Author Archives: lrabalais

Ray Rice: could the Saints forgive and forget?

By Lindsay Rabalais

Ray Rice could be moving to New Orleans after being reinstated to the NFL.

Rice, a running back who previously played for the Baltimore Ravens, was suspended from the NFL in September after TMZ released a video of him dragging his fiancée (now his wife) out of a casino elevator after he had knocked her unconscious.

On Nov. 28, Rice won his appeal in arbitration and was reinstated to the NFL.  He is currently a free agent, but there has been speculation about where he will play next – or if he will play again at all.

On Nov. 30, ESPN reported that the New Orleans Saints had inquired about signing Rice.

Head coach Sean Payton quickly shot down the rumor.  “I think I would know if we’re interested in signing any player.  But those are the ‘Sunday splash’ reports,” Payton told reporters.

Still, anything is possible.

If the franchise was considering signing Rice, they would deny knowing anything, according to Kristi Williams, former Vice President of Communications for the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry.  “If the Saints were looking at Rice, they would claim ignorance,” Williams said.

Payton’s response was not an outright denial of the Saints’ alleged interest in Rice, and another team has yet to sign him.  As of now, anything could happen.

If Rice were to don black and gold in the future, what kind of reaction could Tom Benson and his franchise expect?

When TMZ leaked the video of the incident in the elevator on Sept. 8, it started a national conversation about domestic violence.  The hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft dominated Twitter in the following days, with survivors of domestic violence sharing their stories.  Scores of editorials were written about Roger Goodell’s bungling of the situation.

The debacle made many football fans – especially female fans – question their enthusiasm for the game and for the NFL.

“As a woman, it makes me question how I can support the NFL,” said Claire Biggs, a Louisiana native and Saints fan.  “The NFL is a nonprofit organization.  How many other nonprofits would be able to function in this way?  … I definitely feel less inclined to watch or participate in anything the NFL does.”

The NFL attempted to rehabilitate its image by partnering with organizations that work to prevent domestic violence and serve victims, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.  In October, NFL players also began appearing in PSAs for No More, an organization that aims to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

Still, this solution might have been too little, too late.

Williams said that the NFL should have had a crisis public relations plan in place for if a player was ever accused or convicted of a violent crime like domestic violence.  “Timing is everything with PR and crisis response,” Williams said.  “I equate it to bad clock management in a football game.”

It also does not help the NFL that football has a reputation – whether deserved or not – for promoting violence.

Statistically, the hours after the Super Bowl yield the highest nationwide numbers of reported domestic violence incidents in any given year, according to Amanda Tonkovich of the New Orleans Family Justice Center, an advocacy organization that works to prevent domestic violence.

Tonkovich also pointed to the aggressive nature of the game.

“Sports inherently has this masculine tendency.  We don’t cry, we don’t get hurt, we kill the other team.”

Still, Tonkovich believes in the power of the NFL as an agent for social change.

“If they take domestic violence seriously, it will send a message to youth and start a conversation,” Tonkovich said.  “Since this has been in the media, we’ve had more survivors come forward and share their stores, or talk with their families.”

Although Williams criticized the NFL’s response to the debacle, she doubts there would be serious public relations consequences for the Saints if they were to sign Rice.

She said that although there could initially be some backlash, most Saints fans would eventually accept him, given his talent on the field.

“Football is important to Louisiana, and we love to win,” Williams said.  “It’s a drug.”

Williams pointed out that sports fans also love a comeback.

“This whole state is about redemption, and it would be a perfect place for [Rice] and his family to land.”

However, some of the Saints’ fan base would almost certainly be unhappy with the decision.

“It’s too soon for me,” said Jennie Armstrong, a lifelong Saints fan.  “I’m not ready to give him a chance, and I don’t want him anywhere near my team.”

Biggs also said she would be angry if the Saints signed Rice.  Although she can see the value of giving someone who is truly remorseful a second chance, Biggs does not think Rice is sorry for the incident in the elevator.

“Unfortunately, I can’t be that optimistic where Rice is concerned, especially after seeing the video and reading the transcripts from his interviews,” Biggs said.  “Bringing on Rice would communicate a message that the Saints, as a team, value players over women who are abused.”

