When TJ Yeldon left a rabid LSU student section in stunned silence, 10 years ago

When TJ Yeldon left a rabid LSU student section in stunned silence, 10 years ago

“To enter into tigers it” should be a thing, at least in Baton Rouge.

Driving to Louisiana on a whim and without a ticket, back when you didn’t have kids and could do such things, only to inadvertently end up in the middle of the LSU student section in Death Valley…yeah, that’s the tiger den. Tiger Stadium, to be exact.

My wife Tess and I have a few road games under our belts, but Alabama-LSU at night in Baton Rouge — nothing comes close and I’m not sure it ever will again. We ticked off a sports bucket list 10 years ago. You may remember the game.

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Less than a year removed from Alabama’s BCS Championship victory over LSU in New Orleans, which was just a couple of months after the Tigers escaped from Bryant-Denny Stadium with a 9-6 overtime victory in the “Game of the Century” showdown between the nation’s top-ranked teams, the next match was upon us.

LSU fans wanted blood. And why wouldn’t they after seeing their magical season ripped apart by Saban’s historically dominant defense, one they had already beaten? Still, it happened, and the Tide had to come through Death Valley before they could sniff a repeat as champs. Les Miles, their eccentric but effective head coach at the time, would later call it a place “where opponents’ dreams come to die.”

I don’t recall ever having any doubts about Tiger Stadium’s notorious night game atmosphere. If I did, I felt like a fool just minutes after setting foot inside for the first time. The place lived up to the hype from the jump, not least because we were surrounded by a mad pack of wolves eager to gnaw the marrow from our bones. You heard every bit of the 102,321 capacity for 60 minutes. But when the Tigers scored, the place went unglued — decibel levels shattered, full souvenir cups flew overhead from the sections behind us. Death Valley was the best atmosphere in college football, confirmed.

But what goes up must come down, especially when the crimson-wearing quarterback engineers a drive of a lifetime. Conan O’Brien often joked when a monologue one-liner didn’t work, it caused a silence that could only be heard in deep space, a silence recreated after 43 seconds of pure improbability from the Alabama offense.

Before kickoff, before the sun went down and all hell broke loose, we were around campus. We missed ESPN’s “College GameDay” by several hours and only had a few to find their way into the game and enjoy some pregame festivities. While touring the quad and marveling at sights like the War Memorial Tower, we spotted a strange presence on the green: the Batmobile Tour stopped in Baton Rouge. It’s what it sounds like: Every movie/TV Batmobile up to that point was parked in a row for all to see, from Adam West’s convertible cruiser to Christian Bale’s enormous Tumbler. So yeah, random enough, but super cool for selfies and Batman movie nerds like us (the Tim Burton car still reigns supreme).

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But we needed a ticket, and we were ready to shoot for this possibly once-in-a-lifetime view of witnessing the greatest modern college football rivalry, one that often decided the eventual SEC champion and the national title representative . The game was sold out, so we certainly weren’t picky about seats. We eventually found a gentleman holding up a couple of tickets without the standard design of the tickets everyone else handed the officers on the way in. We were warned against counterfeiting all season, we studied perforation, scrutinized for holograms, etc. So we made a deal : We buy them if they scan at the entrance. They did, and we were there.

We marveled at the field as we found our seats, confused by our surroundings. The rows around us seemed filled with slightly younger fans, but whatever — we’d made it the stadium for the game.

When Nick Saban strolled out during pregame warmups, it suddenly clicked.

“S— that tiger d—, b—-!” one fan hacked into a primal scream, while others soon followed. We looked at the young men and women sitting in the row below us and confirmed our suspicions: “This is the student section.” Still dubbed “The Saban Bowl” in 2012, the game reopened the raw wounds of the coach who romped for the Miami Dolphins, only to end up at an SEC West rival in a few years. Tiger fans let him know loudly.

