'Go to Hell Ole Miss'
Wed., Nov. 14, 6:04 p.m.
Baton Rouge, La.
It's easy to get lost in a strange city, but you can't miss this place. Walk-On's has a huge inflatable football player in an LSU uniform on the roof. From a distance in the car, we try to identify the roof ornament. My colleague, Tom Goldman, guesses it might be a beignet, one of those deep-fried, sugary pastries that they serve in New Orleans. Understandable. It's hard not to think about food in Louisiana.
Walk-On's is a sports bar/restaurant started by two former LSU basketball players who made the team by walking on without the benefit of an athletic scholarship. Thus, the name.
LSU football coach Les Miles has a weekly radio program here during the season. Fans decked out in purple start streaming in about an hour before showtime.
Out front, a middle-aged woman in an "Extreme Tailgater" T-shirt eyeballs a purple chopper "Tiger Bike" that's being raffled off to support a charity. A woman running the raffle tries to induce me to buy a $20 ticket. She assures me that Coach Miles will sign the bike.
The patrons stand and cheer when the coach walks in for his show.
Coaches enjoy iconic status when their teams reach No. 1 in the country, but Miles seems low-key and approachable. He bumps knuckles with his co-host and signs caps during a station break. The fans here are too polite to pester Miles about persistent rumors that he'll leave LSU at the end of the year to take the head coaching job at Michigan, where he has strong ties.
The show is part pep rally, part game preview. Miles is doing what coaches do: telling everyone that Ole Miss shouldn't be taken lightly, even though the team is winless in the SEC.
No one has a better perspective on all this than June Guillory of Baton Rouge. She's sitting in an overstuffed purple armchair, a VIP seat she's entitled to enjoy by virtue of holding a winning ticket number. The tickets were distributed a few minutes before showtime. It's the best venue in the house, only a few feet from the coach.
Guillory is a bona fide fan. Her father worked at LSU, and she says she has had the same game seats for 47 years. Guillory is sweet and gracious and grandmotherly. But she's also wearing a big button that says, "Go to Hell Ole Miss."
Just another SEC tradition.
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