Tonkovich said the Saints could probably expect a mixed reaction from fans if they were to sign Rice.

“We live in a big football culture.  But I think there would be a lot of outrage, especially in the domestic violence advocacy world,” Tonkovich said.  “Especially if he was signed without going through any kind of batterer intervention program … Especially when New Orleans and Louisiana already have high rates of domestic violence.”

Williams suggested that Rice could actually be a powerful tool in the fight to end domestic violence, if he partnered with local advocacy groups.  She said Rice could become like Michael Vick, who plays quarterback for the New York Jets and was arrested in 2007 for operating a dog fighting ring.  Vick has since become an advocate for animal rights.

Tonkovich also said that it could be beneficial for domestic violence advocacy if the Saints signed Rice.  If he were to take serious steps toward rehabilitation, he could serve as an example to other domestic abuse perpetrators that they can change.

“We also don’t want to see abusers as, ‘this is how they’re always going to be’,” Tonkovich said.  “There needs to be some pathway to rehabilitation.  Because abusers will always be a part of our society, whether they are football players or not.”

Williams emphasized, however, that Louisianans would quickly turn on Rice if he were to abuse his wife – or anyone else –again.

Williams pointed to other athletes who have only been in hot water once, such as Tennessee Titans quarterback and former LSU player Zach Mettenberger, who plead guilty to two sexual battery charges in 2010 (the charges stemmed from the same incident).  Mettenberger has never been accused of any kind of sexual assault since then.  Because he is not a repeat offender, Williams said, most people have either forgotten about the charges or do not hold them against him.

Rice cannot make the same mistake twice, Williams stressed.  “There is a limit to how much people believe in your redemption.

“You only get one mulligan.”


Four the win: Cajuns to make their fourth New Orleans Bowl appearance

By Lindsay Rabalais

Some things are constants for Lafayette residents.

Endless lines for Meche’s king cakes. Bumper-to-bumper traffic on Ambassador Caffery. That person who always forgets Olde Tyme Grocery only takes cash.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl is quickly becoming another expected aspect of life in the 337 area code.

On Dec. 20, the Ragin’ Cajuns will play Nevada for their fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl victory.

Louisiana-Lafayette announced Dec. 3 that the Cajuns would appear in the New Orleans Bowl during halftime of the Cajuns’ basketball game against Jackson State.

The announcement came later than expected, due to Georgia Southern’s appeal for bowl eligibility. According to NCAA rules, the Eagles are not eligible to play in any bowls because they are in their last year of transition from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Georgia Southern’s appeal was denied.  Had they been successful in attaining bowl eligibility, they almost certainly would have received one of the Sun Belt Conference’s three bowl game berths.  The Eagles were 8-0 in the Sun Belt this year, and they won the Sun Belt Conference title.

Their loss is the Cajuns’ gain.

With the conference champion out of consideration, the Cajuns were a solid and time-tested choice.

The Cajuns have made four consecutive appearances at the New Orleans Bowl, and the short distance between Lafayette and New Orleans helps bolster attendance. The bowl’s attendance record has been broken in each of the last three years; 54,728 fans attended last year’s game against Tulane.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s now-regular appearances definitely benefit the New Orleans Bowl. But how do the Cajuns feel about it?

“I think it’s a great fit,” Coach Mark Hudspeth said after the Dec. 3 announcement. “It’s been a great fit.”

Hudspeth emphasized that although Cajun fans have traveled well for the past three New Orleans Bowls, his team also deserves to play in this bowl because of its athletic ability.

“It’s got to be a reward to go to a bowl,” Hudspeth said.  “It’s a great opportunity, great bowl, great amenities and they do a great job.”

However, some Cajun fans are ready for a change of scenery.

“I’m glad they’re going to a bowl game, but it’s time for something different,” said Jacob Laborde, a Cajun fan and Louisiana-Lafayette alumnus. “Something outside of Louisiana would be nice.”

The program has had a long-overdue boost since Coach Hudspeth took the reins in 2011.

The Cajuns finished this season 8-4, a marked improvement from seasons like 2010, when the team won only 3 of their 12 games.

