got a little old. I will say that Miami fans are the worst. I feared for me and my wife walking to the car after the game in Miami. LSU fans were irritating but I never felt threatened.”
Chris Manning, 51, Denver: “I attended the national championship games against USC and Florida in Miami — those fans were fine. The USC fans were particularly nice to engage with. But the LSU experience in New Orleans was the worst fan experience I've encountered. We tried to engage in friendly banter in some bars in the French Quarter but were rebuffed, most usually in a very rude, bordering on caustic, manner. I certainly understand that there are contingents of every college fan base which do not show the best side of their university (OU included), but our experience certainly shaded our view of the LSU fan base in a negative way. I've never had a 10-year-old curse at me (unprovoked) before or since but it happened that weekend — and the parents were egging the little sucker on. Unbelievable. I've experienced away games in South Bend, Houston, Waco, Colorado Springs, Chicago, Stillwater, Columbia, Knoxville, Columbus, Pasadena, Miami, Kansas City, Boulder and probably a few more. I hate to say it, but I've seen my share of losses in that mix, which can encourage the worst in opposing fans. But of all of the away games I've experienced, the fan base that, to put it mildly, I enjoyed the least, was LSU. To put it bluntly, they were the rudest, over-the-top fan base this well-traveled Sooner fan has encountered.”
Kris Anderson, 43, McKinney, Texas: “The were miserable. I’ve been to countless road games, bowl and four national championships. Nothing compares. Hearing ‘Tiger Bait’ shouted at my face is one thing, but when they are in your face and touching you while pointing it is another. However, the incident which sticks out most in my mind is when a drunk LSU fan walked by a family of OU fans in the Quarter. The OU family had a little girl who was around eight, 10 years old. She was wearing an OU cheerleader outfit. The LSU guy walks by and says ‘look at the little whore wearing the cheerleader outfit. You should be ashamed. You’re Tiger bait.’ The dad was stunned and basically grabbed his daughter and moved his family away from the guy, who just kept on moving shouting obscenities at any Sooner he could find. Pretty disturbing scene.”
Mathew Wittwer, 37, Edmond: “The fans were terrible. A 60-plus-year-old LSU fan threw a glass beer bottle at my buddy, who is 6-2 and a former Marine. Also watched a college kid take a dump in a toilet mounted to a Radio Flyer wagon that had OU painted on it. We witnessed by far more aggression from LSU fans than we had ever experienced anywhere else. I’m all for passionate fans and love a little friendly trash talk, but that experience was awful.”
Charles Marsh: “After the game we were walking to the hotel and saw a group of young LSU male fans on a very small side street. There were two young female OU students in front of us walking to their hotel. The boys saw them and they all pulled their pants down and attempted to piss on them. It did not end well for the LSU boys. Between my friends and the New Orleans police, there was an old- fashioned ass kicking that went on!”
Dylan Amend, 22, Edmond: “One of my very first OU football memories was walking out of the hotel on my grandpa’s shoulders when two men (LSU fans) came up to me and my grandpa and started screaming ‘Tiger bait’ in my face as a 6-year-old.”
Michael Kimball, 35, Oklahoma City: “One gentleman on a Bourbon Street-adjacent sidewalk who did not like my Sooners shirt jumped up to smash a porch light with his fist in apparent anger — what he was hoping to accomplish, I'm not sure.”
Caleb Crandall, 40, Gas City, Ind.: “It was not limited to college age, either. A mother of two young children encouraged her children to taunt my friends and me. She gave the kids spray confetti and they sprayed our faces with it. I’ve never seen a fan base behave the way LSU fans did.”
