I spent the first 14 years of my life living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I lived through the horror that was Hurricane Katrina. I remember the damage it wrecked across my home state. New Orleans was destroyed. Thousands of people were displaced, hundreds of houses and businesses were destroyed, and many thought New Orleans would never be rebuilt. When we moved back to South Carolina (both my parents are from SC and went to Carolina), I thought my days of living through community destroying storms were over.
As last week's storm swept through the state that I now call home, I had a sense of deja vu sweep over me. I thought to myself, "this can't be happening again..." I was lucky enough to have left for home the Friday before the brunt of the storm hit. While I escaped any danger, there were many in the Columbia area that were not so lucky. Much like New Orleans during Katrina, Columbia saw many homes, roads, and businesses destroyed. After some debate, Ray Tanner and the rest of the USC administration made the decision to move the football game against the LSU Tigers to Baton Rouge.
When the word got out that the game would be played in Louisiana the immediate outpouring of support from the LSU administration, players, coaches, and fans was incredible. Of any college football program, I truly believe this was the best case scenario for us with these circumstances. The entire LSU community welcomed the Gamecock players and fans with open arms. The LSU band learned our alma mater and our players received a standing ovation before and after the game from the LSU faithful. When Leonard Fournette was done bludgeoning us on the field, he made one of the most genuine gestures that I've seen in a long time (and yes, the NCAA is going to let him auction his jersey; looks like they finally found some common sense). They even raised our state flag and the Carolina flag over Tiger Stadium. All the profits from the game, after LSU pays the cost of hosting the game, will go towards relief efforts in South Carolina.
All of this was done because the people of Louisiana understand what we are going through as a state. While Katrina displaced many people, they understand what the game of football can do for a hurting community (remember Steve Gleason?). It provides distraction, a cathartic release for a period of time from the hurt and the heartache. And while we are all very passionate about our football teams, people are often understanding of when others are hurting. LSU went above and beyond in their efforts to welcome us and make us feel at home. They did everything they could to give us that cathartic release that we all needed.
Despite putting up a valiant fight in the first half, our Gamecocks eventually got blown out on the field Saturday. Leonard Fournette pretty much crushed our hopes of an upset on the second play from scrimmage in the 3rd quarter. We saw the same thing that we've seen all year. Poor tackling, no running game, spotty playcalling etc. But right now, at this moment in time, none of that is important considering our situation. When we thought we might not even have a game, LSU gave us a chance to play and watch a game we love. They gave us a chance to escape.
We learned that the game of football is so much more than a game.