LSU creates home-like atmosphere for S.C.: 'Been a lot of hospitality'
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Call it a home away from home.
South Carolina season-ticket holder Lee Thornton has found LSU fans so gracious this weekend he wants to come back the next time the Gamecocks play in Tiger Stadium -- even if he did find the 12-hour drive a bit tiresome.
"It's like being a celebrity, honestly, coming through here," Thornton said.
The 33-year-old from Spartanburg, South Carolina, made the trip after disastrous flooding in his home state caused officials to relocate what was supposed to be a Gamecocks home game to No. 7 LSU's Death Valley.
Several days of record-setting downpours have left at least 17 dead, flooded hundreds of homes and businesses, shut down a 13-mile stretch of I-95 and left thousands without drinking water.
LSU put all sorts of touches on the day to make it feel as much like a home game as possible for the visitors. The band played the South Carolina alma mater before kickoff and stadium speakers blared electronic music hit "Sandstorm" as is standard practice in South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium.
Billboards around town were programmed to read "Geaux Gamecocks! Make yourself at home."
"Our flag's flying today, and our state flag is flying. They've played some music for us, our alma mater prior to the game," said South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner.
"So our thoughts and prayers are still with all of our friends and family in the state of South Carolina, but LSU certainly has rolled out the hospitality to the Nth degree to try to make sure we feel very comfortable and to give us a home game on the road, which is very difficult to do."
Crowds were unusually sparse, with an entire upper deck on the east side of the stadium completely empty. There wasn't much traffic and plenty of parking. Attendance was just 42,058 in a venue that seats about 102,000.
LSU planned to donate all revenues beyond expenses to South Carolina, and Red Cross donation centers were set up outside Tiger Stadium.
As Thornton, wearing garnet Gamecocks gear, strolled past an LSU tailgate on campus he, his wife, Kristen, and their friend, Carrie Gilbert were greeted warmly by LSU fans wearing purple and gold.
"It's been great. We've had a blast. Everybody's offered us drinks, food," Gilbert said. "They understand the flooding, obviously, because it was much more prevalent here with Katrina and other things in the past. There's been a lot of hospitality."
Just outside the stadium stood George and Kim Durham of Abbeville, South Carolina, who also drove down. They had extra incentive. Their daughter, Kristy, is a graduate student at LSU.
"They've been treating us well. They've offered us food, drinks, and if we didn't have tickets they were going to give us tickets, but we bought some before we came down," George Durham said. "It's like being a rock star, being out here today, but it's still kind of sad because so many people in South Carolina are hurting."
Mitchell Touchton, 18, is a South Carolina freshman who drove down with three other students. Classes were canceled last week because 34,000 students were too much for the city's damaged infrastructure to handle.
"The reception has been great. We walked past an LSU fraternity house and they were yelling Tiger Bait and we expected that," Touchton said. "After that, every single tailgate we have passed has offered us food and drinks. It's been awesome."
South Carolina planned to resume classes Monday, and Tanner said he was optimistic South Carolina would be able to host next week's game against Vanderbilt. But more rain came Saturday.
"We've still got some breeches in some areas facing difficult times, so we'll assess it as we move forward," he said.