by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
We tend to feel entitled:
Every great football player born in the state of Louisiana who's ever existed had to play for LSU, right?
They were just waiting to be offered and when the moment came they took the chance and ran with it, repping the program, building the future of Louisiana State football all while being proud of the 504....but it wasn't always so simple.
The choice of setting for one's destiny is never as straightforward as people on the outside may feel it is:
Because Louisiana is so deep and full of the best high school football talent in the country, there's always going to be those inevitable misses where for some reason or another, whether it be safety Landon Collins "feeling pressured to go to LSU" or Travis Etienne calling Clemson "the Real Death Valley" as he made his announcement, things just didn't work out.
When investigating the larger picture in the words you'll read below (an ultimate legacy within Louisiana's rich vein of talent) you see just how many storied high school football players from the Boot could've ended up wearing the purple and gold....and potentially, how their presence would've altered the course of LSU Tigers history.
In honor of the #7 playmaker jersey at LSU, as well as the impending announcement for its newest recipient, the countdown begins from 7 to 1...LET'S GEAUX:
-1 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCE
-PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMER
-1 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCE
-8x PRO BOWLER
Graduating from Southern University before finishing in the halls of Canton, Aeneas was a local Fortier High legend, picking off passes at will & lighting up receivers as a strong safety throughout his tremendous high school career.
Despite being named an All-District safety, Aeneas didn't receive a single offer...not from LSU nor anyone else...it was frustrating and Williams even stepped away from football for his first two years at Southern....
Only 10 miles away from LSU, Aeneas finally walked on for his junior season.
The future Super Bowl-winning / Hall of Famer was starting at corner by mid-way through the season, grabbing 18 interceptions in three seasons at Southern University, ultimately leading to high draft stock when he ran a historic 4.3 40 yard dash.
Eventually a 3rd round pick in 1991, Williams went on to terrorize the NFC West for his entire career, both for Arizona as well as St. Louis, joining the ill-fated Rams "half dynasty" a year too late, right after their Super Bowl victory against the Titans.
Still, Aeneas Williams was an incredible injection of energy into the Rams' defense and entire team after they fell off in 2000: on top of an already potent Greatest Show on Turf offense, his presence ushered in defensive scoring as well for St. Louis.
During the Divisional Playoffs vs Brett Favre's Packers, Aeneas Williams turned QB Destroyer once again, picking off 2 Favre passes and taking both to the house, beckoning a mountainous rout against the Packers.
Williams would catch 3 INTs during the 2002 postseason, another in the NFC title game vs Donovan McNabb's Philadelphia Eagles. The New Orleans-native would play every defensive snap in one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time...inside the building of his hometown Saints.
Taking on New England in Brady & Belichick's Super Bowl debut (grabbing 8 tackles and 2 PDs during the physical bloodbath) the Rams' defense played a great game only for the Greatest Show on Turf to plummet at the biggest moment and Adam Viniatieri's right foot took a homecoming Super Bowl away from Williams.
Williams could do it all, from making routine interceptions, scoring defensive touchdowns and even ending Steve Young's career.....the only reason LSU didn't offer Williams?
Corey Raymond wasn't DBs Coach yet...
-1 SUPER BOWL (2 APPEARANCES)
-14,345 RECEIVING YARDS
-6x PRO BOWLER
-1ST ALL TIME IN RECEPTIONS
-2ND ALL TIME IN RECEIVING YARDS
Earning All-State honors while tearing it up at John Ehret High School in Marrero, Louisiana, Wayne went off to the U, much like many Louisiana guys if they weren't headed to LSU.
During his time, Wayne of course went off and set records which still stand:
1st in receptions at 173 (topping a star-studded list of Hurricanes including Michael Irvin, Leonard Hankerson and teammate Santana Moss among others).
In fact, the pair of Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne (who played all four years together) ended their careers only separated by 36 total yards, both taking home the top two all-time records for receiving yards as well, Wayne 2nd behind Moss.
When he was drafted by the Colts as a 1st round pick, he didn't stop his otherworldly talents....alongside Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison and QB Peyton Manning, Wayne won a Super Bowl and lost another to his hometown New Orleans Saints...still, that Colts offense set all sorts of records during their time as the NFL's most productive offense.
During a time where LSU had a near non-existent passing game (cue the arrival and greatness of Rohan Davey, a trailblazing quarterback for the program) it's obvious to see why Wayne didn't join the Tigers and I don't blame him....he would've missed Davey by a year anyway, instead watching his talent wasted during the doldrums of the last years of the LSU 90s.....sour milk offenses...
But don't think Reggie has forgotten his Louisiana roots...no way:
"A lot of people, they'll associate since I went to the University of Miami that I'm from Florida, but I got to always correct them like 'No, no, no, I'm 5-0-4 'til the day I die."