Bill Brown, 68, Oklahoma City: “On the morning of the game, my future wife, Margaret, and I were walking on Bourbon Street after brunch. We stopped at a store front for some window shopping. Suddenly Margaret tugged on my left arm saying in a wimpy voice, ‘Look at what they are doing with that OU flag.’ I looked over and saw a college-aged kid swabbing the OU flag back and forth in a slimy Bourbon Street puddle. With a strong shot of adrenaline and obviously without thinking, I ran over, knocked him to the ground, while saving the OU flag. While hugging the flag, I looked up to discover I was surrounded by at least a dozen LSU college kids, staring at me in shocked amazement. Unwilling to surrender the flag, I got into a Jimbo Elrod stance. With both hands gripping the flag tightly, I jumped around one direction at a time yelling, ‘Who wants this flag?’ Thankfully nobody took me up on the offer. After what seemed like several minutes, one of them said, ‘You crazy old man, you can keep you flag’. They all walked away, but we followed them for a couple of blocks waving the flag and yelling, ‘Boomer Sooner.’ Finally the adrenaline disappeared. Breathing heavily, I had to sit down on a bench. A couple of the LSU guys came back saying, ‘Sir, can we take a picture of you with your flag?’ We took the flag to the hotel room and let it soak in the bathtub to get the Bourbon Street smell out. The flag still hangs in our garage, 16 years later.”
Kathy Stacy, Langley: “I will never forget it. We were taunted and yelled at with tiger claw motions as we walked to the stadium. I was also in the stadium restroom when LSU fans wouldn’t let an OU fan out of her stall. I was so scared. I ran out and got her some help. The entire experience was scary. I will never go to another LSU game.”
Jeremy Nielson, 45, Saratoga Springs, Utah: “The folks in New Orleans, Slidell and other places we visited in the days before the game were wonderful. But the LSU fans who showed up in droves on game day were really bad. Very aggressive. Approaching you and yelling insults (intermingled with shouts of ‘Tiger bait’). I witnessed some OU fans being spit upon. Hoping it was just New Orleans game day drunkenness, I hoped things would improve at the stadium but was sadly disappointed. The shouting of insults remained constant, and the spitting was replaced with throwing beers at OU fans.”
Ty Martindale, 47, Edmond: “After finding our seats in the Superdome, I noticed two gentleman sitting a couple rows behind us. They looked so similar, I thought they might have been twin brothers. They both looked to be 6-5, 6-6, 250-260 pounds. But the most striking thing about them wasn’t their size or resemblance to one another. It was their faces. Both of their faces had varying degrees of black and blue bruises and their eyes were so swollen, I think it must have been hard to actually see the game being played. It seems, unlike our crew, they did not seek sanctuary away from Bourbon Street before the game.”
J. Dee Marinko, 39, Edmond: “To be honest, the LSU fans that my dad and I sat next to we great. At the time my dad had knee surgery and was in a wheelchair, so we sat in the handicap section. We talked with the LSU guys in front of us and they told us no matter who wins the game that we need to be careful when we left because of my dad being in a wheelchair. They admitted to us that most LSU fans are crazy about their team and unpredictable after the games. They were correct, because after the game it was crazy trying to get to our hotel.”
Craig Yates, 58, Beaver: “The game atmosphere was no different being far outnumbered by LSU fans. At a point in the fourth quarter where it looked like OU might have a chance to make it close, I told my son if we happened to win, we were not leaving until the stadium cleared. Rioting in the streets would not have been a surprise.”
G.W. Hall, 57, Dallas: “Inside the stadium the atmosphere was pretty raunchy, and the LSU crowd was about 70 percent. Unfortunately, my seats were right in the middle of the LSU section, so I probably got it worse than other OU fans. We had corporate seats I got from my advertising agency. Everything was fine until right before kickoff I stood up and turned around to see what the crowd looked like behind me. Big mistake. I unfortunately locked eyes with a young, heavyset LSU fan. I must have looked at him a little long because right as I turned to sit down he yelled, ‘You Suck!’ As my wife was telling me to ignore him, my Sooner pride took over, and I stood up and jabbed my arm back at him and said, ‘I guess we’ll see!’ The rest of the LSU crowd joined him in telling me how much we sucked. The bathroom taunts at halftime were even worse. An LSU fan behind me put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘It’s better If you just ignore them. They’ll go away.’ As we began our final drive running the ball down their throats, my friend became awful quiet. Unfortunately, Chuck Long decided to abandon the run and threw four straight passes on the goal line. I told my wife to keep her head down and get into the exit tunnel as quickly as she could. As soon as we stood up we were pelted with plastic beer bottles and a barrage of insults.”
Rick Hammer, 62, Shidler: “I had an elderly lady friend who was spit on by their fans. The security guards would do nothing. She watched the game from her hotel room.”
