Two teams. One goal.
It didn’t matter who won Saturday night’s game between the Arizona State University Sun Devils and Louisiana State University Tigers. The winners were the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, with half of the proceeds going to relief efforts.
Despite less than a week to prepare for a nationally televised game between Top 25 teams, ASU officials nearly achieved their goal of a soldout Sun Devil Stadium. University President Michael Crow projected that the proceeds would well exceed $1 million.
Various donors chipped in thousands of dollars, he said.
Attendance was announced at 63,210 — about 8,500 short of a full house. Among the crowd were about 200 hurricane evacuees living at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.
Crow also announced that half of the money would be directed into a new "Student Relief Fund" to cover expenses for the nearly 3,000 college students now attending LSU because their campuses in New Orleans — Tulane University and Loyola University — were flooded in the storm’s wake.
ASU made arrangements for the game just six days after LSU decided to move it from Baton Rouge, La., the city that is now the center of federal and state operations for relief and recovery efforts.
LSU officials decided that the game would have complicated the city’s efforts to shelter and assist evacuees. Hotels there are filled with homeless New Orleans residents, traffic is congested, and schools and hospitals are crowded.
LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., all attended the game with Crow.
Disaster seems to follow O’Keefe. He was head of NASA in 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia exploded.
He described the hurricane’s devastation as "9/11 over a 100-mile radius."
The first-year chancellor said his institution is caring for more than 6,000 acute patients brought in from devastated New Orleans at a hospital on campus.
Cities around the country, including Phoenix, have opened their doors to thousands of Gulf Coast college students, families, elderly and children left homeless by the catastrophe. ASU has taken in more than 100 college students displaced by the hurricane, allowing them to take classes.
EVACUEES JOIN CROWD
Veterans Memorial Coliseum is a temporary shelter for about 220 hurricane survivors.
With tickets donated by season-ticket holders, most of the evacuees attended the game, including John D. Johnson Jr. of New Orleans.
Johnson is normally an Oklahoma Sooners fan, but "now my heart has to be with LSU," he said, pointing at the front of his Tigers T-shirt.
The floodwaters that rushed in from the broken levees in New Orleans not only took Johnson’s fourbedroom home, but his father-in-law, Paul Murphy, 98, and his niece, Katrina Johnson, 9. He’s also awaiting word from his brother, Leon Johnson, whom he thinks is now in Alabama.
Johnson wants to know if his loved ones will be properly buried. But he has no answers.
Now, Johnson wants to settle in Arizona. He wants an apartment and a job, dislikes staying in the coliseum and having to depend on aid workers for help.
"I’m 63 years old, and I’ve worked all my life," he said. "I don’t want anything given to me."
LSU fans also came to Tempe for the game. Will Rogers, a season-ticket holder from Baton Rouge, was ready for the game more than a hour before kickoff. He was wearing a straw hat with a stuffed tiger held in by a bandana, and a purple button-down, short-sleeved shirt with hundreds of Tiger logos.
Holding the game in Tempe was a welcome break for him, since life back home has turned chaotic in Katrina’s aftermath.
"Baton Rouge has increased in population with the influx of people," Rogers said. "Traffic is just horrendous."
SCALPERS CASH IN
All acts of charity aside, this was a highlyanticipated matchup — and so there was money to be made by vendors, and, of course, scalpers.
Some fans criticized the scalpers for trying to make a buck off the charity event. Usually, no one complains, said a scalper nicknamed "Uncle Fred." He declined to provide his last name; worried he’d face an angry backlash.
Passers-by "are saying I’m rotten, and I’m taking money from the hurricane people," said Uncle Fred, who drives to every ASU home game from Glendale to scalp tickets.
Online, tickets were going for as much as $110 each.
But at a concession stand that is located a long bomb from the stadium’s front gates, a merchant gave his opinion that accusations of profiteering fall apart under scrutiny.
"This is an extra game for us," Louis DePanicis said. "So we are all benefiting from it, but it’s a sad word to say."
Donors wanting to give to the Student Relief Fund can call: (877) 578-4483.