-3x PRO BOWLER
-OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
-WALTER PAYTON MAN OF THE YEAR
10,967 RUSHING YARDS
-4.1 PER CARRY
4,339 RECEIVING YARDS
-NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP (1993)
3,959 RUSHING YARDS
-6.9 PER CARRY
-37 RUSHING TDs
1,314 RECEIVING YARDS
-12 RECEIVING TDs
Excelling at running back, quarterback as well as cornerback at Catholic High, New Orleans-native Warrick Dunn was always going to be a superstar...there was never any debate there...the only question:
Would he geaux.... or would he go?
Rebuffing LSU to head for Bobby Bowden's Florida State wasn't seen as sacrilege in the early to mid 90s: it was seen as on/off field survival for many an offensive talent coming out of Louisiana.
When Warrick Dunn sat down to make his choice at the start of his senior season at Baton Rouge's Catholic High, he had two options:
Should he take his chances with LSU's archaic offense and fading national prominence (the Tigers had just gone 2-9 the season prior) or take off for a certified "win now" powerhouse a few states away?
But when the choice was made, it had nothing to do with football...and more about survival than ever before.
During his senior year on January 7th 1993, Warrick Dunn's mother Betty Smothers, an off duty police officer escorting a businesswoman to make a bank transaction, was murdered by two robbers (with the help of a getaway driver), devastating the young man at such a crucial time in his life.
After such a tragedy during a particularly violent era, Warrick knew he had to head elsewhere, signing with Florida State and going on to become one of their greatest ever players.
Graduating in 1997 with a Bachelor's Degree in "information studies", he eclipsed 1,000 yards in 3 consecutive years (511 during a National Championship-winning year as a freshman...with 6 receiving TDs, hitting 1,026 during his sophomore season, notching 1,242 as a junior and finally sealing the trilogy at the end of his senior campaign (1,180).
At the same time he was a true dual threat, an uncompromising speedster possessing every move in the book and creating new ones at will, making it up as he went along...using the field as his own personal playground.
When he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, nothing changed...in fact, he only became a more dominant version of himself, taking one game over after another as the main (and sometimes only) offensive threat for Tampa QBs Shaun King and later Brad Johnson.
Warrick was snubbed for the Pro Bowl many times in his 12 season career (only 3 selections, 1997, 2000 and 2005) and a die hard fan favorite, though he weirdly was sent packing by Tampa Bay in 2001 (along with longtime corner Donnie Abraham), Dunn heading to divisional rivals Atlanta.
Once there, the Louisiana-native was electric throughout, averaging at or near the same amount of total yards from scrimmage in Hot 'Lanta as he had at Tampa Bay. Dunn formed a strong axis alongside QB Michael Vick for a few successful playoff runs (including a legendary victory at Lambeau) and became every young kid's favorite go to running back when it came to Madden or the NFL2K series........ but watching Tampa Bay hoist the Lombardi trophy the season after his release had to leave a bitter taste.
Though Dunn isn't a man who dwells on such egotistical pursuits...after all, if he could muster the strength and bravery to enter a penitentiary, face his mother's murderer and forgive him, then I'm sure he's long forgotten about 2002.
He finished his career as one of the most explosive players of his era, a true force who kept chugging through injuries, a highly publicized separation from Tampa Bay to a divisional rival and even cheating father time....hell, in 2007 Atlanta listed him as a 3rd string QB given his high school experience and athleticism for the role.
One of my favorite all time human beings...Ladies and Gentlemen, Warrick Dunn!
Canton...put him in the Hall of Fame, now!!!
-1 SUPER BOWL
-9x PRO BOWLER
-PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMER
-NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP (2001/02)
-NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP Runner-Up (2002/03)
-4 INT TD RETs
What can I say about one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, a personal hero of mine and a true Louisiana badass that hasn't already been said?
Well, I'll say more...'cause I could talk about Ed Reed allllll day.
The future Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Raven and National Champion at the University of Miami started out as a four sport athlete at Destrehan High in New Orleans:
Yes...you read me right, Edward Reed played four sports, football, basketball, baseball and track, somehow having time to go to school, eat, take a shower and roll off the bed from exhaustion.
On the football team he was always illustrious, playing a variety of positions: it's the trait of all Louisiana kids...a strong belief in versatility, being willing to try the unexpected or evolve their game in a new way...but, once again...Ed Reed outdoes 'em all: the guy was a safety who could cover the tight end, the receiver out wide, he could attack the line of scrimmage, but then he also played running back, quarterback, returned punts / kickoffs and was also Destrehan's kicker!
When Reed began his junior year, current Saints assistant and then-Miami Hurricanes' staffer Curtis Johnson pursued Reed with everything he had. Johnson was a Louisiana-native from the River Parishes (who knew of the area's wealth of football talent), he knew just how unbelievable Reed would be from those Destrehan nights.
