Clearly, Coach Saban's 24-hour rule doesn't apply to the fans here at RBR, but as I've grown weary of the whinings of the pale orange last-week's losers from up the road, I thought I would share a few of the reasons the Alabama-LSU rivalry has long been an important one to me.
First of all, as many of us could have guessed before the season began, our upcoming game has become the biggest of the year. We may or may not have expected to be 8-0 at this point, what with replacing last year's starting QB, RB, TEs, and three members of our offensive line (two of them highly touted), not to mention the 'quarterback' of the defense, safety Rashad Johnson. However, despite our recent struggles offensively, Greg McElroy has filled in nicely for John Parker Wilson, the offensive line has exceeded the expectations of most, and Mark Ingram is suddenly being touted as the best player in America. Furthermore, it seems that the combination of Robby Green and bright new star Mark Barron has filled the shoes of Johnson quite nicely. Ugly or not, our beloved Tide has won every game thus far, standing at the break with a perfect 8-0 record.
We also may not have expected LSU to have only one loss this far into the season, seeing as how they lost five games last year...and the Bengal Tigers' start to the season did little to strike fear in our hearts, what with their season-opening nail-biter vs. a previously unbeaten UW (though that game doesn't look quite so ugly since Washington's upset of USC), not to mention their lucky escape in Starkville. LSU has had offensive struggles of their own, most surprisingly in the running game. It's difficult to imagine that their running issues will be solved against what appears to be the best run-stopping defense in the land; nevertheless, LSU enters this game with only one loss, and controls their own destiny as of today.
You may have noticed that I haven't even mentioned the emotions surrounding LSU's severed relationship with our own exalted CNS, or the thrilling finishes to the prior two meetings in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa, nor the pungent smell of corn dogs that you may encounter on your walk to BDS next weekend. It goes without saying, despite the recent focus on Rocky Block and whiny puke-orange coaches, our next game is the biggest of the regular season.
Most of my own memories of this game are positive. Before this decade, the series record in this game from 1970-1999 stood at 22-7-1 in favor of the Tide. Unfortunately, a variety of factors -- most prominently probation at Alabama and the arrival of Coach Nick Saban in Baton Rouge -- have swung the series dramatically during the aughts, with LSU winning seven of nine, including a five-game streak that ended last year in Bama's 27-21 OT victory at Tiger Stadium. Here are some of my own recollections from the past 30+ years:
When I was a boy, LSU was a mere afterthought on the road between opening day and Auburn. The Tide owned the SEC and the nation in the 1970s, beginning an eleven-game streak against the Bengal Tigers in 1971. I don't mean to say they were an afterthought for the team; there were many tense games, as LSU was ranked in five of them and was already a long-standing rival with their own solid football history. An unranked LSU team played us down to the wire in a stressful 3-0 game in Baton Rouge in our undefeated championship season of 1979. But for young Tide fans across the southeast, LSU was just not a team that we worried about. We owned them.
That came crashing to a halt in Coach Bryant's last year, and I've always believed that this game had a lot to do with his decision to retire at the end of the 1982 season. Alabama was ranked eighth and LSU eleventh, and the game was still played at Legion Field. By halftime, I'm not sure we had earned a yard on offense, much less a first down. It was a miserable game, and the 20-10 final score showed little how well LSU had dominated us that day. To make matters worse (for me), a cocky LSU fan I knew showed up the next day wearing an Alabama t-shirt that read 'LSU 20, Bama 10' on the back. Needless to say, I felt a new loathing for those clad in purple and yellow. My old disinterest was gone.
Our record against LSU over the next six years was 2-3-1, and two games stand out for me during that time. The first was a 32-26 victory in Baton Rouge in 1983, partly because it was revenge for the previous year's loss, but mainly because it was the first (and only) game I attended in Tiger Stadium. The atmosphere was electric, and it was easily the most exciting football game I had yet encountered in person. I'll never forget the politely veiled threats I received from the Tiger faithful who did not like the colors I wore or the outcome of the game, and they encouraged me to get back home to Alabama...fast.
The second was a heart-breaking loss at Legion Field in 1986. It was a huge loss. We entered the game ranked sixth in the country, but we gave it away, literally, as my hero Bobby Humphrey fumbled (was it only twice?), and we walked out baffled by a 14-10 defeat. That team also featured Mike Shula and Cornelius Bennett, and was talented enough to win a national championship. It wasn't the only loss of the year, or the most painful (we also lost to another Tiger team at the end of the regular season), but it was the one that killed our title hopes.
We only lost twice to LSU from 1989-1999, as LSU was struggling to find a head coach and Gene Stallings had resurrected much of our own old glory. The end of the decade, of course, gave us a glimpse of what probation and poor coaching could do to that glory, as we were shut out 27-0 in MIke Dubose's inaugural year. However, the two most memorable games for me during that time were the bookends to that season, beginning with Shaun Alexander's amazing 291-yard game as a freshman in 1996 (a record that still stands) and closing with a thrilling comeback in Tiger Stadium in 1998. If I were an LSU fan, I can't imagine a more disappointing finish. For us, it featured incredible fourth-quarter plays by Shaun Alexander (again), a beautifully executed onside kick, and Andrew Zow's final TD pass being ripped out of the sky by phenom Quincy Jackson. It is still one of my favorite games.
This decade has not been a fun one for Crimson Tide fans, especially as it relates to this rivalry. We did shut out and shut down a Nick Saban team in 2002, but he paid us back royally with a 27-3 loss the next year in what still stands out to me as the worst in terms of a team that just completely dominated us (I do seem to recall that LSU was pretty good that year...). Of course, that began a five-game win streak for LSU, which still seems unfathomable, with or without probation.
And that's what made last year's OT win in Baton Rouge so sweet. And that's what makes next week's game so important. For most of this decade, Alabama has fielded forgettable teams, and it's been arguably the worst decade of Alabama football of the past fifty years.
But we can feel the undercurrent changing direction, and we can see the Tide turning. I, for one, have got that old championship feeling again. Next weekend is the game that can propel us in that direction more than any other this season. You may want to keep your Halloween costume handy for one more week. We need to bring the fear back to BDS next Saturday. Roll Tide.