When it was over I walked to my car. Quickly. With this nervous energy that's atypical for me after a football game. I picked up my phone to leave the girl I was seeing at the time a very excited, very hoarse message. I exchanged several screams with my fellow pedestrians. There may have been dancing.
And then I got behind the wheel of my car and planted my forehead against my steering wheel out of sheer exhaustion. Never had an LSU game taken so much out of me.
Saturday, October 6, 2007. LSU had just moved into the No. 1 spot in the major polls following a dominant first five weeks to the regular season, most notably a 45-7 demolishing of ninth-ranked Virginia Tech and a 28-16 win over No. 12 South Carolina. LSU's offense had been electric, with new coordinator Gary Crowton providing a fresh approach to a veteran group and Jimbo Fisher's playbook. Matt Flynn and Ryan Perriloux were splitting quarterback duties and dealing the ball to an athletic group of backs and receivers. On defense, the Tigers were paced by superstar defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and a veteran defensive backfield led by senior Craig Steltz, who had already intercepted four passes on the year.
The Florida Gators were coming off a last-second home lost to Auburn, but were still a strong No. 9 in the polls, due to some impressive blowout victories. Sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow was doing things that, at the time, few had ever seen by a quarterback in the SEC. He was running Urban Meyer's spread-option attack like none have before or since, running and passing for huge yardage. He had the perfect built to serve as a workhorse runner in the offense, coupled with big play threats like Percy Harvin and Chris Rainey. The defense was incredibly young though, with a number of highly regarded freshmen and sophomores in prominent roles like Joe Haden, Major Wright and Brandon Spikes.
The matchup drew ESPN's College Football Gameday
for the first time since 2003 (Ed. Note: it has been brought to my attention that this marked Gameday's SECOND appearance in Baton Rouge that Fall, after coming in for the Virginia Tech game) and created an electric atmosphere on campus. Tebow was already a college football superstar, making in an easy target for some particularly caustic student barbs and what at the time, seemed like a novel prank: the leaking of the player's phone number on LSU message boards.
That charge in the air held well into gametime. It would be Spencer Hall's first trip to Baton Rouge, and yield one of the finest descriptions of Tiger Stadium on record in this memorable EDSBS classic:
Tiger Stadium is proxy Mardi Gras. Something cuts Tiger Stadium loose from the fetters of reality. Perhaps it's the brown liquor buzz peaking with the setting of the sun, or the lurid dark purple the sky turns just as the sun is sliding beneath the horizon, or the combined and complete attention of 92,000 people all focused on one communal point of attention. We've read about the intangibles of playing in a place like Tiger Stadium before--the vague "something" described alternately as "special," "different," or "MY GOD I'M NOT GETTING OUT OF HERE ALIVE"--and scoffed.
We scoff no more. It's real, live, and tangible enough to hang your freshly slaughtered baby alligator carcass on in a pinch. (We met a tailgater who, in festive fashion, had slaughtered a baby alligator that morning in order to prepare it for the tailgate. Tiger meat's a bit harder to come by. Thanks, Chinese Medicine black market! Assholes.)
It's as loud as The Swamp, yet somehow more unhinged. When the USC score was announced, the reaction was loud enough to cause a rhythmic buzz in the ears, a noise not unlike that of a didgeridoo in full throat in the wastes of the Australian Outback.
That voodoo's real. When the "Four Corners Salute" gets cranking, it's like listening to a 747 made entirely of fired clay crashing into a field of shattered glass. Getting a snap off effectively is in itself a game ball-worthy achievement. Combined with the orgy going on outside the stadium for five miles in any direction, it's the gold standard for any other college gameday experience. Any of them. It is peerless in terms of demonstrated intensity, lunacy, commitment, flair, and menace. At several points in the day, we were convinced we were going to be killed, injected with creole butter, and thrown in a deep fryer...but only in the most festive and accommodating of ways, of course.
The game would meet all the pregame hype, but early on it was the Gators that answered the bell. Tebow led Florida to a 10-0 lead early, and consistently kept the Tigers at arms-length with a 17-7 halftime lead. But midway through the third, momentum came for the Tigers from an outside source.
Across the country in Los Angeles, Stanford pulled one of the more unlikely upsets in college football history, as a backup quarterback named Tavita Pritchard, with some help from an unknown young wideout named Richard Sherman, upset the No. 2 USC Trojans, 24-23. The rivalry, off-field though it might have been, was still raw for Tiger fans, and the resulting crowd explosion stirred up the LSU sideline in the middle of a long, drawn out drive that would cut Florida's lead to 17-14. That long, drawn-out part would become a theme in the fourth quarter. A Tebow pass was tipped at the line and intercepted to give the Tigers the ball deep in Gator territory and set up a four-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass from Flynn to Demetrius Byrd. LSU found a way to force a three-and-out on the next drive, giving the Tigers with the ball 60-yards from the lead with nine minutes to go.
There's been a lot of misunderstandings about this game a bit of revisionist history, something I touched on earlier in this year when we dubbed Jacob Hester as the No. 11 player of the Miles Era. It's easy to forget that entering this game, Hester was a source of annoyance for a lot of LSU fans, frustrated that he was taking reps from more highly touted recruits like Keiland Williams and Charles Scott. The two were flasher recruits that had made some big plays, but Miles had stuck with the consistent, reliable Hester. And that was about to pay off.
LSU's offense had been inconsistent all game, but after a 15-yard Matt Flynn scramble turned 3rd-and-16 into 4th-and-1, the Tigers went for it with Jacob Hester running behind the left side of the offensive line. Conversion. Six plays later, in the same situation, Miles called the same play. Three plays later, Hester plowed in from two-yards out, giving the Tigers a 28-24 lead that they would hold through a final one-minute rally from Tebow.
Similar to the lore of Hester, the #narrative after this game dwelled on Miles making the call to go for it on five fourth-down situations. Funny thing is, at least four of them really were "you gotta get this to have any chance at winning this game" situations. The first game on LSU's first touchdown of the game, trailing 10-0 and fresh off a 12-play Florida touchdown drive. The second, a Flynn scramble, came with LSU trying to cut into another 10-point lead. The next one, 4th-and-3 on Florida's goal line, trailing 24-14 and with Colt David off two missed field goals.
The final two would be on that penultimate touchdown drive, the first, as mentioned, very early on. Go for it, or punt and watch Florida take even more time off or even put the game out of reach with another score. But that final one, at the Florida 7? Okay, that took guts. Nobody would have blamed Miles for trying a 24-yard field goal, even with David missing the previous kicks.
But Miles rolled the dice.
I remember barely having any breath in my lungs after the first fourth-down of that drive. Hester had appeared stood up in the backfield, only to roll off the pile and push forward for the conversion. The next one was much more obvious, not that I could tell from my dad's North Endzone seats. Hands on the top of my head, heart in my throat, until the moment that referee signaled the first down.
My heart never left my throat until Chad Jones batted down that final Hail Mary pass. I'm still not sure how I even found a way to scream, but I did. Until I couldn't anymore. I'll never forget that out-of-breath feeling in my car, feeling like I'd been on the field myself.
It remains the single greatest football game I have ever seen in person. Nothing before it had ever featured the same sustained emotional roller coaster. Maybe the 2012 Alabama game has come close since, but given the stakes, and the magical season that LSU would propel itself through to the BCS national title, it stands the test of time as the single greatest game of the Les Miles Era at LSU.