So yes. The LSU student section inside Death Valley. The vaguely marked tickets we bought had obviously been converted so that anyone could buy them, yes, including two fans visiting from Tuscaloosa. The young people assured us: “Don’t worry! We are from the Christian Brotherhood. You’ll be fine here.” Will that ease your anxiety moments before kick-off? Because although they were lovely people who warmly welcomed us, they fit right in (minus the expression mentioned above).

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We expected intensity from the match and the venue before we ever drove down. And the teams matched it before they even took the field. Damion Square, the decorated Tide defensive lineman who won three national championships en route to a respectable NFL career, gave a pregame locker room speech that recently circulated Twitter and became a go-to hype video for fans before big games. “…They pissed me off and the man on the pitch has to see me. I want to strangle his ass from snap to whistle. It’s not my fault he’s the next man on the schedule. We Bama. That’s what we do.” The tone was already set, but watching this, what we saw for four quarters made sense, with every player — most of the future pros — putting it all on the line, and the fans feeling every ounce of that passion.

Alabama LSU 2012

LSU students cheer during Alabama at the LSU SEC football game, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in Baton Rouge, LA. The game pitted the #1 Tide against the #5 Tigers, a rematch of Alabama’s last regular season loss and last season’s BCS National Championship game. (Vasha Hunt)AP

Down by three points with 1:34 on the clock and zero timeouts, McCarron lined up at the 28 and went full-John Elway, courtesy of his favorite clutch target Kevin Norwood. The quarterback found the receiver for three straight first downs, marching the Tide down to LSU’s 28-yard line. Then on 2nd and 10, LSU was left sidelined as McCarron snuck the ball through to TJ Yeldon who bounced and bounced through the Tiger defense for an improbable touchdown that sent a hush over the once roaring Tiger Stadium.

That drive stunned everyone in the building, even the quarterback who was in tears by the time he reached the sideline. In typical fashion, Eli Gold called it beautiful, energetically insisting “He’s gonna go!” while the commentator couldn’t help himself with a “Yes!” My wife yelled, “Oh my God!” and immediately covered her mouth as the LSU students appeared sick and, even more improbably, silent. Purple and gold silence. Even with 51 seconds left on the clock, more time than McCarron needed for the go-ahead, they looked defeated.

Square sacked Zach Mettenberger with 10 seconds left to end it, and Alabama won its second straight thriller at a spot that’s hard to win at all. The next week, the Tide fell as the legend of Johnny Football was born in Bryant-Denny. But they would win the rest of the schedule, and upsets in other conferences got them back into the BCS picture, as they throttled Notre Dame in the championship game.

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When the clock mercifully struck zero, the students did not move. Bama stole their joy. We stuck around, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves or our enjoyment of what just happened. I leaned down to my wife and said, “Keep a low profile,” as we began to move slowly from our seats in a sea of ​​dazed Tiger fans whose plans quickly changed that night. We waded through the stunned zombie horde on our way to the party, while a small section of Alabama fans shouted and camped behind ESPN’s set, where McCarron would join to recap the instant classic.

We found our friends, took some pictures outside of Tiger Stadium to commemorate the night and headed back to New Orleans, during a road trip where we relived the last drive the same way fans have for the last 10 years. The next morning in the French Quarter, the beignets at Café Du Monde tasted that much sweeter, a testament to the fact that we had just witnessed one of the greatest games in Alabama history, probably a top five moment in the Nick Saban era at Alabama.

A decade later, I thought about another trip to Louisiana. After all, we have another top 10 matchup between the division opponents when the stakes couldn’t be higher for the Crimson Tide. But no, not this time. How could we possibly recreate the magic of the 2012 game, the Yeldon touchdown that cast the beautiful spell of silence through Tiger Stadium at night? That doesn’t mean we don’t have more of these trips in the future, hopefully to bring the kid along for fun. But truth be told, one night in Death Valley is about all we can take.

More Alabama fans:

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Alabama football ‘villains’? 10 People, Players and Things Tide Fans Love to Root for

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