Last Modified: Thursday, September 05, 2013 10:11 PM
It was the year 2000, just at the start of the new millennium, a time of great hope and boundless optimism, mainly because the nation’s computer systems did not melt and turn to dust when the calendar turned abruptly without a familiar “19” in front of the next year.
At LSU, too, there was great joy and a reason to think happy days were here again.
The Tigers, after a little more than a decade of mindless wandering on the football field, finally had the answer.
They’d just paid the then-astronomical sum of $1.25 million per year for the services of a Mr. Nick Saban, who wasn’t much for small talk, but who looked for all the world like he knew what he was doing around a football team.
You’d have trouble getting a decent coordinator for that kind of coin these days, of course, but at the time it was an outlandish, game-changing contract. It announced that LSU was serious this time and ready to ante up and live up to its potential on the gridiron.
The money was well spent and paid off handsomely almost immediately.
In just Saban’s fourth game as LSU’s head coach, for instance, the feisty Tigers went out and almost beat UAB, aka Alabama-Birmingham.
Had them right up until the end, in fact, before losing 10-7 on a field goal at the buzzer and …
OK, maybe it wasn’t such an uplifting experience after all, not even a moral victory in those dark days.
The view from the foxhole at the time, perhaps a slight overreaction, was that maybe, with Saban obviously not the answer, LSU should now think seriously about giving up football, tearing down Tiger Stadium and using it for something useful, like a food court.
The point was that, 10 years previous when the Tigers were just beginning their decade of mindless wandering, this UAB outfit didn’t even have a football team, not so much as a chin strap or a blocking dummy. For that matter, a mere 32 years before that UAB wasn’t even a school, and yet the Blazers went in and took one from under the nose of the third-highest paid coach in America.
I must say that cooler heads prevailed and the Tigers still managed to field a varsity the very next week.
Good thing, too. Saban and the Tigers upset No. 11 Tennessee in overtime, and the program was off and running, hardly to ever look back again.
They have since left few stones unturned. Saban won the SEC the next season, the Tigers have gone on to win two national championships, played for another, and Tiger Stadium has erected two new upper decks, with a third due to come online next fall.
As much doom and gloom as there was that 2000 night Tiger Stadium, it marked the darkest before the dawn. The rest has basically been the salad days of LSU football.
But you’d have never guessed it was just around the corner that night.
LSU kind of dominated that game when it wasn’t stepping in something, which was often. If you think the red zone offense needs some tinkering after settling for three field goals last week against TCU, that night against UAB the Tigers ventured into the red zone three times and came away with nary a point, often in comical fashion.
But it will be best remembered for Josh Booty defying orders and trying to audible-invent a play at the line of scrimmage with hand signals borrowed from his prep days at Evangel in Shreveport.
They were Greek to his LSU receivers, who went ahead and ran the deep routes Saban had told them to, and with 32 seconds left Booty threw where he thought he’d told them to go, and the pass found a startled UAB DB wide open with the ball headed at this breadbasket.
Chris Brown could have fair caught the ill-advised pass in the midst of what was probably the loudest and most horrified gasp in Tiger Stadium history.
UAB kicked a 32-yard field goal on the final play, and the only time you’ll ever see Saban madder is when he gets dumped with a Gatorade shower.
“There was no out route on that play,” Saban said while trying his dangdest not to throw Booty under the bus, at least not where the track marks would show. “There’s no way the ball should have been delivered there. We were either going to throw it deep or dump it off.”
But things did get better.
UAB, remarkably, 13 years later is still the last non-SEC team to leave Tiger Stadium with a victory, and there have been none on Les Miles’ watch.
How much the revenge factor will come into play for a young Tigers team that was mostly toddlers when the offense occurred, I wouldn’t venture a guess.
UAB didn’t do anything to them.
But it’s the best I can come up with for motivation this week.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org