Let’s make one thing clear: I’m not losing it. Or at least, if I am losing it, I’m not aware that I’m losing it. It’s just that the last couple days have been jam packed with a lot of things other than sleep. The following is a brief and confusingly disorganized highlights package sans video:

The South is awesome. It’s reaffirmed every time I get there, the most recent being this weekend. I had a game to cover in Hammond, La., the former shoe-making headquarters of the Confederate Army, and spent the night before in (cue French accent) Baton Rouge. If I ever save up enough money to start a College Football Cities in the South bus tour, both places will be included. Why? Because they’re both geared around NCAA Division I football on fall Saturdays and separated by just 45 miles yet worlds apart, a not-uncommon and fascinating dynamic in that part of the country.

Baton Rouge is the big time: National championships, live coverage on ESPN, Honey Badgers. To put it spatially, Tiger Stadium has a capacity of 92,000-plus. Across the street, is the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, a venue named for one basketball legend and fronted by a statue honoring another – Shaquille O’Neal. Between the two venues is a $3-million habit built for Mike, the school’s Bengal tiger mascot. He is impressive, beautiful and downright scary, stalking back and forth in a way that seems fueled by bad intentions.

Meanwhile, Hammond is the home to Southeastern Louisiana, a former junior college that once went 17 years without a football team due to budget cuts. The Lions play in Strawberry Stadium, a 7,500-seat venue with no video board and – on this day – not even an Internet broadcast. In an attempt to boost attendance, the home opener is double-booked as family day and band day, meaning kids from local schools have been invited to show up and rock out.

The games start just one hour apart and the departing visiting teams end up on the same Tarmac at the same time afterward.

LSU and SLU play the same game in the same thick air in the same region of the same state. And both are genuinely important, just to differing numbers of people.

Beignets and cafe au lait: Two reasons to love the South.

In the roughly 18 hours between arrival and kickoff, I ingested the following as part of a strict all-Southern diet: a catfish po’ boy, blackened gator, fried blue crab fingers, hush puppies, beignets, a biscuit and BBQ (pulled pork, brisket and sausage). It was as if I was trying to die and go to heaven. And I can say with zero uncertainty that I’d be more disciplined  in terms of diet if I lived in the Bayou.

It was all good and interesting and different. This is one of my favorite things about ‘Merica: It’s large enough that specific regions can feel almost like separate, English-speaking countries. And, no, that’s not a seccession crack. Folks in the South seem proud to be folks from the South and welcome – with opened ovens – guests and outsiders. If only there were a short phrase to describe the hospitable nature of such individuals …

The crummy thing about business travel is that home life goes on whether you’re there or not.

I got one hour of sleep in advance of the Miracle 5K – coffee would have served me better than a catnap – yet wound up running a personal-best time (and closed the gap on Sen. John Thune – yes, the fittest man in politics runs this event on a regular basis). The best explanation: All that gator meat. It’s probably like tiger blood, right Chuck Sheen? Actually, I’m chalking it up to the positive nature of recreational runs. I’ve done four of them in the last maybe three years, and not once have walked away with regret.

Generally, there are people of all ages and fitness levels coming together to do something healthy and/or charitable. There’s an obvious start and an end, and the latter usually includes a bunch of grub. I’m pretty sure I consumed more calories at the finish line than I burned in completing the course.

Cramming in as much junk as you can – words to live by or counter productive? Yes and yes.


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