Louisiana-Lafayette is also on track for a $115 million expansion of its athletic facilities, providing further legitimacy to the program.

Furthermore, the Cajuns hold the distinction of being one of only six teams that have won a postseason game in each of the past three seasons. The other schools include College Football Playoff contenders Oregon and Florida State, along with Michigan State, South Carolina and Texas A&M.

As the program expands and becomes more renowned, the New Orleans Bowl could become the proverbial small pond that the Cajuns eventually outgrow.

Still, the New Orleans Bowl has not lost its appeal for some of the Cajun faithful.

Many Cajun fans are as excited for this New Orleans Bowl as they were for their first appearance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in 2011.

“It’s exciting to support the team,” said Cajun fan Clare Daly Thom, who attended the first New Orleans Bowl the Cajuns played in. “They work so hard. I’m happy Coach Hud believes in their potential and motivates them to perform to the best of their abilities.”

A fourth consecutive trip to the Superdome might seem banal to more well-traveled teams whose bowl experiences span the nation. However, a glance at the Cajuns’ bowl history provides some context for their unwavering support for the New Orleans Bowl.

Before the Cajuns’ first New Orleans Bowl appearance, they had not played in a bowl game in 41 years. When the Cajuns became New Orleans Bowl champs in 2011, it was their first bowl win since the 1943 season – and only the second bowl win in the school’s history.

Moreover, New Orleans – though familiar – is no less exotic than the locales of the other two contracted Sun Belt Conference bowls.

The Sun Belt has three contracted bowl game berths this season: one in the New Orleans Bowl, one in the GoDaddy Bowl (in Mobile, Ala.) and one in the inaugural Camellia Bowl (in Montgomery, Ala.)

“In my opinion, because I’m from New Orleans, I would much rather go there, because I had always dreamed of playing in the Superdome, and I was blessed to be there in the past three years,” said starting receiver James Butler in an interview with The Advocate.

“It’s a great way to end my career.”

LSU vs. Alabama Photo Gallery

Excessive Celebration

LSU fans rush the field after the Tigers upset Ole Miss on Oct. 25.

LSU fans rush the field after the Tigers upset Ole Miss on Oct. 25.

By Lindsay Rabalais

If Tiger fans take their celebrations onto the field Saturday after the game against No. 4 Alabama, LSU will have to pick up a much heftier tab than they did after the Ole Miss game.

After the Tigers upset No. 3 Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium on Oct. 25, hordes of fans triumphantly swarmed the field.

LSU appeared to accept the inevitable.  Police officers did not line the gates at the base of the student section as a preemptive strike against stampeding fans, not even after LSU safety Ronald Martin intercepted the ball with two seconds left in the game.

The Athletic Department also fully accepted the price tag of the celebration: a $5000 fine for violation of the SEC’s access to competition area policy.

Athletic Director Joe Alleva addressed the fine shortly after the Tigers’ triumphant victory.  “I hope I have to spend it again two weeks from now,” he said.

Alleva quickly changed his tune, however.  He released a statement on Oct. 28 instructing fans to not enter the field after the next football game against Alabama.

“I encourage everyone to celebrate great LSU victories within the seating areas of the stadium, and not on the field … We would never endorse the ‘storming of the field’ by our fans – it is a violation of the protocol established by the Southeastern Conference.”

The monetary cost of storming the field for the second time this season is almost certainly a major concern of Alleva’s.

The SEC fined LSU $5000 for its first infraction.  The fine for a second violation would surge to $25,000.  In the event of a third violation, the University would owe a $50,000 fine, according to a CBS Sports report.

LSU’s athletic budget is currently $109 million, according to a report from USA Today.

The $5000 fine for the post-Ole Miss game celebrations represented the first time LSU has been fined for storming the field.  According to CBS Sports, the SEC’s policy against entering the competition area was enacted in 2004.  The last time LSU fans rushed the field was in 2001, after LSU defeated Auburn in Tiger Stadium.

The potential cost of storming the field goes beyond the SEC fine.

It is certainly foreseeable that a fan could be seriously hurt in the rush to the field.

Furthermore, the University would face a host of liability issues if someone became injured, especially if the athletic director encouraged spectators to rush the field.