Michael Kimball, 35, Oklahoma City: “After the game, the walk from the Superdome to our hotel was unbearable. I heard the phrase ‘Tiger bait’ slurred in my general direction too many times to count. One man in purple and gold was leaning out of a parked RV window to vomit, pausing long enough to yell it at us between heaves.”
Michele Jean, 51, Stillwater: “Outside the stadium was very scary. Walked towards our hotel a bit, quickly realized it was not safe in that area with our OU gear on. Found a taxi by God’s grace and got back to the hotel. Never have feared for my life more. Before or since.”
Dylan Amend, 22, Edmond: “After the game had ended, my grandpa was using a Porta Potty when three LSU fans attempted to tip it over while he was still in it.”
Jeff Kalicki, 53, Lithia, Fla.: “During the game the fans were fairly obnoxious but nothing too crazy until the game was over. Walking out of the stadium towards our hotel, all the while being yelled at and taunted, it felt like we were running a gauntlet. The worst of it was when some fans literally jumped in front of us thrusting paper signs or plastic and one of them actually cut my wife's face. I doubt there was any pre-meditation on that, but the alcohol certainly played a factor.”
Shawn Coffey, 35, Pauls Valley: “We had every intention on going back out and visiting the French Quarter, but by the time we got to the street level outside the stadium, we had been spit on, cussed at and continually called ‘Tiger bait.’ Needless to say, we went straight to the hotel and went to sleep. The next day we wanted to enjoy a famous beignet and more sites but instead proceeded straight to I-10 and headed back to Oklahoma.”
Steve Porter, 67, Oklahoma City: “After the game, it was unbearable. Leaving the Cotton Bowl after a Texas beatdown is a breeze versus what we faced post OU-LSU.”
John Sullivan, 60, Houston: “On our walk back to the hotel after the game we had to break up at least three fights where stumbling, bumbling, slobbering LSU fans were trying to rough up elderly OU fans or OU families with young children. The experience was more akin to witnessing/experiencing a riot than it was attending a national championship football game.”
Robert Bowman, 51, Rockwall, Texas: “After the game we got separated from our friends and walked back to the French Quarter by ourselves. We had fans get right in our faces — nose to nose — and scream ‘Tiger bait’ the entire way back. It was clear they wanted to fight. It wasn’t just drunk college kids. It was middle-aged men. Moms. The elderly. I saw a shirtless man carrying his shirtless son, who was around six years old, on his shoulders and the son was screaming “f*** you Sooners, Tiger bait” over and over. The dad had a huge grin and was flipping me the bird.”
Adam Clinton, 45, Norman: “Walking in to the lobby of our hotel in the French Quarter after the game, an elderly woman who appeared to be in her 80s welcomed us with the proverbial ‘Tiger bait’ and then actually flipped us the bird. Not the person I expected the middle finger from, but we all learned a thing or two on that trip.”
Kevin Cloud, 39, Harrah: “We had beer cans chunked at us on the way back from the game. We left immediately after the game and drove back to Dallas rather than face the LSU fans on Bourbon Street. We aren’t the rowdy or mouthy types. We didn’t provoke any of this.”
G.W. Hall, 57, Dallas: “The next morning we were standing in front of our hotel at 5:30 a.m. waiting on a taxi to the airport. We noticed a red pickup truck parked in front of the hotel with Oklahoma plates and a camper on the back that had Sooner window flags and white shoe polish on the windows that said ‘Boomer!’ An elderly couple had their inside light on reading a map apparently looking for the best route out of town. As we were waiting on our taxi, a group of four or five LSU students, still dressed in their game uniforms and Pom Poms, came stumbling down the street toward us. They appeared to have just come from the French Quarter and were very inebriated. As the group got to us, they noticed the elderly OU couple in the truck. One of the LSU kids stumbled over to the truck and knocked on the window. After the man rolled down his widow halfway, the kid leaned over to him and yelled, ‘Tiger bait!’ The group then stumbled on down the street.”
Weston Muntz, 49, Grapevine, Texas: “I’ve been to about all the big bowl games and road games since 1999, and Liquor State fans in that Sugar Bowl were the worst.”
Clay Farha, 60, Oklahoma City: “Never have I seen such uncouth and nasty fans. They make Texas fans seem like Mr. Rogers.”