Sunday, January 27, 2008

Quick trip to Cajun Country

I paid a short visit to South Louisiana last week to attend the memorial service for Don Jory, who was my best friend Russell's father and practically a second dad to me when I was growing up.

Mr. Don was an LSU alum and a devout Tiger fan, and he told hilarious stories about his days as a student. His encouragement played a major role in my decision to attend LSU.

The final nudge came on Sept. 15, 1984, when Mr. Don took me to my first LSU football game, a 47-7 rout of Wichita State in Tiger Stadium. It was my first trip to the Baton Rouge campus, and as we drove back home that night I couldn't stop thinking that LSU was where I was meant to be.
I spent some of the trip with my family, including Mom and Dad (above).

As my twin sister Kristina discovered on her recent stop in Los Angeles, even the best West Coast seafood falls short of the average fare available in every South Louisiana town. So it's no surprise that a good bit of my time during visits to Louisiana centers on eating.
I dug into this heart-attack platter from RiverFront Louisiana Grill in Abbeville shortly after landing at the Lafayette airport, which is about an hour's drive from my hometown.

Here are some other random shots from the trip.
I call this Our Lady of the Petrol. I've seen thousands of Mary statues displayed in all sorts of strange and eccentric ways. But this was a first - the Virgin reigning over a lighted and landscaped corner of a Shop Rite gas station along the main drag in my hometown just off an Interstate 10 exit.

I wonder if customers say a Hail Mary to ward off high gas prices as they pull in to the station.
This qualifies as wall art in Louisiana. Yes, it's real, and I found it hanging in the restaurant attached to the Holiday Inn next to the gas station with the Mary shrine.
I got a nice dose of winter during the visit as temperatures dipped to the upper 20s at night, leaving a dusting of morning frost in front of my parents' house.
With LSU's latest national championship victory only a few weeks old, there still were plenty of signs of Tigermania around town. I was completely taken by this one painted on a driveway in my parents' neighborhood.
I spotted this banner hanging in the cemetery as I headed out of town. People have long claimed that the dead vote in Louisiana. Apparently, they pull for LSU too.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

L.A. in a day

I got to play tour guide in The City of Angels for the first time when my twin sister Kristina (left) and her friend Amelia stopped over on their way home from Hawaii this week.

Our seven-and-a-half-hour trek took us through the city's most famous neighborhoods, its dense urban core and sparsely populated, picturesque mountains that offer a taste of what much of the rest of Southern California is like.
We started around 8:30 a.m. near LAX. After zooming past the city's high-rise core, we made a beeline for Hollywood and the Walk of Fame in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.
These markers caught my eye.
This was the closest we came to spotting celebrities. Britney was nowhere to be found, though we didn't pass any jails or rehab centers.
Next, we headed to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, then we followed Sunset Boulevard west through Bel Air (where we swung through the campus of UCLA) and Brentwood on our way to the coast.
We had lunch at Gladstone's 4 Fish, a noted beach-side seafood restaurant in Pacific Palisades. There was nothing special about the food - and the prices were a bit high - but the view from the outdoor dining deck was unbeatable.
I had this grilled seafood plate for about $25. I warned Kristina and Amelia beforehand that even the best seafood that I've tasted on the West Coast doesn't come close to matching the average fare in south Louisiana. Gladstone's proved the point.

We ended the trip with an afternoon drive through the Santa Monica Mountains and along Mulholland Drive before I dropped off the girls back at their hotel near the airport around 4 p.m.
I mapped out our route on Yahoo! Maps, with "A" marking our start point. (Click on it to view it larger.) Yahoo! says the trip covered 127 miles and would have taken 3 hours, 52 minutes to complete nonstop.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The afterglow

LSU fans everywhere celebrated the Tigers' big national championship victory long after the game ended Monday night in New Orleans.

A heroic and - dare I say - chic hunter-camo LSU cap arrived in New York just in time for our friend Andrés to proudly parade his burgeoning Tiger pride around the Big Apple the day after victory.

Undoubtedly, he was the envy of all Gothamites.

UPDATE: Read what Andrés had to say about the game and his new hat here.