Rushing the field after a hard-fought victory is a storied component of LSU lore, from the fans who tore down both goal posts after LSU upset No. 1 Florida in 1997 to those who speckled the field in purple and gold on Oct. 25.

However, a $25,000 fine for rushing the field is unprecedented.  The costs – monetary and emotional – of an injured fan would be even higher.

If the Tigers defeat Alabama on Saturday, the Athletic Department will almost certainly take steeper measures to ensure fans keep the festivities in the stands.

ESPN’s College GameDay at LSU: Photo Gallery

A good (twelfth) man is hard to find

By Lindsay Rabalais


“The difference between LSU and Ohio State fans is that Ohio State stays for the entire game.”

I was recently discussing college football with a colleague from the Buckeye State when he made this bold – yet astute – observation.

It doesn’t matter whether the Tigers are up or down, whether they’re blowing out the opponent or up against the wall, whether they’re playing a powerhouse conference opponent or a “rent-a-win” team.

The fans will not stay in the stadium. And there is no common denominator to explain what the issue is.

The beginning of the third quarter has signaled a mass exodus throughout this season. LSU’s famed student section is always virtually deserted by the time Tiger Band plays the “Alma Mater” at the end of every game.

At the beginning of the third quarter on Saturday night, the LSU fans are going ...

At the beginning of the third quarter on Saturday night, the LSU fans are going …

Death Valley is consistently ranked as one of the best stadium atmospheres in college football. Paul “Bear” Bryant, legendary coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, once remarked that playing in Tiger Stadium is “like being inside a drum.”

In February 2014, crowned the LSU student section as one of its top five SEC student sections.

“The roar from the students after those three most intimidating notes … in college sports play from the Golden Band from Tigerland will send shivers down your spine,” wrote’s Edward Aschoff. “LSU students … create the SEC’s most electric environment when the lights come on and the sun goes down.”

LSU’s students are not only some of the country’s loudest, but frequently also the most colorful. The student section is notorious for concocting cheers with – to put it delicately – rather adult language.

So why is it that a fan base known across the country for being raucous and rowdy can’t stay for the entire football game?

photo 2 (1)

… going …

Could it be that folks become bored when LSU is clearly blowing its opponent out of the water?

Consider the Mississippi State game on Sept. 20. The game wound up as anything but a blowout, at least from LSU’s vantage point. The Bulldogs routed the Tigers for the overwhelming majority of the game, yes. Still, the Tigers could have conceivably won the game, thanks to a late rally in the fourth quarter.

Despite the thrilling drama unfolding on the field, the stands were largely empty.

LSU is famous (slash infamous) for its gripping fourth quarters. Fans who leave early risk missing historic plays, like the touchdown LSU scored after time ran out to defeat Tennessee in 2010 (in case you left that game early, the Volunteers were flagged for having an extra player on the field).

Maybe the problem is that this is a “rebuilding year,” and it’s tough to get fired up about a team that isn’t doing well.

First, let’s get something straight: LSU is having, by most schools’ standards, a fine season. Plenty of teams – and fan bases – would be thrilled to only have two losses at this point in the season, both to highly ranked SEC opponents.

Moreover, I give you the Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State and Kentucky games. The Tigers pulverized all their non-conference opponents at home, defeating Sam Houston State 56-0, Louisiana-Monroe 31-0 and New Mexico State 63-7. Finally, they dominated Kentucky on Saturday night 41-3.

If the problem is fans who don’t like to watch a losing team, there is no reason for them to disappear from the stadium when the Tigers are giving them exactly what they want – a shellacking of the opponent.

...gone before the end of the game.

…gone before the end of the game.

Finally, I submit to you that the LSU Tigers – for better or worse – help form Louisianans’ identity about themselves.

“There is no other state university more important to their state than LSU is to Louisiana,” political strategist and devout Tigers fan James Carville once said. I would wager that that statement includes the LSU football team.

Speaking as a lifelong Louisianan and LSU fan, when the Tigers are doing well, it just feels like order has been restored to the universe and everything is OK.

In Louisiana, LSU football is like the weather. Stuck in an elevator with that coworker whose name you can’t remember? Just bring up last week’s LSU game. Instant icebreaker.

