I've got the keys to the Wayback Machine for one more week, and it's brought us back to Tiger Stadium in the middle of the 1990s.
Sometimes it's hard to break up sports into distinct eras, but LSU football's Modern Era has a clear beginning: September 16, 1995. We call it the Bring Back the Magic Game. The amazing thing is that we called it the Bring Back the Magic Game before it even happened, which was pretty ballsy when you stop to think about it.
LSU was coming off of six losing seasons coming into 1995. Curley Hallman's reign of terror had come to an end the previous fall, punctuated by a loss to Southern Miss. LSU was such a destination job that we were able to attract the head coach of Vanderbilt, but only after the TCU head coach turned us down. Gerry Dinardo came in and immediately promised to "bring back the magic."
To give him credit, Dinardo made positive changes right off the bat. He brought back white jerseys at home, successfully petitioning the NCAA to change its rules regarding home whites. H-style goalposts made their return as well. Changes to uniform and the field were big deals back in 1995, because it represented a clean break from the Archer/Hallman years, and trust me... we were ready for a clean break.
These superficial changes made their debut in the home opener in 1995. Uniform changes are nice, but you have to back that up with a changed product on the field. Campus was covered in "Bring Back the Magic" stickers, and excitement really was in the air. It was the most electric home atmosphere in nearly a decade, and that was before kickoff. LSU was desperate for a winner again.
Somehow, we won. Yes, the Dinardo Era was a false spring, but it set up everything that would follow. Every journey begins with a single step and all that. The Bring Back the Magic Game was that single step. It is literally impossible to understate its importance to LSU football. It was the beginning, and what a beginning it was.
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Sheddrick Wilson was an absolute bad ass. He's one of the forgotten players in LSU history, but he was a great Tiger and a true team leader. Eddie Kennison was more talented, but Shed was just a joy to watch play. Not to say Kennison wasn't a bad ass, too. Shed's early catch set up Nicky Savoie's opening touchdown.
The highlights are from the Auburn TV network. Sorry about that. That explains why the announcers got pumped over Auburn's field goal in response to the touchdown. Both teams scored on their opening drive. Also, remember that 1994 was the Jamie Howard interception game. Don't think that game wasn't in the back of everyone's mind.
Andre LaFleur's field goal made it 10-3. It would be his last good play of the game, though it's hard to be mad at the former walk-on. LaFleur is one of those guys who made the most of his opportunities at LSU, and it was cool seeing him show up on the highlights. Even if they are mostly bad highlights.
Ahhh... the infamous safety. Auburn fans call this the "Whistle Game" because apparently safeties are worth 7 points. There was a phantom whistle, and it's clear from the body language hat Nix thought the play was dead. Let's be honest about that. However, it was really, REALLY friggin' loud in that end zone that night. Score two points for the student body. It was 12-3 after one quarter and LSU, even though we didn't know it yet, was done scoring for the night. But to blame a loss on a safety in the first quarter is beyond absurd. In fact, even without those two points, Auburn still needs a touchdown to win on their last possession. The safety had little to no impact on the final.
Though it was really cool watching these highlights, I'd also like to remind everyone that Jamie Howard was a good quarterback. Watch him create space in the pocket or watch the way he delivers the ball with authority. Howard certainly had a problem with interceptions, but a lot of that was a coaching staff that routinely hung him out to dry. By the time he graduated, Howard stood third all-time in passing yards in LSU history. Of course, he did throw a pick here, trying to force the ball to Shed in the end zone. But look at the way Shed hustled to make the tackle. Howard to Wilson was a great combo. I wish they had more success.
Auburn scored on its first possession in the third to make it 12-6. Those were the last points in the game. OF course, LSU still had to miss another field goal. LSU left 13 points on the board in this game. Just slowly killed me. Let's face it, LSU had a habit back then of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. It's hard to say the exact point the crowd started getting that "here we go again" feeling. But it happened.
Finally, that last play. If Troy Twillie ever has had to buy a drink in Louisiana in his life, we have failed as a fanbase. I was part of the drunken revelry in the student section, and after Twillie made that pick, I meant to hug the girl next to me. I was hit in the head with a liquor bottle, slipped on the bleachers, and ended up tackling her down five to six rows. I thought I had killed her. Instead, she looked up at me, smiled, and screamed at the top of her lungs...
A-friggin-men. Geaux Tigers, indeed. It was the perfect end to the perfect game, and to this day, the greatest night I ever spent in Tiger Stadium. We didn't win a title that game or tha season. In fact, we won only 7 games. We didn't climb to the mountaintop. Instead, we made that first step. You always remember the first step.