We took last Wednesday off, for Ahmurica, but I think you'll all agree this one is worth the wait.
When we last left the 2002 Tigers, they'd suffered a 31-7 shellacking at Auburn, with a particularly awful game out of newly starting QB Marcus Randall. Between the somewhat-mysterious dismissal of an All-Conference DB that week, and the pathetic gameday showing, the team seemed pretty down-and-out postgame.
All of this led to one of the finer moments in the career of this intrepid young student reporter -- becoming the target a Nick Saban media tirade. That Wednesday, at the usual mid-week press briefing, I asked about the overall mood of the team, noting that morale seemed pretty low in the Auburn postgame. Which brought on this little number (it was an exhaustive search, but thank you Daily Reveille):
"And when we lost one game, nothing fell out of the sky. The sky did not fall, you know? We're still alive today. There's about 24 million Chinese that don't know the score of the game. There's a lot to live for. It's not like the end of the world. Nobody got assassinated. We've still got a lot to be thankful for.
"I've still got all those days to 75 up on my wall to mark off and I'm thankful I've got another day to live. If we win all the rest of our games, that means we can win the West and go to the championship game. Shit, it's fun. Goddamn we lost one game. We won 12 out of our last 13 games and we lose one game and the University should drop football. We should burn down the stadium."
The truth was, the Tigers were slowly wearing down all while still searching for a bit of a true identity. Even with a bye week to get over the Auburn loss, there was still a road trip to a surprisingly competent Kentucky squad.
- Once again, Tiger Rag foots the bill for trip, though this time, I was completely solo and businesslike. Flew by myself (like a big boy), rented a car (still don't know how the magazine's travel agent booked that for a 20-year-old) and a hotel room in Louisville, before driving in to Lexington on Saturday. For the record, that stretch of interstate is still one of the most beautiful and scenic drives I've ever made. Did you know that leaves actually change colors in the fall?
On the flight up, I was lucky enough to run into two girls that I played flag football with at the Rec Center, so through them I managed to find a tailgate in Lexington before heading in to the press box.
- Kentucky was banned from post-season play for recruiting violations under Hal Mumme's watch, but there was still some decent talent on hand for Guy Morris, who managed to eek a .500 record out of this team with guys like Derek Abney, Dewayne Robertson (who went on to be a top-10 draft pick that spring) and Artose Pinner, who was one of the better backs in the SEC that fall. And of course, there was the Hefty Lefty, the Pillsbury Throwboy, the Chunky QB ,the Battleship himself, Jared Lorenzen.
- I remember watching the Wildcat squad walking into the stadium pre-game, and thinking that maybe up close Lorenzen would look a bit more solid in person. Nope.
- Donnie Jones' 86-yarder was probably the best punt I'd ever seen, until Brad Wing came to town. Unfortunately there aren't many offensive highlights for LSU in the first quarter of this one, as the offense went three-and-out on the first two possessions, looking eerily reminiscent of the Auburn game.
- I make fun of Lorenzen, partly out of jealousy (seriously I was the fat kid most of my life and NOBODY EVER LET ME PLAY QUARTERBACK), but he absolutely was one of the best "bad" quarterbacks I've ever seen. He completed just 12 of 26 passes on the day for 210 yards, but threw for four touchdowns, and like that first one, some of the throws were simply dead-on perfect. And there's no defense for the perfect throw.
- The shovel pass to Devery Henderson here was just nifty enough that I've always wondered why I've never seen it since out of Jimbo Fisher.
- Even before the end of this game, Henderson was great. He and Randall (who was still struggling), just seemed to be on point with each other on this day. When LSU got up 14-7 at the half, I figured the running game and defense would close things out in the second half.
- I was even surer of it when Joseph Addai broke that toss-sweep 63 yards to make it a 21-7 game in the third. Kentucky had very little luck in the second quarter, and opened the second half with a three-and-out.
- Sure, UK cut things to 21-14, but hey blocked punts happen, it was just a fluke, right?
- Lorenzen just kept playing, and you could almost feel LSU's own hands around their throat. They failed to take advantage of an Abney fumble on a punt, and then committed three huge penalties to extend the game-tying drive for Kentucky. The next offensive drive went backwards, and suddenly, thanks to an Abney return (and two more stupid penalties -- 13 for over 100 yards on the day) , Taylor Begley kicks a field goal to give the ‘Cats a 30-27 lead. Yours truly leaves the press box, heads down to field level, and prepares for what would surely be another miserable postgame.
- So there I am, standing at right around the 20-yard line on LSU's side of the field. The fans are slowly pouring on, and...Jesus, another penalty? Delay of game? Are you kidding?
- Seventeen-yard completion...at this point I'm a little worried because I have to drive my rental car back to Louisville in time for my flight back to New Orleans. Miserable enough that it'll be after a loss, and now I'll have to really haul ass to catch my flight (and I have no idea what I'm doing if I miss it).
- The mass of bodies forms not that far from where I'm standing on the sideline, and blah blah here comes the last-ditch Hail Mary...wait a minute...bounce, bounce...wait a minute...Henderson has that ball. And he just ran into the endzone. THAT MAKES THAT TOUCHDOWN, RIGHT?! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? DID WE JUST WIN THIS GAME!? I THINK WE JUST WON THIS GAME! Flag! Wait, there has to be a flag, right? There's no flag? OMIGODOMIGODOMIGOD...
- LSU 33, Kentucky 30. I can neither confirm, nor deny, that Scott McKay and I hugged we ran on the field. At this point everybody is on the field. Players, fans, media members everybody's just trying to take in every moment. Kentucky fans are on their knees in the endzone like they just saw ghosts. I pull out the cellphone, trying to call anybody I can think of. The joy became abject shock. At one moment I remember thinking "well, the journalism career's downhill from here, right? What else am I ever gonna cover that is this cool?"
- Other memories: Kentucky players crying like I'd never seen before at any sporting event...the dogpile looked like it literally had every single LSU player in it and was at least 10-feet tall...and every UK fan looks like they just received a swift kick in the nuts from one of their race horses.
- Eventually, we all made it into the lockerroom, where, unsurprisingly, Saban was about as pissed as I'd ever seen him. As happy as I was to see LSU survive the loss, none of us could ignore the way the team had completely collapsed in the fourth quarter.
- I had to wait around to get as many player interviews as I could, then immediately sprinted to my car and drove back to Louisville as fast as I could. I'm still amazed I wasn't tackled running through the terminal to get to my gate (again, first flight by myself, scared to death of the idea of missing a flight). Completely random aside, once I returned to the NOLA airport I found myself walking next to Lil Wayne. Coincidentally, he is pretty short.
Epilogue -- I know that this play will never have the significance of the Doug Flutie or Kordell Stewart Hail Maries, because the game wasn't all that significant and didn't exactly involve big-names. But for my money, this was one of the more difficult Hail Maries ever pulled off. Seventy-five yards, tipped twice by defenders before being caught, and one Kentucky player still had a shot at tackling Henderson short of the goal line. In terms of an individual game, it's definitely one of the best things I've ever been able to say "I was there," for. But we all know there was more fun to come for LSU football.
For More Entries In This Series, Visit The Memory Lane Archive.