Even head coach Les Miles couldn't resist the lure of ecstatic French Quarter crowds. This article from The Times-Picayune describes an ebullient Miles reigning from a Bourbon Street hotel balcony until the early morning hours like a triumphant Rex (the King of Carnival version).

Things weren't so cheery for Oh-shit-io State University.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Best day ever has a sequel

LSU coach Les Miles and quarterback Matt Flynn celebrated the Tigers' 38-24 win over Ohio State in the BCS national championship game tonight in New Orleans. I was there inside the Superdome four years ago when LSU won it's first national title since 1958.
This time around, I watched the game with Rex here in San Diego at Kristy's MVP, a sports bar that servers as home to the local chapter of the LSU Alumni Association.

Nearly every seat in the building was occupied when I arrived about two hours before kickoff. By the time the game started, at least 250 fans were packed into the bar.

Kristy's is owned by a couple who became LSU fans while working in network TV sports broadcasting and traveling to Baton Rouge for various college games.

The alumni group's leaders, who organize an annual crawfish boil here in San Diego that feeds about 3,000, deep-fried three turkeys and made a huge pot of jambalaya. The food and familiar accents made it feel a little bit like Bayou Country.
That's the jambalaya on the left and a frying turkey on the right.

Here's Kristy, the bar co-owner and namesake, showing off her sexy tiger top and doing a victory dance with another fan late in the fourth quarter of the game.

Earlier in the night Kristy engaged in her fairly frequent ritual of spanking the rears of many of her patrons with a long, thick, heavy wooden paddle. Unfortunately, I can't shed light on the origins of this peculiar and somewhat troubling tradition, but I can relay that there are some at Kristy's who consider it an honor to find themselves on the receiving end of the sportive proprietress' swings.
Flynn gives some love to the BCS crystal trophy after the game. Check out Rex's take on the game night here.

Some fun facts about tonight's game:
- LSU became the first school to win two BCS championships in the game's 10-year history.
- Ohio became the third team to loose two BCS championship games, sharing that dubious honor with Oklahoma and Florida State.
- The Southeastern Conference has won four BCS championships. Only one other conference, the Big 10, with two titles, has won more than one.
- The SEC now has five head coaches who have won national titles - Miles, Nick Saban who won at LSU, Steve Spurrier who won at Florida, Urban Meyer who won at Florida and Phil Fulmer who won at Tennessee.
- Ohio State has lost nine consecutive bowl games (and counting) to SEC opponents.
- The SEC finished the season with five teams ranked in the AP top 15. The Big 12 had four teams; the ACC had two; and the Big 10, PAC 10, Big East and Mountain West each had one.
- In both of LSU's BCS victories, the Tigers were led by quarterbacks named Matt - Flynn in 2008 and Mauck in 2003.
- LSU finished the season with seven wins over teams ranked in the top 20, including three top 10 teams, and it was the third season in a row that the Tigers won at least 11 games.
- In both of its BCS championship games, LSU defeated teams from states that start with an "O." (Should we expect a national championship battle with Oregon in the future?)
- LSU (12-2) became the second college team to win a national title with two losses. The first was Minnesota (8-2), which split the 1959 national title with Syracuse. LSU actually finished the 1935 season 9-2 and was named national champion by some pollster called Williamson, but the title isn't officially recognized by the Tigers much less anyone else.
- The win earned LSU its 44th national sports championship of any kind.
- All three of LSU's football national championships have been capped by wins in New Orleans, with the first coming in 1958 after the Tigers won the Sugar Bowl.
- The game drew 79,651, the biggest crowd ever to pack into the Superdome but still far fewer than the 92,000-plus who cram Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge for most LSU home games.

Read all about it

My former employer in New Orleans has been doing a fantastic job covering the build-up to tonight's national championship game between LSU (the virtual home team) and Ohio State.

This was the front of Sunday morning's newspaper. Times-Picayune writers have been particularly deft in their explorations of the cultural aspects of the game (yes, in places like Louisiana and Ohio, college football is culture). The paper even sent writers up north to find out what makes a Buckeye tick.