Ours is a fan base that loves to talk about how steeped in tradition we are, how die-hard we are – we bleed purple and gold.

So let’s back up that talk.

I’m a realist. I get that sometimes your pregame activities catch up with you, and your headache is forcing you out of the stadium. I can certainly understand needing to get on the road to get back to Beaumont, Biloxi or Bunkie – especially if you have sleepy/cranky/antsy children to contend with.

But if it’s the third quarter and you have nowhere to be, consider staying put. Resist the peer pressure of those around you who are bolting from the stadium. Half of the stadium begins to file out during halftime, so you really aren’t beating traffic by leaving now.

Do it for yourself – by leaving early, you potentially cheat yourself out of some truly theatrical football from this “fourth-quarter team.” Stick around after the game and let Tiger Band’s a capella version of the “Alma Mater” give you goosebumps.

Do it for the team – the young men on the field truly feed off of the crowd’s energy. They showed up, and so should you.

Do it to show the nation what I know to be true: this is a passionate fan base that loves their team and loves football. And, yes, we are certainly that vocal fan base during pregame while we’re watching hype videos and singing along to “Calling Baton Rouge.”

But we are just as loud and just as present by the time the clock runs out at the end of the game – no matter the outcome.

LSU notebook: Tigers continue non-conference domination

By Lindsay Rabalais


LSU continues to hold the nation’s longest non-conference regular season winning streak.  Saturday night’s victory over New Mexico State marked the Tigers’ 49th victory over a non-conference regular season opponent.

However, the Tigers failed to shut out the Aggies.

LSU dominated its other unranked non-conference home opponents this season, Sam Houston State and Louisiana- Monroe.  The Tigers blanked Sam Houston State 56-0 and ULM 31-0.

New Mexico State scored a touchdown in the second quarter and avoided becoming another shut-out casualty.

The Pressure’s On

The LSU students usually wear their hearts on their sleeves, and Saturday’s game was no exception.

After a disappointing performance from quarterback Anthony Jennings early in the game, the student section made their preference clearly know.  They chanted, “We want Harris!” in reference to quarterback Brandon Harris.

Miles put Harris in the game in the second quarter, and the freshman from Bossier City had an explosive performance for the remainder of the game.

When asked how he thought the student section’s chanting affected Jennings, Miles said, “Anyone should know that quarterback is a lightning rod for most of college America.”

Miles said he has not spoken with Jennings, but he will make sure to speak with him soon about his performance and his confidence level.

“Anthony Jennings is going to have to get better, and we are going to insist on it,” Miles said.  “I hope he has not lost his confidence.”

Thomas’ knee injury

Cornerback Dwayne Thomas sustained a knee injury during the second quarter.

He was later seen icing his knee on the sidelines.  He did not play for the rest of the game.

Head Coach Les Miles did not know the extent of Thomas’s injury.

The Tiger faithful were naturally upset to see Thomas get injured.  Former LSU standout T-Bob Hebert tweeted, “I hope Dwayne Thomas is ok … he has been the most underrated part of this #LSU secondary.”

Mike stays home

LSU’s mascot, Mike VI, declined his standing invitation to the pregame festivities.  This is the fourth consecutive game Mike has missed; he has not been to a game all season.

It is LSU tradition for Mike to ride around the field in a trailer before the game.  However, it is Mike’s call whether he will get into the trailer, and his handlers from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine do not use force or sedatives to convince him otherwise.

Mike IV came to LSU in 2007.  Since then, he has attended 32 of the 43 home football games, according to the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.  Last season he attended three home games.

Even when Mike doesn’t make it to the game, he maintains a strong social media presence.  Before the game, his account tweeted that he would be in his habitat to receive visitors.

Aggies near and far

There are 1,066 miles between Tiger Stadium and New Mexico State University, but many Aggies are practically in LSU’s backyard.

Chuck and Carleen Trujillo traveled from Houston to watch their son, offensive lineman Alexander Trujillo, play in Saturday’s game.  Carleen gushed about the Southern hospitality her family has found in Baton Rouge: “everyone has been so nice!”

The Harrington family also journeyed from Houston; their son and brother is Dalton Herrington, an Aggie defensive back.

