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The Place To Be
JOHN ED BRADLEY
October 19, 2009
As last Saturday's marquee matchups in Baton Rouge, Oxford, Fayetteville, Knoxville and Columbia showed, nobody does it quite like the SEC, where speed-driven, bone-crunching football is played in front of packed houses and is rivaled only by the high-spirited traditions surrounding the games
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October 19, 2009

The Place To Be

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As last Saturday's marquee matchups in Baton Rouge, Oxford, Fayetteville, Knoxville and Columbia showed, nobody does it quite like the SEC, where speed-driven, bone-crunching football is played in front of packed houses and is rivaled only by the high-spirited traditions surrounding the games

The LSU faithful roasted an alligator on a spit outside Tiger Stadium before their game with top-ranked Florida in Baton Rouge last Saturday. They made cardboard signs in the shape of a hand with the middle finger sticking up and the words HEY, TEBOW, HOW MANY FINGERS AM I HOLDING UP? ¶ They appealed to whichever saint handles brain injuries, hoping for heavenly intercession that would convince college football's poster boy to take more time to heal from the concussion he suffered against Kentucky on Sept. 26. None of this worked, of course. Did anybody really expect Tim Tebow to sit out a nationally televised matchup between two top five teamsin college football's premier conference? Lest anybody forget, Tebow's "different than all of us," as Gators coach Urban Meyer would say when it was over.

Florida won 13--3 before a record crowd of 93,129 at spooky old Tiger Stadium. The Gators won in all aspects of the game, even though Meyer admitted afterward that he employed a conservative game plan to protect his quarterback.

"It was like two sledgehammers going at each other," said Meyer, who still has one less win in Baton Rouge than he does in national championship games.

The same comment could have been uttered in Fayetteville or Oxford or Knoxville or Columbia, where SEC powers went at each other on Saturday in part of the desperate seasonlong struggle for survival in the conference. The Gators, winners of 15 straight games over the last two seasons, might be ranked No. 1 in the nation, but they might not even be the best team in the SEC. Or at least that's what 10 voters in the AP poll thought on Sunday, when they voted for Alabama in the top spot following the Crimson Tide's 22--3 thumping of Ole Miss the day before. How dominant was 'Bama? The Rebels' first-half stat line read like this: five rushing yards, 14 passing yards, one first down, two turnovers, one blocked punt. Said Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, "We ran into a real wall today."

Alabama's performance was impressive enough that the Tide jumped over Texas in the AP poll, giving the SEC the top two spots. But the Gators are still the team to beat. The winner of the LSU-Florida game has won the national championship in each of the last three seasons, and on Saturday the Gators looked like they had every intention of keeping the string going. Tebow has shown a theatrical flair during his brilliant career, and the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner added to his list of great performances against LSU. As Meyer gathered with his players on the sideline before their first offensive series, fans trained their binoculars on the huddle, anxious to see if number 15 was there. He was, all right, but even without him, Florida most likely would've triumphed. Led by middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles, 2½ sacks and a forced fumble, the Gators' relentless D sacked LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson five times and held the Tigers to 162 total yards. "Defensively, it was one of the best efforts I've ever seen containing athletes," said Meyer. "There's not a faster team you're going to face than [LSU]."

Unless that team is Florida. Still, Tigers fans know how quickly things can change in this conference. They'd like nothing better than a rematch with the Gators in the SEC championship game on Dec. 5. To get there LSU merely needs to knock off Auburn, beat 'Bama in Tuscaloosa and Ole Miss in Oxford, and close with a victory over Arkansas. Such is life in the loaded SEC. But they're called the Tiger faithful because they believe.

If you suffer from allergies and struggle with the scent of lavender or Passion by Elizabeth Taylor, be warned. These people will knock you to your knees.

It's the day before the Florida game, and 650 of them have crowded into a downtown Baton Rouge hotel. They are all wearing purple and gold. Purple-and-gold dresses, purple-and-gold pantsuits, purple-and-gold blazers. Some have purple-and-gold shoes. Still others wear diamond pins and brooches that say lsu. Their charm bracelets rattle with silver tiger heads.

You've seen that glazed look before. Are they members of a cult?

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