Every time LSU goes to a football national title game, that game is in Louisiana. 2019. 2011. 2007. 2003. And so on! Yes, it goes back even further!
But it also gets even odder.
In the 2000s, every time college football’s national championship has been in Louisiana, LSU has been there. Since 1999’s Sugar Bowl, all four title games in New Orleans have featured LSU.
First, think about what a weirdly difficult achievement-like thing this is.
Some other teams also have lists of national championships commonly associated with nearby bowls. Most of USC’s titles involve Rose wins, for example. But it’s not quite like LSU and NOLA. USC’s most recent title came via an Orange Bowl win, and USC’s last outright title won at the Rose Bowl was in 1978. In the BCS era alone, four non-USC teams won Pasadena title games, with the Trojans missing three of those games.
Constantly having hometown champs at pre-arranged neutral-sites is only common in fake sports like pro wrestling and international men’s soccer. Host nations made seven of the first 11 World Cup finals, and a few stand out as suspicious when compared to their success in tournaments played elsewhere. Home cooking is the only known explanation for World Cup finals featuring traditionally mediocre national footie teams such as England.
But even then, we’re not talking about a championship situation like New Orleans/LSU. Because even if England had ever won a soccer title in my dad’s lifetime, it wouldn’t have repeatedly done so in England.
Normal sports also help show the weirdness of this NOLA Tigers thing.
No NFL team has ever played a Super Bowl in its stadium, though the 49ers and Rams each played one at college stadiums in their cities. Most other pro sports have the sense to avoid “neutral”-site games. In college basketball, you have some stuff like Butler nearly winning a March Madness final in Indianapolis, but only once, not literally every time the March Madness final is in Indianapolis.
Now let’s go back through time to show everything that had to happen in order to link every LSU national title to New Orleans.
(And only New Orleans).
2019: The most actively anti-offense school in the country needed to suddenly deploy a video game attack, meaning Joe Burrow had to go from an average FBS quarterback to arguably the best college player ever.
If the Tigers had their 2018 offense in 2019 against Texas, Florida, Auburn, and Alabama, they probably wouldn’t have reached NOLA. And even if they somehow got there, they probably wouldn’t have beaten Clemson.
2012: LSU might’ve been one Bama screen pass away from getting to beat Notre Dame in the BCS Championship, but this BCS Championship was not in New Orleans, so the screen pass happened.
The Tigers would’ve also had to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship. Since this BCS title game was outside of Louisiana, either Bama or Georgia was always destined to stop LSU. And since Georgia is Georgia, it was always going to be Bama.
AJ McCarron’s incredible dump-off put LSU in the Peach Bowl against Clemson, meaning the Purple Death Valleys Tigers Rivalry also forms its own sub-trend.
2011: LSU reached NOLA by being one of the best college football teams ever, beating a list of ranked teams that included three of the final top five.
No one remembers what happens once those Tigers got to New Orleans, though. I’m sure it went great.
Anyway, 2019 LSU is now probably the best college football team ever, so all is well at last.
2010: If not for Cam Newton feats such as The Cam Newton Run, LSU probably would’ve made the BCS Championship in Arizona. But Arizona is not in New Orleans, in my opinion, and therefore Auburn had Cam Newton.
If this BCS title game had been in Louisiana, would the LSU-to-NOLA gravitational pull have been strong enough to counter Cam being a one-man national title? We’ll never know.
2007: All it took for this two-loss LSU to make it to New Orleans’ BCS Championship: the most ludicrous season in football history.
If one of about a million stupid things goes differently in 2007, there is no LSU-NOLA trend.
2006: A 7-3 loss at Auburn might’ve kept LSU out of the BCS Championship in Arizona.
This year, LSU ranked #9 in scoring.
This year, LSU scored three points against Auburn, with five scoreless drives inside War Eagle territory.
Some say Auburn forever ruins things. When it comes to our precious trend of ensuring the Bayou Bengals only play for titles in the Bayou, Auburn actually protects things.
Because you know where LSU did spend the holidays? That’s right: obliterating Charlie Weis’ Notre Dame in New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl.
2003: At the buzzer, BCS ratings bumped eventual champ LSU ahead of USC for the title shot in New Orleans against Oklahoma.
In those years, the BCS formula was constantly changing. Looking back, we could say this happened to be a year when the computers were powerful enough to overcome both human polls having USC #1. (It was thus also a year that would contribute to more tinkering than usual.)
If the BCS had worked slightly less favorably this year, Nick Saban’s national champion Tigers would’ve instead played in the Peach Bowl against an 8-4 ........ yep, them again .......... Clemson.
So that’s also how close Saban came in 2003 to facing his ghost of Christmas future:
No wonder Saban left for the Dolphins.
Are we done? No. Let’s also look at every pre-2000 season in which LSU had a #1 ranking according to multiple NCAA-recognized title selectors.
You know, all those assorted rankings used for title claims by desperately thirsty programs such as UCF and Alabama.
1958: LSU won its first consensus national title by beating (that’s right) Clemson in (you guessed it) New Orleans.
Technically, poll titles in those days were awarded before bowl season, but historians and advanced stats might not’ve agreed with those polls if the Purple Death Valleys Tigers Rivalry had gone differently.
1936: Two NCAA-recognized computer systems recognize LSU as the final #1. By Bama’s standards, the Tigers should claim this title. (Not by UCF’s, since LSU lost a game this year.)
The game LSU lost was the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to the mighty Santa Clara Broncos, in fact. Santa Clara won three bowls ever, and two of them were back-to-back Sugar Bowls against LSU.
And there you have it. Every LSU title season, whether claimed or otherwise, ended in New Orleans.
And except for four Sugar Bowls in the 1900s, every outright national title game in New Orleans has been either won or lost by LSU.
(The Playoff Championship isn’t scheduled to return to NOLA until some time after the 2023 season, btw.)
Thanks for reading!
If you liked this post, you might like this post by Spencer on the Tigers of Louisiana:
Mike I died in 1956. LSU bought another tiger immediately. (Again: for long stretches of American history, buying a tiger was a little too easy.) It died a month after it got to campus. Then, after dying once, Mike II died again less than a year later.
Given the neighborhood, dying twice wasn’t that weird. It is so hard to avoid this — the gumbofication of everything Louisiana, including LSU, into a runaway Mardi Gras barge floating through history without a rudder — but it wasn’t that strange to worry about whether something was really dead or not.
New Orleans buried its dead above sea level in vaults. Those vaults sometimes had bells attached to strings leading down into the crypt. The fear of being buried alive in the pre-modern era was real and semi-justified, and not just by local stories of Turkish sultans being entombed alive in the courtyards of New Orleans rental homes. The alligators in the bayous go torpid and sleep away the mild winters. Zombies are real between the hours of 12 a.m. and 8 a.m. Central Time, and sometimes a little past, via traffic and the usual delays.
It’s hard to avoid sensationalizing Louisiana and by extension LSU football.