Choosing my favorite LSU player is like choosing a favorite child. I don't even want to list those I considered as my favorite players so as not to forget anyone on my honorable mentions. Just choosing my favorite wide receiver in LSU history results in a list of nearly 20 names. You simply cannot make a wrong choice when choosing your favorite player. It's not about who is the best (though being good obviously helps), it's about having a player you feel just represents all of the reasons why you love your team.
This is my way of telling you I'm going a little off the board with this one. As most of you know, I'm a sucker for good line play. Offensive linemen rarely get the headlines, but if you don't have a good line, well, you get last year's offense. They aren't the glamour guys and they don't get lots of cool You Tube videos dedicated to them. Being an offensive lineman is a tough, thankless job and you only get noticed when you screw up. This is why I love offensive linemen as a group, and it's this selfless devotion to team why Kevin Mawae will always, ALWAYS be my favorite Tiger.
If you are under 30 years old, you probably don't remember Kevin Mawae's career at LSU, so please let me explain why Mawae is such a special Tiger to me. Mawae was a high school senior in 1988, and he signed with LSU, thinking he was joining one of the best teams in the conference, fresh off of two SEC titles in three years. Instead, he would suffer through five seasons in which LSU would only win 17 games.
He earned a starting job at left tackle as a redshirt freshman, and he was named All-SEC three times. Of course, this being the Hallman Era, he was moved from his spot at left tackle to center. Think about that. Left tackle is the glamour position, if there is one, on the offensive line. They go to the NFL and make the most money and actually have a chance of becoming rich and somewhat famous. Instead, before his senior year, Mawae moved from the anchor position to center. All he did was earn All-American honors.
Mawae was a great, great player stuck on really bad teams playing for incompetent coaches. The fact that he was the epitome of class and leadership during the darkest period of LSU's proud football history speaks to his high character. But there are two moments in his career that earned him my undying affection.
The first was LSU's Fan Day in 1992. Mawae was a stud left tackle about to get moved to center and rumors were swirling that he would announce for the NFL draft to get as far away from the sinking ship of Curly Hallman as he could. Who could blame him? Mawae took the microphone, and over the PA system, he did not announce he was going pro, instead, he proposed to his girlfriend.
But, for me, Mawae's defining moment came in his final game in Tiger Stadium. I know this is hard for you kids to believe, but LSU was terrible in 1993. LSU had suffered through four straight losing seasons and was staring a fifth one in the face. Somehow, LSU sat at 5-5 going into its final game against Arkansas. A win would mean a winning season and an invite to the Carquest Bowl. Back then, that was as high as we dared dream.
Down 35-24 with time running down, LSU drove to the goal line. Of course, this being the nineties, Loup threw an interception in the end zone. Also, this being the nineties, the Arkansas defensive back returned the pick for a touchdown, sealing our fate. But what makes the play so special to me is that right after the interception, Mawae picked himself up and tried to chase down the defensive back. It was a complete lost cause, there was no way an offensive lineman was going to run down a defensive back from behind, but this did not stop Mawae. He never stopped trying, never stopped competing. When the game ended, a defeated Mawae, who never experienced a winning season in an LSU uniform, kneeled down at midfield and cried.
Kevin Mawae bleeds purple and gold. When LSU won the national title in 2003, the first thing I thought of was Kevin Mawae. The title was for guys like that, who gave everything to the program and got so little back. It's easy to root for the team when it's on top, but true fans show up when the team is struggling. I'll always love the Mawae for never giving up the fight.
He's everything a Tiger should be.