BATON ROUGE, La. — If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last two years, it’s that Baton Rouge doesn’t wait around for people to get comfortable.
Hello, my name is Nick Suss. For the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working as one of SEC Country’s three LSU beat reporters, alongside whiz kids Alex Hickey and Sam Spiegelman. As some of you may know, SEC Country will be ceasing operations after Saturday. As unfortunate as an occasion as this may be, it’s created the perfect situation for me to take my first chance to speak directly to the readers in an article, as opposed to hiding behind journalistic rules and mores.
Mostly, I want to tell you a story. I moved to Baton Rouge on Sept. 12, 2016. I’d never stepped foot in Louisiana before that day, let alone spent any time in Baton Rouge. I didn’t know a soul in Louisiana. I had one friend who lived in Mississippi, and he moved away three months later. I was venturing into the unknown. I was nine months out of college and embarking on the first step of my new life.
I don’t think I was scared, but I definitely knew the risk I was taking.
Fast forward 13 days. Aside from some odd press conferences and grocery trips, I hadn’t left my apartment. My social life was so drab I celebrated a birthday by myself on my couch with a six-pack of Abita. It’s a Sunday morning and I have nothing to do.
Then we all hear the news. Les Miles has been fired. I’d met the man twice. Barely even got acknowledgment from him. And now he was out of a job, and Alex was stuck in traffic coming back from Auburn. I sprung to action, like any good reporter would, speeding down to the football facility to stalk players and coaches as they walked in and out of the building. I tried to use the occasion as a means of meeting people, but everyone else in the area was understandably busy. So I just kind of stood there.
When chances came up to do interviews, I did them. When news came out, I wrote about it. But that day was my awakening. There’s no such thing as a slow news day at LSU, and there’s no such thing as seclusion in Baton Rouge. Action finds you.
Since then, I’ve made some great friends here. I also like to think I’ve told some pretty cool stories to you, the loyal readers at SEC Country. I talked to some of Ed Orgeron’s former players about why he’s the hog reincarnated. I told the life story of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who has been saving lives far longer than he’s been breaking tackles. I dove deep into the history and debate surrounding LSU’s Mike the Tiger tradition, trying to figure out what harm might be done and why people are so passionate about tigers in general. And I explained the far-out story of wide receiver Kenan Jones, the zaniest and free-thinking-est cat LSU has recruited in a long while. Heck, I even outlined the grounds for Steve Ensminger’s hire as offensive coordinator 14 months before it happened.
But anyone can share links. I want to share moments. So, as one of my final bylines here on SEC Country, I want to take you down memory lane and share with you my five favorite LSU sporting events I’ve covered at SEC Country.
Here’s hoping you remember them as fondly as I do.
No. 5: LSU pulls off the ‘Rally at Death Valley’
If you weren’t there, you’ll pretend you were. Just two weeks removed from one of the lowest moments in LSU football history, the Tigers hosted Auburn as heavy home underdogs. And the oddsmakers looked right early. LSU fell 20 points behind in the first half as Auburn surged to what felt like an insurmountable lead.
Then DJ Chark took over. He caught 5 passes for 150 yards and returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown to open the fourth-quarter rally. Throw in a performance for the ages from cornerback Donte Jackson, who broke up 4 passes on Auburn’s last two drives alone, and some clutch kicking from Connor Culp and you have a 27-23 LSU win on Oct. 14, 2017.
Anyone who was in Baton Rouge that day can attest that the town was bonkers after that game. And why shouldn’t it have been? It was an upset for the ages and a comeback for the record books.
No. 4: Double the perfection
There was no way I was going to make a top-5 list without spotlighting the best athletes on LSU’s campus: the gymnastics team. Over the last two years, LSU has dominated SEC competition. Senior Myia Hambrick and junior Sarah Finnegan punctuated that dominance on March 4, 2018, in the best way possible, reeling off back-to-back perfect 10s on the floor exercise to lead LSU to a regular-season SEC championship.
You would’ve had to search closely to find a dry eye in the PMAC when Hambrick earned her first career perfect 10 on floor. I’ve spent a lot of time at the PMAC over the last two years. Never had it been louder than that moment when the fans were goading the judges into Hambrick’s 10. Not when the basketball teams played Kentucky or UConn. For a gymnastics meet.
LSU is a gymnastics school. You can’t convince me otherwise.
No. 3: The birth of the Rally Beach Ball
LSU baseball might be the weirdest thing I’ve ever covered. No matter the game or the situation, everything seems to be coated with the faintest dust of magic. And nowhere was that more evident than in Game 1 of the 2017 College World Series against Florida State.
