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The Usual Suspects began tailgating on the corner spot near the Indian Mounds on LSU’s campus 24 years ago. “It started with a 12-pack of Milwaukee’s Best and a bag of Doritos,” says Baton Rouge attorney Luke Williamson, who organizes the tailgate along with a group of friends from his undergraduate and law school days. He’s saying this as a DJ blasts the hits of the 90s and 2000s while hundreds of revelers party under a massive inflatable tent. Needless to say, the Usual Suspects have evolved.
It’s a few hours before LSU kicks off against Auburn, and The Usual Suspects have a fully staffed bar with lines four deep, a buffet serving catered fajitas and a stripper pole getting occasional action from both genders. Williamson swore to his wife a day earlier that he wouldn’t put up the stripper pole. He did not break that promise. He did not physically put up the stripper pole. Williamson would have ordered a massive ice luge to make the delivery of vodka shots more entertaining, but he worried after the loss to Troy that the crowd might be too subdued. He’s wrong. On this Saturday, the Suspects will empty between 30 and 40 1.5-liter bottles of liquor.
At any other school, The Usual Suspects would have the most over-the-top tailgate on campus. At LSU, home of the tailgating national champions, the Suspects blend into a purple-and-gold party that starts Friday night and ends long after the sun has found its home in the western sky on Saturday night. Other schools have decent tailgating scenes. At Michigan, they put out sandwiches and crack beers on the golf course next to the Big House. At Tennessee, Washington and Baylor, sailgaters tie up their boats next to the stadium. The Grove at Ole Miss, the place everyone who hasn’t been to a game at LSU thinks has the best tailgating, is quaint if you love chandeliers in tents and watching men in ties and women in high heels stand in line for Port-a-Potties.
But nothing compares to LSU, where in the corner of the RV lot known as Touchdown Village, Fred Beam and Jaime San Andres have rolled in and set up a 24-foot bar with a 30-year old daiquiri machine that Beam brags has more career knockouts than Muhammad Ali. About 90 minutes from kickoff, Beam will turn around from behind the bar and see between 200 and 300 people. San Andres, who runs an auto body shop in Paulina, La., and looks like a taller, thicker Vin Diesel, estimates they’ll go through 10 gallons of daiquiris and 15 cases of beer. If they’re hungry, they can walk over and eat crawfish étouffée or barbecued shrimp.
About 30 yards away, Ronald Lahasky and his sons have four different kinds of boudin on a table outside their RV. The Lahasky version of the cajun delicacy that packs meat, spices and rice into sausage casing is critical to LSU’s fortunes. “If we don’t have boudin,” he says, “we don’t win.” It’s also healthy, he says. Trust him. He’s a doctor. (Really. Lahasky has an internal medicine practice in Abbeville, La.) Lahasky has driven that RV around the SEC, and he believes he knows why no tailgating scene compares to LSU’s. “There’s people still partying over here — 30,000 people — while the game’s going on,” he says. “Twenty thousand of them don’t know the game’s going on. The other 10,000 know, and they’re just watching the other 20,000.”
Back near the Indian Mounds, Zach Rau and his friends are ready to serve lunch. Rau couldn’t tailgate as an undergrad because he was a member of the Golden Band From Tigerland, but he started in earnest in a prime spot next to The Usual Suspects—spots on campus aren’t paid for and are regulated by a shockingly civil honor system—as a grad student in 2012. Rau’s group has graduated from the 12-pack-and-a-bag-of-Doritos phase but the young professionals are several years away from the DJ-and-ice luge phase. “We’re young. We don’t have the resources some other people have,” he says. “But we have the location.”
And they have the food. On Friday night, Rau packed 65 pounds of pork butts into a pair of Weber Smokey Mountain cookers. He removed them this morning and replaced them with chicken legs. About three hours prior to kickoff, he’ll serve pulled pork, smoked legs and smoked macaroni and cheese. Those who chipped can wash that down in style. There’s a keg of Louisiana-made Abita Purple Haze and a keg of Michelob Ultra. “You need something to hydrate you,” Rau says. (He’s not a doctor.)
More than 100,000 stream into Tiger Stadium in the early afternoon—they hate day games here—and at least 20,000 return to the tailgates when Auburn takes an early 20–0 lead. Thousands watch on flatscreens in tents and RVs as LSU storms back for a 27-23 win. Later, thousands more spill from the stadium and back to the tailgate. In Touchdown Village, San Andres dreads breaking down the bar. He’ll probably tell Beam on Sunday to never call him to tailgate again. But Beam will call, and San Andres will be back setting up the bar again the next time the Tigers play. “We don’t fish. We don’t hunt. We don’t play golf,” San Andres says. “We do a party, and we don’t want nobody to outdo our party.”