A college national championship game has previously been held in New Orleans four times.
It started in 2000 and 2004 as the Sugar Bowl, advanced to 2007 and 2011 under the guise of the BCS national championship.
In the same time span, LSU has played for a title three times, the last three times the game has been in New Orleans.
Now comes a fourth time in the Big Easy for LSU as it battles defending national champion Clemson in Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game.
It’s one of the quirkiest stats in sports. It’s probably nothing more than coincidental, unless you were a part of the LSU football team that believed it would be in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in January again.
“For some reason, when we found out last year it was going to be in New Orleans, we felt that we were going to be there,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “It’s nothing that was talked about but I’m sure it was talked about in small circles.
“What an opportunity it would be for us, the state of Louisiana, for everybody to be there. I like it because it’s a home field advantage. I like it because we don’t have to get on airplane to go down there. I think it’s going to be a tremendous night.”
It’s hard to imagine a coach better suited to lead LSU into a national championship played in Louisiana than the Cajun-born and raised Orgeron.
Orgeron is a native of Larose, even further south than New Orleans. He is the first Louisiana native to serve as LSU’s head coach since Jerry Stovall in the early 1980’s. He grew up an LSU fan, signed with LSU, left school two weeks after reporting for fall camp and eventually ended up playing at Northwestern State while Stovall was coaching the Tigers.
From the moment Orgeron was promoted from interim to head coach in 2016, he went to work selling the team’s brand as the flagship of the state.
“I want to thank all of the people in Louisiana for their support,” Orgeron said in his introductory press conference. “Everywhere we went it was ‘Coach, we want you to be the coach and represent us.’ We know what we’re representing and proud to be a part of Louisiana.”
His road has taken him across the country and included many successes and failures before he was brought on at LSU as defensive line coach in 2015. Call it destiny or call it luck, but he has found himself not just at his dream job but in his dream situation.
“I always felt that I was going to be here, somehow or some way,” Orgeron said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be the head coach or not but I always wanted to be at LSU. When I saw the team playing in a big game, I envisioned myself being a part of it. Not necessarily being the man, nothing like that. I just wanted to be a part of it. I know what it meant to the community, I know what it meant to everybody, and that’s a big stage man.”
He is the first Louisiana-born coach to lead LSU to a national title opportunity. It’s a great storyline.
But Orgeron hasn’t lost track of what’s at stake. There is a game to play and in order to win, LSU will have to play its best of the year. After all, the last time the Tigers played for a national championship in 2011, it didn’t go so well in a 21-0 loss to SEC West rival Alabama.
“After the first snap, it’s just like a fight,” Orgeron said. “All that stuff don’t matter. We’ve got to execute. Clemson is going to be hard team to beat, we’re going to have to play our best.
“We’re not going to make this game bigger than it. The focus is on daily preparation, what we’re going to do on a daily basis, and then go win the game.”