When I learned how to snow ski, my brother first took me aside and he taught me how to fall down. Everything else will come in time, but you have to know how to crash without killing yourself. And in the first hours of my lessons, falling down came in handy. I knew it didn't hurt, so I learned to keep trying until I got the technique right. Unlike some of my friends, who learned shortcuts on how nut to crash and picked up bad habits right off the bat. My ability to crash correctly allowed me to learn without fear, and it eventually paid off. I was skiing difficult slopes in no time.
The 2000 UAB game is when Nick Saban learned how to crash.
I'm never going to be confused with one of Saban's biggest fans, but I do hate to disappoint those of you who were expecting me to make fun of former coach's inability to beat a directional school from Alabama. The UAB game is one of those moments that shows that while a lot of the talk about "Process" is self-serving BS, there is some truth there.
A year after losing to UAB, LSU would win the SEC title for the first time since the 1980's. Three years later, LSU would win the national title. Five years later, Saban would be gone, but Miles would come in and complete the construction of LSU into an elite program that "recruits itself". A lot of that was possible because Saban didn't shortcut the process back in 2000.
You have to learn to fall down. There are no short cuts to success. It's long, it's painful, and you can't avoid the bruising.
We don't talk much about the UAB loss because those wounds healed. They healed quickly, honestly. I'm still more torn up over losing to Miami of Ohio in 1986 or Colorado St. in 1992. I mean, I don't sit around and reminisce about Josh Booty or anything, but the UAB loss did not have long lasting ill effects on the program. If anything, it was a positive.
LSU hasn't lost to an out of conference opponent in Tiger Stadium since. It hasn't exactly been Murderer's Row, but UAB ain't Babe Ruth. This UAB team is not going to be the team to end the streak. Spoiler alert.
We've gone from a program that wanted to win to a program that expects to win. Honestly, 2000 isn't all that long ago, but we are an epoch removed from it in terms of the LSU program. LSU used to be the kind of program that could lose its focus and inexplicably drop a game to literally anyone at anytime. It was a well-earned reputation.
That's just not who we are anymore. It seems so long ago that LSU was a team often described as a sleeping giant. No one says that anymore.
There are no demons to exorcise this weekend. We will tailgate, watch the band, and hopefully empty the stadium midway through the third quarter. There is no special meaning to this opponent, they are just another paycheck.
If there's any emotion I have towards UAB, it is not anger, it's thankfulness. The UAB loss is the last gasp of the "old" LSU program. We were reborn after that loss, and the rebuild started the very next week with one of the great upsets in LSU history, over Tennessee. Does LSU win that game without losing to UAB? We'll never know, but somehow I doubt it.
I do think Nick Saban gets too much credit for the current state of LSU's program. But he absolutely deserves all of the credit that comes his way on getting the team over that first hump. He won the SEC. He won the MNC.
But it all started with a loss to UAB. There are no shortcuts. Sometimes, that crash isn't such a bad thing.