Another Texan family in crimson and white came from Southlake, Texas.  John Copeland, Doris Copeland and Byron Copeland, along with Chris Ramsey, came to watch another Copeland man, linebacker JB Copeland.

Some Aggies fans traveled much further to get to Tiger Stadium.  The Kenney family flew from Chandler, Arizona.  Their son, Andrew Kenney, plays long snapper for New Mexico State.

New Mexico State University is in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The city’s population is 101, 047, meaning the entire city could fit inside Tiger Stadium.

Behind The Scenes With LSU’s Golden Band From Tigerland

“Eating Grass, Taking Names.”

“There’s No Place Like Home.”

“The Pulse of LSU.”

These are just a few of the mottos the Golden Band from Tigerland has selected in past years.

When the band takes the field before a football game and all 102,000 fans in Tiger Stadium wait for the famous first four notes of the pregame fanfare, the band indeed becomes “the pulse of LSU.”

The Golden Band from Tigerland is a classic symbol of tradition at LSU.  For football fans, it is just as much a part of game day as tailgating, jambalaya and imminent cardiac arrest (compliments of coach Les Miles).

While most of their friends are playing beer pong and getting sunburned on game day, band members have a packed schedule to keep.

The first item on the list: band practice.

Their “call time” is several hours before kickoff.  For Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. home opener against Sam Houston State, the band members have to be at LSU’s indoor football practice facility at 12:30 p.m.

Band parents – many donning “LSU Tiger Band Mom” shirts and buttons – crowd the sides of the field and overflow from a balcony onto the stairs overlooking the turf.  After rehearsing the halftime program, a tribute to “West Side Story,” the band practices its pregame program.

Band members gather in tight lines on one end zone and hunch down, as any LSU fan has seen them do numerous times.  But this time, you can hear them doing something different: hissing.

Over the next minute or so, the members make a series of hissing and grunting noises to each other.  This is how they communicate to each other when to stand up and when to step in a deafening stadium, according to LSU graduate student Aaron Caffarel, a former Tiger Band mellophone player.

Director of Bands Roy King stops the band a few times during rehearsal to give critiques.  According to Caffarel, it is common for band members to be cut from the pregame show during this rehearsal, even though it’s just hours before kickoff.

Finally, after a few full rehearsals of pregame, King approves.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” he yells from the balcony through a megaphone.

Next up on the agenda: the band’s march down Victory Hill.

“Coming from a small band program in high school where no one appreciates you, it was a culture shock,” senior trombone player Marc Rabalais said.

“People love the band so much (at LSU) that they go hours early to watch us run down a hill.”

In LSU’s hallowed Tiger Stadium, the band sits in the student section.

Beaming band parents press against the band, trying to snap pictures of their children.  Some are still taking pictures in the fourth quarter.

The band starts to go to the field for the pregame show around 5:45 p.m.  After a few hype videos on the big video scoreboards, the crowd is primed for the jewel of the pregame crown: the first four notes of “Hold That Tiger.”

As the drums beat their famous rhythm, the crowd starts to clap along, quickly getting off beat.

Senior color guard member Raemi Savoy said this doesn’t bother the band members.  They can feel the drums, which helps them stay in rhythm.

Senior trombone player Alex Aaron said muscle memory also helps them stay on task.  That’s crucial, because this is an emotional moment for the band.

“I cried my first pregame, and also when we were walking down the hill,” Savoy said.  “It’s just so freaking cool – 92,000 people are watching you.”

“In pregame it hit me that this was it, this is our performance,” drum major Mary Bahlinger said.  “The home games are the days we prepare and practice and sweat – or sparkle – for every day.”

There are many standout songs in Tiger Band’s repertoire, including the pregame show, a cover of Kanye West’s “All Of the Lights,” and the LSU Alma Mater.

However, the most haunting performance is arguably “Let Us Break Bread Together.”

After LSU soundly defeats Sam Houston State 56-0, the band solemnly plays this beautiful hymn, a historic part of any LSU football game.

Rabalais said the band plays “Let Us Break Bread Together” as a sign of camaraderie with the opposing team.

“Win or lose, we want to tell the opponent, ‘good game,'” Rabalais said.  “We want to show good sportsmanship.”