Before we could bring back the magic, the magic had to die. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact beginning of LSU’s Dark Ages, but I do think we can definitively put down the end point: when LSU finally fired Curley Hallman.
Curley Hallman was a terrible head football coach. LSU hired him because he pulled off some decent upsets when he was the coach of Southern Miss and Brett Favre was his quarterback, parlaying it into the LSU gig.
Yes, Brett Favre destroyed LSU football.
If you want to read the gritty details of his tenure, I’ve covered that in the past. Hide the children. By 1994, the writing was plainly on the wall. This was going to be the last chance for Curley to salvage his LSU tenure. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
The best thing that happened to LSU football in 1994 is that Curley Hallman got fired. So, it would be easy pickings to select the Southern Miss game, the loss that finally got Curley the axe. However, I wrote about that game when we last played Southern Miss, and I believe I accurately described it as “perhaps the most depressing game in the annals of LSU football.”
I could also go the extreme cruelty route and write about the Interception Game against Auburn. It would give me a chance to defend Jamie Howard’s honor, as he wasn’t the guy calling those pass plays. However, the point of this series isn’t to pick over the corpse of Curley Hallman and settle an old grudge against him.
Which means picking out an actual positive memory of the season is going to be a more difficult task than I originally thought. But I’m settling on that final game which took place on miserable cold, rainy day in Little Rock, as Curley took the sidelines one last time as LSU’s coach.
What made the game so great is that we all knew he wouldn’t be back. Joe Dean asked Curley to resign, and being Curley Hallman, he refused. Dean fired Hallman, but being Joe Dean, allowed Curley to coach out the end of the season. Probably because it saved us a some money.
To Curley’s credit, and far be it from me to say anything nice about a guy who torched my alma mater’s football program, he comported himself with a certain dignity in those final weeks. The pressure to win was gone, and he was no longer sniping at fans and reporters. How does it matter how a man falls? When all that’s left is the fall, it matters a great deal.
Sports Illustrated embedded a reporter with him for the final week, and wrote a gauzy piece about a coach’s last days. In 1994, I got a copy of the magazine and laughed my ass off about it for weeks, particularly when the plane breaks down and the team is forced to stay home and eat at Piccadilly. I swear, that man couldn’t buy a break.
But, with the benefit of a few years and the knowledge that LSU football would rise from the ashes, better than ever, I view the kid gloves treatment with a kinder eye. Sure, he punctuated his tenure with the loser’s lament of “’If only…” but he also had a chance to shake hands with his mentor at midfield one last time. He got to take his daughters on the sideline for the first time. He essentially closed the loop on his head coaching career.
The game began with the customary exchange of fumbles at midfield, the first caused by Gabe Northern, a guy I will make any excuse to mention. No criticism of this era applies to Gabe, who was friggin’ amazing. However, Arkansas would score first when Madre Hill rushed from one yard out on third and goal. LSU would block the kick, and Tory James would give us a peak at the future by returning the ball for a two-point conversion.
The teams would combine for four turnovers in the first quarter and shockingly, Jamie Howard did not throw an interception (cheap shot… sorry). Howard would get things going in the second quarter, finding Brett Bech three times. Robert Toomer would score from a yard out to give LSU a 9-7 lead.
LSU tried to get a drive going to close the half, but an 18-yard holding penalty and a 10-yard block in the back penalty doomed the drive at midfield. LSU would take its lead into the half.
Chad Kessler, who was a legit great punter, pinned Arkansas at its 10-yard line after our first drive. Arkansas responded with a 15-play drive to the LSU 11. On fourth and 1, the Hogs went for it, only to be stopped by Allen Stansberry, another long-lost bad ass.
On the first play of the fourth, Howard connected for 47 yards to Bech for a touchdown and a 16-6 lead. Arkansas would fumble the ball away on their next possession, and LSU would cash in. Toomer would convert a fourth-and-1 run and two plays later, Howard hit David LaFleur for 34 yards and a TD.
This should have been the death blow to the Hogs, but Wade Richey uncharacteristically left the kickoff at the goal line, and Madre Hill returned it 100 yards for the score. Arkansas would miss its two-point try to make the score 23-12. Eddie Kennison, never one to be outdone, took the next kick to the Arkansas 40. LSU responded by going three and out and having Richey miss a 54-yard field goal attempt.
After no scoring in the third, LSU and Arkansas had combined for three touchdowns and a missed field goal in the fourth, and there was still 9:13 to play. LSU would finally put the game away on its next drive thanks to a steady diet of Robert Toomer followed by the hammer blow of a 52 yard scamper by Jermaine Sharp.
The scoreboard stopped working at this point, so the final four minutes of the game had to be timed by stopwatch on the field. Gabe notched his final sack of the season on first down, knocking Barry Lunney out of the game. On third down, Mike Cherry threw his first pass of the game into the arms of LSU defensive back Rodney Young.
All LSU had to do was kneel it, but Melvin Hill came in to run the final plays. He would promptly fumble the ball on a poor exchange, and would recover his own fumble for a 13 yard loss. One running play later, LSU successfully ran out the clock.
Was the game itself memorable? No, of course not. Everything about the 1994 season was terrible. It didn’t even matter that LSU won.
The only thing that mattered was that the Curley Hallman era had mercifully come to its conclusion. Sure, none of us had any faith Joe Dean could make a competent hire, but the bar was set extraordinarily low after the last one. LSU finally had hope that things could get better.
Ding dong, the witch is dead.
LSU, as mentioned, beat the living snot out of Mississippi St. There was also a close call loss to South Carolina when there was still a chance to put together a decent season. Oh, and we beat Tulane because come on… Tulane.
I’m not gonna lie to y’all: 1994 was a terrible season and the only good thing to come out of it was Curley’s exit.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1994?
This poll is closed
Arkansas (Curley’s last game)
Auburn (The Interception Game)
Mississippi St (Blowout win)
Southern Miss (The one that got Curley fired)
I don’t know, but probably some game that didn’t involve Curley Hallman