“Coach O, I just got off the phone and everything is set for the eighth annual LSU-Alabama pre-game fishing tournament, just like you wanted,” said Athletic Director Joe Alleva.
“Everything?” O asks. “Yep, everything,” Alleva answers with a big grin.
“Tell Saban and his partner to meet us at the boat ramp down by the big Mississippi River bridge. We comin’.”
The SEC rivals’ fishing match has been going on for years now, with LSU always winning the fishing tournament, but losing the football game a lot lately. Crafty Cajun Coach O has a recipe for a fix it that would have made old Justin Wilson himself do a belly laugh.
It’s fish day. Lights, camera…action.
“Welcome to the mighty Ole Mississippi,” Coach Orgeron says to Saban as the sun starts to rise from its other home in the Eastern sky. Saban suddenly looks distracted. “Did he say Ole Miss?” … flashback to 2014 and 2015. The teams are ready. For LSU, it’s Coach O and quarterback Joe Burrow in the first half and O and Devin White in the second half. Saban has chosen defensive tackle Taekwondo Davis, so he can beat the Tigers to the punch in case a real fisht fight breaks out. There will be no referees, which is a good thing for LSU.
Today’s “game”: big river catfish. Fishing from 7 a.m. – noon. But it seems like Saban may be getting an early, unfair advantage. A big burly cajun with a mullet in a dirty worn Alabama v-neck calls out to Saban, “Fish de bubble, man. Fish de bubble. Dat where de big catfish be.”
“Did he say fish the bubbles,” Taekwondo asks. “That’s what he said,” Saban answers. Since they have no clue what to do, they give it a try. And there, right by the first bridge piling, there is a constant stream of bubbles in the water.
“Punch your big old shrimp up there in the back of bubbles,” Saban screams at Davis. Sure enough, the shrimp hasn’t been in the water 30 seconds when a huge tug (tug, not thug) pulls on the line. Taekwondo reels in a 12 pound river cat, drops him in the bottom of the boat and starts punching it in the backside.
“We don’t have time for that. I’ll have to hold you out for two casts. Look for more bubbles,” Saban says, flailing his arms and kicking his legs, knocking over his can of Bubba Gump bait shrimp. Sure enough, right down the bridge — more bubbles. Davis casts and catches another one. Saban, too. Pretty soon they have five big catfish in the boat. Saban actually smiles, although it wasn’t caught on camera.
Coach O and Joe Burrow haven’t gotten a bite. ESPN’s Paul Finebaum speculates that maybe Burrow has no experience in anything but ice fishing. And Coach O may be on the hot boatseat if things don’t change. But the LSU duo are smiling, looking like the cat that ate the canary. The Advocate sports department tweets out it’s obvious they know they can’t beat Bama. It’s halftime, so in comes Devin White for Burrow. White doesn’t dare throw his bait near anything, because he doesn’t want to be accused of targeting the catfish. But they don’t look the least bit worried about being behind.
Sure enough, the second half opens with instant trouble for the red Rammer Jammer boat. “EEEiiiikkkk!”, Saban screams. “You’ve eaten up all the shrimp, Davis!”
“No problem coach, he says, looking up from scrubbing the boat carpet. We got shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad..”
“A’aiight. A’aiight. Knock it off,” Saban yells. “Bait your hook and find more bubbles.”
Three more catfish for Bama. None for LSU. Marcus Spears turns to his new best Alabama bud, GiGi McElroy and says, “LSU fans are just going to have to learn to live with being mediocre fishermen.”
Saban watches the weigh-in with a big grin. “Catfish are a lot more fun than Dolphins,” he says.
He’s so giddy he drinks the bottle of Coke that’s been sitting in front of him for eight years and he even forgets to comb his thinning, graying hair. Overconfident and thinking about something other than football for the first time in 50 years, Saban texts former Tennessee head coach and now Bama assistant Butch Jones. “Butch, that fishing guy from Tennessee, is it Bill Dance? Yeah, Bill Dance. Pick up a couple of Bill Dance videos so we can watch them back at the hotel tonight. And get me another one of those cool T caps.”
“You know what?”, Saban says. “We should take these fish back to the hotel with us. Commissioner Stankey and Steve Shaw will gladly clean them for us and have their refs put on a big fish fry for our team. Heck, we can even skip practice today. Man, something doesn’t feel right, but this is fun. Let’s go. Hey, look. The Baton Rouge Police Department dive team has been on the river. They must have been practicing over here, too. That’s odd.”
Across the ramp, there’s another happy camper.
“It’s gonna work. It’s gonna work,” O says loudly as he high fives White and Burrow, not worried about Saban hearing him because Saban can’t understand a word O says anyway.
“He took the bait!,” O exclaims. “Saban now realizes there is more to life than football. He actually enjoyed fishing. Imagine that. Imagine that he enjoyed anything.”
Alleva drives over and picks up O and heads back to the football offices.
“That was a brilliant plan you and Coach Ensminger came up with,” Joe says. “Absolutely brilliant. Having the Cajun Navy guy dress up like an Alabama fan to tell Saban where to fish. Amazing. And how in the world did you think to get members of the BRPD Dive Team to hang out underwater by the bridge pilings and hook big fish out of a net onto Saban and Davis’ line? Those bubbles from their air tanks drew Saban like a Cajun to a crawfish. They never knew what hit them. They actually thought they were catching fish.”
The AD exclaims, “What a game plan! And now Saban loves fishing. His mind is off football! We let him win here today so we can win Saturday. Yo da man, Coach O.”
“Thanks, Joe,” O says. “We ain’t backin’ down!”