What better way to get over a disappointing, soul-crushing loss by the baseball team than by re-living a soul-crushing loss by the football team? Sounds like fun!
If 2007 was the party, 2008 was the hangover. After winning a national title, just about everything went wrong for LSU in the offseason, a common them over the past decade. Ryan Perrilloux, the anointed savior at quarterback, was kicked off the team, forcing Miles to name Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch as his starting quarterback.
By midseason, true freshman Jarrett Lee, had been thrust into the starting role long before he was ready. The once-stout defense struggled, and LSU muddled through a good not great season. But in early November, undefeated Alabama showed up in Tiger Stadium and for one night, LSU was back to playing amongst the elite.
It's hard to encapsulate just how angry the internet fanbase was at this time. Les Miles got precisely zero honeymoon for winning a title, and he got even less leeway for losing his starting quarterback. People demanding wins every game, and the 2008 LSU team wasn't good enough to meet that demand. We remember the quarterback issues, but the real problem in 2008 was the defense. The defections of Glen Dorsey and crew just devastated the unit. LSU allowed both Florida and Georgia to hang half a century on us.
What I'm saying is, expectations weren't exactly sky high going into this one. Alabama looked like the irresistible force and we looked very much like a moveable object.
Did I mention this was Nick Saban's first game back in Tiger Stadium? Yeah, that might have come up a few times during the week before the game.
The crowd came in hyped up, ready for blood, and the team responded. Chad Jones (WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!) made on of his many awesome plays in his career on Alabama's first drive, knocking the ball away from Alexander on the goalline, causing a touchback. The crowd went nuts and suddenly, we had ourselves a football game... until Jarrett Lee threw an interception just three plays later.
Given how most of the 2008 season had gone, this is when LSU should have folded. Instead, Lee found Demetrious Byrd for a long touchdown pass. Alabama fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and then Charles Scott, being the bad ass that he was, scored a touchdown two plays later. Within 30 seconds of game time, LSU scored two touchdowns and was up on what was widely regarded as the best team in the country.
With about five minutes left in the first half, Jarrett Lee threw his second disastrous pick of the game, this one returned for a touchdown. Here LSU was, outplaying Alabama before a frenzied home crowd, and an overawed freshman slowly melted down over the course of the game. We thought this was rock bottom, but we were really only just getting started.
LSU actually had a chance to mitigate the damage before the half, but the usually reliable Colt David missed a 41 yard field goal. It was just that sort of game. Everything conspired against LSU in pulling the upset.
Despite falling behind in the third quarter, LSU kept up the pressure. Chris Mitchell dropped a sure touchdown pass, but unfazed, Lee rallied the team for a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. At this point, Lee had thrown three interceptions, but to his eternal credit, he kept getting up off of the mat and kept swinging.
Alabama got a chance to win the game on the final play of regulation, lining up for a short 29-yard field goal attempt. LSU blocked the kick, and an unfamiliar feeling rippled throughout Tiger Nation: hope. This game just felt like it was destined to be a Tiger victory. Saban comes back to the school he spurned, only to see his undefeated season come to an end. It seemed like a storybook ending.
Life isn't always a storybook. Or when it is, it turns out you're reading Game of Thrones. After defying expectations to force overtime, Jarret Lee threw yet another interception on LSU's possession. There would be no field goal attempt next time, as Bama scored the game winning touchdown on their possession.
It was a crushing defeat. LSU came so close to ruining Saban's return, only to fall just short. There were plenty of guys who made big mistakes (Colt David, Chris Mitchell), but Jarrett Lee bore the brunt of the fanbase's fury, due to his final line of 13/34 for 181 yards and 4 interceptions.
Instead of being proud that we played a great game against a huge rival and one of the nation's top ranked team, a large portion of the fanbase flipped the hell out. Lee became one of the most despised LSU players since Jamie Howard, scapegoated for a loss. Strangely enough, the people who so savagely attacked him in 2008 would later turn into his biggest champions come 2011, but that's another story.
This was not a fun game to live through, and the aftermath was even worse. This game tore apart our fanbase for a few weeks, reaching a fever pitch after the Troy game. We were a smaller site back then, but both Pittman and I commented about what he termed "The Great Push Back" over the "unrelenting negativity".
If there was a moment that Delusional Optimism was born, it was right then and there. Losing to Alabama is never fun, particularly when Saban is their coach, but this is when we took a long, hard look at the program and decided that, you know what, this is supposed to be fun.
This was a heart-breaking loss, but looking back on it, it really was one of the greatest games I've ever seen. It had all of the drama you could ever want from a game, bringing me from soaring heights to spectacular lows. It exhausted me just to watch it. But I'll remember, and oddly cherish, this game forever.
And isn't that why we watch these games?