LSU treads on hallowed ground, makes first trip to Rose Bowl in Orgeron’s West Coast return

Published 11:30 am Saturday, September 4, 2021

PASADENA, Calif. — It took more than a century of football — 99 years to be exact.

But LSU has finally made it to the Rose Bowl.

Not the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of all bowl games. No big parades for this season-opening visit when the Tigers play UCLA tonight. Not even any flowers. Keith Jackson won’t be there.

But, framed by a postcard-perfect San Gabriel Mountains sunset, the Tigers will open their season in the famed stadium, which opened in 1922 after the New Year’s Day game bounced around various Pasadena locales for its first 20 years.

The stadium, in fact, though frankly showing its age a bit, seems to be the game’s top attraction, at least for LSU.

See LSU, B3 Continued from B1

“It’s an honor to play there,” head coach Ed Orgeron said.

He even broke his standard routine Friday and made sure the No. 16 Tigers got a look at the place in advance. They took a trip through Los Angeles’ snarled traffic for a Rose Bowl walkaround. For the usual trips, they just remain in the team hotel on Friday.

“I think it’s something that they’re going to want to see,” he admitted. “Let them take pictures, let them be part of it, let them get that out the way now.”

Orgeron, of course, has been there several times — while serving two stints as an assistant at Southern Cal, his Trojans went 5-2 in Pasadena, 4-2 against the Bruins, plus a Rose Bowl victory over Michigan.

Tonight, however, will be his first game as a head coach in the Rose Bowl. But his one game as USC’s interim coach against UCLA — a home game for the Trojans in 2013 — probably set the wheels in motion to land him back home on the bayou coaching the Tigers.

He was 6-1 in the interim job and reportedly a popular choice among USC fans before losing to archrival UCLA 35-14 in the season finale. It likely sealed his fate and led to the Trojans hiring Steve Sarkisian for the permanent job a few days later.

Orgeron was devastated to be passed over — he declined to coach the Trojans in their bowl game — but has used it as an example of how closing one door can open others, in his case eventually leading to his dream job among his own people in his home state.

Still, he has told Los Angeles newspapers this week that his return isn’t about him — it’s not personal.

Instead, he said, it’s more like a bowl game for a what has already been an interesting week for the Tigers.

They evacuated Baton Rouge for Houston last Saturday with Hurricane Ida bearing down and spent the week practicing at the NRG Stadium home of the NFL’s Houston Texans.

They got one in last workout in Houston on Thursday before flying to L.A. that afternoon.

“Our team has been focused,” Orgeron said. “Everybody’s been early to meetings. We’re kind of in our own little protective cocoon here so it’s been good.

“It’s like a bowl,” Orgeron said.

It’s not exactly the standard campus atmosphere for a road trip anyway. The game will be 26 miles from the UCLA campus.

If the sparse crowd UCLA (1-0) drew last week for its opener against Hawaii and the distinct purple-and-gold flavor around the Los Angeles airport’s baggage claims Thursday are any indication, it could be a fairly 50-50 crowd.

“We’re excited to be getting going,” Orgeron said.