Hurricane victims anxious for distraction of Tigers-Vols

BATON ROUGE, La. -- As Mike the Tiger slept, kids and
parents crowded into a corner to get a close look at LSU's mascot
in his enormous, enclosed sanctuary Sunday.

Elsewhere around campus, broken tree limbs were being sawed off
huge, old oak trees, cleanup crews gathered smaller fallen branches
into piles and white pickup trucks carrying workers and toting away
the mess left by Hurricane Rita made up the bulk of the traffic.

The day before LSU's long-awaited home opener, Baton Rouge was
hot and windy, but for the most part dry, and recovering from the
second hurricane to slam into Louisiana in less than a month.

Erin Larmann, like most of the people around here, looks at the
Tigers' game against Tennessee on Monday night (ESPN2, 7:30 ET), which was pushed
back two days because of Rita, as part of that recovery.

"I definitely think it's about time," said Larmann, who was
forced out of New Orleans by Katrina and has been staying with
friends in Baton Rouge. She and her family got out unharmed.
"Everybody is looking for something to celebrate about --
celebrating how fortunate we've all been."

Not far away, the American flag flew at half-staff for those who
have not been as fortunate.

No. 3 LSU has played just one game because of Katrina and Rita.
Three times the Tigers had their home opener delayed by storms that
ravaged Louisiana's Gulf Coast and sent thousands seeking shelter
in the state's capitol.

The only game the Tigers played, they won, 35-31 over Arizona
State in Tempe. That game on Sept. 10 was supposed to be played at
Tiger Stadium.

But then the LSU campus was housing thousands of evacuees, and
being used as a staging area for relief workers.

Slowly, the campus has returned to normal. No longer are people
sleeping in the basketball arena.

"We served a role there," LSU athletic department spokesman
Michael Bonnette said. "We did our part in trying to help through
a difficult time, but since we've kind of come back to a normal
state. School's in and things are the way they are supposed to

Well, almost.

Football season still hasn't started in one of its hotbeds.

New LSU coach Les Miles and his talented team were supposed
finally get their home season started on Saturday, but with
Hurricane Rita heading toward Louisiana, Tennessee pushed for the
game to be delayed again.

The Vols even considered forfeiting if the game wasn't moved to
Monday night.

With so many around Louisiana hoping to escape all the bad news
for a few hours, another postponed Tigers game only added to the
exasperation brought about by Rita.

"Are we going to ever get a game?," said Edward Collins, who
lives about 40 miles away from Baton Rouge near Hammond but was
spending Sunday fishing not far from Tiger Stadium.

The postponement turned out to be a good idea.

Rita dumped at least 5 inches of rain on Baton Rouge and did
another number on its trees. While it did no major damage here, it
wouldn't have been a good day to be traveling around Louisiana or
into the state, as Tennessee planned to do.

Having escaped Rita's worst, people in Baton Rouge could turn
their thoughts to football.

But is it still too soon for the Tigers to be playing games? Is
it disrespectful to so many residents who have felt the brunt of
the tragedy?

One caller to a sports talk-radio show suggested that, saying
LSU should consider canceling its season.

It was hard to find anyone else in Baton Rouge who agreed.

"We're starving for football," the next caller to the show

Lucie Agosta, 45, of Baton Rouge, said it's not just about

"We need something positive," she said. "We need to change

Pfc. Jason Nieves of the 82nd Airborne, who has been
distributing supplies to hurricane victims all over Louisiana, said
playing football in Baton Rouge sends a good message about the
recovery effort.

"It shows people that there is progress being made, things are
moving forward," he said.

Crews are expected to be on campus clearing debris into Monday,
but Bonnette said they should finish before fans start arriving.

Classes have been canceled at LSU because of the hurricane clean
up, which should alleviate parking problems. Traffic, however, is
expected to be especially heavy.

But LSU officials aren't deterring tailgating. It's what makes
LSU games so special and makes the Tigers, even more than the
Saints, Louisiana's team, said Chris Boyer of Harahan, a suburb of
New Orleans.

"The atmosphere is just so different. You'll spend all day out
here," he said. "We'll see people we haven't seen since the last
game of last season."