BATON ROUGE, La — Its very difficult to figure out the reason why LSUs Tiger Stadium is known as Death Valley.
USC coach Steve Spurrier made headlines this week with his interpretation on the name. So, too, did Clemsons coach, Dabo Swinney, in a snarky response.
Both LSU and Clemson fan bases can agree the popular use of the phrase for their stadiums was first applied at Clemson. Beyond that, things get a bit murky.
LSUs Tiger Stadium opened for business in 1924, near a gas station called Deaf Valley, according to a contemporary account by The Associated Press. But no one knows for certain if that stations name was transferred to the stadium itself.
As the years went by and the stadium and program grew in stature and size, Deaf Valley took on a more plausible meaning. The joint was just plain loud on steamy, southern Louisiana Saturday nights.
Its in the 1980s where things became truly confused. As the sport of college football and the SEC gained a national following, more and more sports writers visited Baton Rouge. And more and more of those sports writers started calling it Death instead of Deaf.
But in 1999, reader Dave Lewis wrote in a letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate the moniker Death Valley was the fan bases intent all along, dating back to that gas station.
People in Baton Rouge cannot pronounce breath or death, he wrote. They say, I lost my breaf or I was scared to deaf. So Death Valley, the proper name, became Deaf Valley.
Regardless of the name, one thing everyone can agree on is the place gets unbelievably loud. It currently is the 16th largest stadium and will become the seventh largest college football stadium in the country when its expansion to 100,000 seats is completed in 2014.
Speaking in strict scientific terms, the place literally rocks. On Oct. 8, 1988, LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson threw a game-winning pass to Eddie Fuller as time ran out in a 7-6 victory against Auburn. Roughly 1,000 feet away at the Howe-Russell Geoscience Complex, a seismograph picked up the crowds roar and registered it as an earthquake.
That crowd numbered roughly 14,000 fewer spectators than the one expected tonight.
LSU coach Les Miles would love to see a repeat of the infamous Earthquake Game against the No. 3 Gamecocks. He has spent this week rallying the LSU fan base.
I think our home crowd gives great energy to the team, whether its special teams, offense or defense, Miles said. Our guys play to them. They enjoy it. When theres a buzz and, you know, the cheer, its just what you want.
LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow said he and his teammates watch opposing teams closely when they enter the stadium for the first time.
Death Valley gets to people, he said. You really see it. When were at midfield warming up, we look at the team across the field to see what theyre looking at. A lot of times, its guys looking up and seeing how big the stadium is and the crowd. Its a very intimidating place to be, so we like having it at our back.
Then theres the tiger itself. A live, Bengali-Siberean hybrid named Mike VI is on hand to greet the opposition on game day.
Coming through and you see the tiger? said Barrow, It gives you something to think about.
Records bear out LSUs home field advantage, especially at night. But a closer look at the numbers reveal perhaps some of that mystique is misplaced.
Jim Hawthorne has been LSUs play-by-play man for the past 30 years. He said the belief LSU somehow is better at night than during the day has to do with television skewing the schedule.
The reason they play games at night is its too hot in the afternoon, Hawthorne said. Nowadays, if were playing in the afternoon, its because the game is on national television. And if the game is on national television, its because were playing a team that is highly ranked.
Naturally, the record isnt going to be as impressive, given that.
Hawthorne went on to say that, with the massive growth of the SEC in general, the era of the decisive home field advantage is on the wane.
Tiger Stadium is a huge, massive stadium and very loud, he said. But its not a lot different than walking into Alabama or Florida. So many stadiums in the league are very large and very loud and I really think players in the SEC, especially those who have made the rounds, are not going to be intimidated.
So, maybe despite its girth and history, Death Valley is no longer quite as deadly.
But it remains a unique game day experience, singular among the SEC schools.
The advance parties began scouting out the recreational vehicle areas beyond South Stadium Drive late on Thursday night. By 6 a.m. on Friday, the Purple and Gold armada began its invasion.
By mid-morning, the aromas of distinct culinary delights began filling the air.
Culture, Hawthorne said. The Cajun culture out there is what makes LSU unique. Instead of burgers and hot dogs, theyre out there cooking crawfish, gumbo and jambalaya. The music theyre playing is Acadian.
Its a little bit different, Hawthorne said in conclusion. I dont know if anywhere is quite like it.