It’s the eighth inning. LSU is trailing 4-3. Antoine Duplantis is at the plate with Cole Freeman on first base and one out. Some dingus in the outfield stands bumps a beach ball out of the bleachers into right field. Play is paused. Florida State right fielder Steven Wells retrieves the ball and volleys it back into the stands. Play resumes.
Magic. Duplantis singles into right field directly at Wells. Wells bobbled the ball, allowing Freeman to advance from first to third base. Duplantis roared into second base at top speed, forcing a throwing error from Wells. As the ball rolled in the middle of the infield, Freeman charged home. He scores. Florida State catcher JC Flowers is charged with a third error on the play before it ends. It’s the strangest play I’ve ever seen in my life, and it was only seven innings removed from Duplantis going first-to-home on a wild pitch.
Omaha is a magical place. LSU baseball has a magical program. That game, LSU’s 17th win in a row, was one I’ll never forget. On weirdness quotient alone, it’s one of the best occurrences I’ve ever seen.
No. 2: A loss that belonged on Sundays
No one will ever feel bad for Alabama, but I truly believe the 2016 Crimson Tide were robbed. There should’ve never been a College Football Playoff that year. We didn’t need one. Alabama was obviously the best team in the country, and one of the best of all-time. Of course, Clemson had something different to say about that.
But for one Saturday in November, an overmatched LSU team played Alabama to a stalemate for three quarters. The fourth quarter began with the score sitting at 0-0. It was remarkable. Getting to watch Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White and Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley and Arden Key and Donte Jackson and Davon Godchaux and Lewis Neal team up to pull off one of the stoutest defensive performances you’ll ever see against an offense that averaged 40.9 points per game against teams that weren’t LSU that year was a treat for the football fan in all of us. Throw in the chance to see Alabama’s defensive group of Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, Dalvin Tomlinson, Tim Williams, Rashaan Evans and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and you have a who’s who of future NFL stars.
Some defensive games are ugly. Some are art. This one transcended art. It was an NFL game with all the stakes of an SEC West rivalry. It’s an experience you’d be foolish to forget because the outcome didn’t go your way; Alabama scored 10 fourth-quarter points to win 10-0 on Nov. 5, 2016. Savor the beauty of one of the best played football games you’ll ever see.
No. 1: Alex Box comes alive
Some ballparks are stadiums. Other are cathedrals. Alex Box Stadium definitely qualifies as the latter. And on June 10, 2017, that became as obvious as ever.
It’s the Baton Rouge Super Regional, LSU vs. Mississippi State with a trip to Omaha on the line. Mentor versus mentee in the dugouts. Hated rivals on the field. Future top draft picks on the mound. Proud fans in the bleachers. The atmosphere was amazing. And the game lived up to the hype.
HERE COME THE TIGERS!!!
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 11, 2017
The Tigers trailed by 3 runs in the eighth inning. But All-America right fielder Greg Deichmann trimmed that to a 1-run deficit with a 2-run double, scoring Kramer Robertson and Duplantis. Freshman Zach Watson singled home Deichmann to tie it, and catcher Michael Papierski capped the rally with a sacrifice fly, giving the Tigers their first lead. Four-run eighth. One win away from Omaha. There goes that magic again.
I’ve spent the last five years of my life reporting on SEC football. I’ve covered Yankees versus Red Sox games in The Bronx. I’ve watched Michael Phelps race against Ryan Lochte and I’ve seen Peyton Manning, Tim Duncan, Martin Brodeur and Mike Trout play in person. But I’ve never seen an atmosphere like Alex Box Stadium that night. The crowd never wavered. And the wake-up moment was epic.
It was the purest distillation of what the LSU fan base is that I’ve ever encountered. It doesn’t matter the sport. It doesn’t matter the gender. It doesn’t matter the pedigree or the history. LSU fans want to root for a winner. Whether it’s football or baseball or softball or gymnastics or track or tennis, LSU fans show up for high-quality sports. I don’t know of another college fan base in the country that can stake that claim.
And when LSU wins, the fans are rowdy. Y’all know that better than I do. That weekend was one of the most memorable ones of my life. After LSU clinched its College World Series berth, I didn’t get home to my apartment until around 4 in the morning. But it was worth it.
It’s been an honor to relay information to you and tell you stories over the last two years. I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did. And if I’ve learned anything in Baton Rouge, I bet you did.