Here are links to a few of my favorite stories:

- Ron Thibodeaux wrote about displaced Tiger fans, a Cajun's trek through the heart of Buckeye country and LSU head coach Les Miles' hometown of Elyria, Ohio. James Varney, one of the paper's top writers who covers LSU and graduated from Ohio State, penned another piece on Elyria.

- Then there's this article by Varney that explains why the marching bands from LSU and Ohio State are cultural icons in their home states and essentials parts of the great football traditions that both schools share.

- Here's why game day in New Orleans will be a holiday for much of the city.

- The game blog features videos of fans in the French Quarter, clips of school bands and an interview with a Bourbon Street sex-shop operator who complained that LSU and Ohio State fans don't hold a candle to Virginia Tech fans when it comes to kink and erotica.

THE Game

Chargers WIN!

The cold and rainy storm that's been soaking SoCal for days wasn't enough to keep us and 65,000 other fans from watching the Chargers beat the Tennessee Titans 17-6 Sunday afternoon in the first round of the NFL playoffs. (Click on any pic to view it larger.)
It was our first Chargers game ever and my first time in Qualcomm Stadium. The win was the first playoff victory for the Chargers in four tries dating back to 1995.
Our seats were along the 30 yard line in the upper deck, but my little digital camera did a great job capturing the action on the field. Here's a shot of the Charger's star running back LaDainian Tomlinson reaching for a pitch from quarterback Philip Rivers.
Fireworks exploded around the edge of the stadium in the fourth quarter when L.T. sealed the victory with a one-yard touchdown run.
The Chargers now move on to play the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts next weekend on the road, but the team likely be without one of its best players, tight end Antonio Gates (No. 85), who had to be carted off the field after injuring his toe.
The nasty weather didn't stop the Chargers Girls from doing their thing. With LSU's national championship game against Ohio State just around the corner, I was decked out in full Tiger gear, including a purple and gold poncho.

I didn't see anyone else sporting LSU stuff, but a number of people at the game told me they were pulling for the Tigers to win Monday night's battle in New Orleans.
Unfortunately for my peeps back in the Bayou State, this fleur-de-lis banner hanging from the rim of the stadium was as close as the New Orleans Saints got to the playoffs this year.
We took the San DiegoTrolley to the stadium in hopes of avoiding traffic jams.
But after the game, we waited in line in the rain for about 45 minutes to board the light-rail commuter train for the 10-minute ride back to where we parked the car.

Rex was already pissed at the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System for eliminating bus and trolley transfer tickets, and the delay leaving the stadium only added to his fury. Read his rant about MTS here in his blog post about the game.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Dynasty in the making

The Tigers scored a HUGE recruiting victory Saturday, snagging Pompano Beach, Fla., cornerback Patrick Johnson, who is ranked as the nation's third-best high school recruit by and No. 7 by

Johnson, who made his announcement after the high school all-star Army Bowl, is the first five-star senior to commit to LSU from this class. His decision is a big loss for all of the top programs in his home state that had aggressively recruited him.

More good news came from the Under Armour all-star game, where Ouachita (Monroe) High School tight end Tyler Edwards committed to LSU. The decision was a blow to Alabama and Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, who has desperately tried to steal recruits from LSU's backyard.

The news lifted LSU's overall 2008 recruiting class four spots to No. 7 on

With less than a month to go until National Signing Day for high school seniors, LSU is poised to finish with a top 10 recruiting class for the third time in as many years. ( ranked LSU 7th in 2006 and 5th in 2007.) It's an impressive run that firmly establishes head coach Les Miles as one of the nation's top recruiters.

And things could get better. LSU still is being considered by many of the 22 recruits who haven't yet chosen a college.

For a complete list the Tigers' current 2008 class go to and

Friday, January 04, 2008


On our way home, we drove straight through the Imperial San Dunes Recreation Area.
It just happened to be the second-busiest weekend for off-road riding. One guy said nearly 200,000 people were in the area riding their dune buggies, four-wheelers, motorbikes and big trucks across the sand.Farther north we encountered this stretch of highway and railroad track . . .
Where we found this rock graffiti.
There were hundreds of messages laid out along the raised railroad bed as far as we could see in both directions.

We finally returned to civilization (or something close to it) at a place called Vidal Junction, which marks the intersection of two desert highways.