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I always remember one of my oldest and best friend’s first ride on the Big Zephyr, which was a classic wooden roller coaster at the old Ponchartrain Beach amusement park in New Orleans before it closed in 1983.
The Zephyr had an extremely high slope. As we slowly ascended it, my friend turned around and looked at me as his eyes grew larger and larger as if he was a cartoon character. A Zephyr veteran, I just laughed as he considered an exit.
Auburn coach Bryan Harsin may have that look tonight as he enters the belly of the beast known as Tiger Stadium, which is sort of an amusement park itself, depending on how LSU’s football team is playing. It can be a thrill ride or a haunted house for host or visitor.
No. 22 Auburn (3-1) plays LSU (3-1, 1-0) at 8 p.m. on ESPN in Death Valley. Auburn has not won there since 1999.
Harsin, a native of Boise, Idaho, who played at Boise State and spent most of his coaching career there, will be a first timer. And he has no idea what’s about to hit him.
LSU has not played a SEC home game at night in before a full Tiger Stadium since Nov. 30, 2019, when the Tigers beat Texas A&M, 50-7, on their way to the national championship.
LSU has not kicked off as late as 8 p.m. at home since it beat Ole Miss, 45-16, on ESPN on Sept. 29, 2018. And the Tigers and their fans finally feel better about things after LSU defeated Mississippi State last week, 28-25, with some more LSU-like defense – not the stuff it was playing all last season and early last season when it was basically open all day and night.
Tiger Stadium is going to be wild tonight. The fans will have had all day and some of the night to get tuned up, so to speak.
And the Auburn-LSU series has had the type of pyrotechniques and the like that Disney World has been staging for decades.
There was a fire just outside Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium in the 1996 game. An old gym burned to the ground. No one was harmed, but the flames on ESPN television looked like something out of the “Towering Inferno.”
The crowd noise from LSU tailback Eddie Fuller’s game-winning touchdown catch in the 1988 game at Tiger Stadium registered as an earthquake on the LSU geology building’s seismograph.
And there was the “Bring Back the Magic” game for LSU in 1995 when the Tigers upset No. 5 Auburn, which helped LSU make its six straight losing seasons disappear.
A reporter asked Harsin about the wild things that happen when LSU and Auburn play, such as fires, this week. Nevermind that Tiger Stadium has not had an in-game fire yet for Auburn, unless you count Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and players lighting up cigars after their 41-7 win at LSU in 1999.
“Did you say there might be a fire? Is that what you said?,” Harsin said laughing.
It was a roller coaster of an emotion shift for Harsin, who had just wrapped up a dissertation on his strange firing of wide receiver coach Cornelius Williams after Auburn’s near loss to 1-2 Georgia State.
“God, I don’t, hell, I don’t know about that one,” he said.
You can’t just watch coaches’ game film when preparing for LSU-Auburn, rookie.
“I don’t know how to stage a fire,” he said.
Well, actually, you did well pretty well igniting things last Saturday, benching your three-year starting quarterback, Bo Nix, who has the same first name as the greatest player in Auburn history – Bo Jackson – and whose dad played quarterback at Auburn in the 1990s. Then on Sunday, you fired a wide receivers coach four games into the season.
“I’ll need to get some history on that,” Harsin said of the fire. “I’ve gotten a lot of stories from people who have been a part of the program and in this game. It’s going to be all that and then some.”
Now, you’re getting it, tourist.
“I don’t know all the stuff that you’re talking about, but I do know where you’re coming from,” Harsin said. “I don’t know what’s going to come up. We’ve just got to respond to whatever happens. We can work on some of the distractions. I’m not saying a fire, but certainly some of the other stuff that may come up in the game.”
There may not be a fire, but Harsin may notice the pungent smell of bourbon just over his shoulder on the sideline.
And he will know, he’s not in Boise anymore.