Around this time, Reed nabbed 83 tackles as well as 7 interceptions to close out his senior year of high school, yet still LSU weren't shoving maximum resources towards signing Reed....or if they were, perhaps Rondell Mealey's advice to "stay away from DiNardo" helped Reed ignore the Tigers' pursuit.
Accordingly, Johnson went after the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Famer and straight up out-recruited LSU for Reed's majestic omnipotence.
Another big Louisiana talent from the 90s who should've played for the Tigers but ended up elsewhere, usually leading to championships...and it did for Reed.
At Miami, Reed was a universally loved force of nature, embarrassing opponents with his brutal hits, outwitting quarterbacks for delicious interceptions or dislodging the ball from a receiver at the exact second he touches the ball, timing everything down to a Hannibal Lecter science.
Next to the late, legendary "fantasy Tiger" Sean Taylor, Ed Reed organized one of the greatest safety tandems in college football history, ripping 21 INTs out of the air (17 from 2001-2003) but it's the sheer audacity of the plays Ed Reed made which easily send him within my top 10 favorite football players of all time:
Boston College...2001...Matt Walters, a big booming D-Lineman picks off a pass and begins bumbling down the field in vain, the whites of his eyes glistening, this is his moment...and then as Walters is about to fall over in a heap as he's tackled by three pouncing BC players, his own trailing teammate strips him of the ball and races away for the outrageous, madcap touchdown...the identity of that man: ED F***#*N REED!
Being hailed as a 2x All-American, Ed Reed's Miami would win one National Championship and basically win another during the 2002 season vs Ohio State...only for a single ref to throw the most egregious penalty in title game history, sending the game to overtime for the Buckeyes win and a historic upset, cruelly ending what should've been the sealing of a dynasty.
Despite all the incredible moments from his Miami legacy, I wonder what would've happened if Reed had been a Tiger on the 2001 SEC Champion / Sugar Bowl winning squad: Under Nick Saban's defensive scheme alongside Ryan Clark, backed by QB Rohan Davey and WR Josh Reed breaking records on offense, LSU could've easily been the #1 or #2 team in America, facing off against the Hurricanes themselves in the 2002 BCS Rose Bowl title game (instead of Nebraska).
No matter that, Reed would play every down as an NFL player with karmic payback on his mind: he'd display 10 wonderful, iconic seasons alongside fellow Miami defender Ray Lewis, making the Pro Bowl in 9 of those years, leading the NFL in INTs 3x, made 3 AFC Championship games (one AFC title victory), and finally capping off his storied career by winning a Super Bowl in his final year with the team.
Ed still holds records which may never be broken: the 107 yard INT touchdown return, his 1,590 career interception return yards or 9 postseason INTs, he is definitively one of the greatest players to ever come out of Louisiana.
-4 SUPER BOWLS
-2x SUPER BOWL MVP
-3x PRO BOWLER
27,989 PASSING YARDS
-212 PASSING TDs
2,257 RUSHING YARDS
-32 RUSHING TDs
- 14-6 PLAYOFF RECORD
(3rd All Time)
Eschewing LSU's advances for Louisiana Tech, Shreveport-native Terry Bradshaw rebuffed the expectations, desires and intense demands of many in the area.
Still, he wouldn't budge on his decision to go to the college in Ruston, Louisiana.
"I wanted to throw the football...LSU didn't throw the football back then or really ever..."
Well scouted and highly touted, by the time the 1970 NFL Draft came around, Bradshaw became the highest selected player out of Louisiana when the 1-13 Pittsburgh Steelers were desperate for a quarterback.
Though he didn't throw the football too much once he was drafted by Chuck Noll, he would lead the Steelers for the next decade to come, winning wire to wire and beyond:
Through seasons plagued by interceptions, doubt, concussions, nasty nasty snuff film hits, sacks that look like outtakes from The Sopranos, through the dependence on the Steel Curtain defense combined with Franco Harris' rushing abilities, the triumph (14 playoff victories including separate runs of 7 consecutive playoff wins from 1974-1976, then 6 more later in the decade), Bradshaw saw it all.
Undefeated in 4 Super Bowls, Terry became the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era to win more than 2 championships, the "Brady Before Brady" the "Montana Before Montana", the "Marino Before Marino"....even the "Eli Manning Before Eli Manning"...
Terry Bradshaw encapsulated every personality, timbre, or mere vibration of what it means to be a quarterback, from caretaker to distributor to playmaker to haymaker, launching heavy artillery downfield, daring WR Lynn Swann or John Stallworth to make circus catches....
He has a bizarre sass to this day that's unmistakable, some Shreveport swagger, Terry even dared to challenge the defensive mastermind of his era (Head Coach Chuck Noll) to take the Steelers' identity in a more offensive direction.
It was his outrageous performance and showdown vs Roger Stabauch's Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII which revolutionized the game of football as we know it:
Bradshaw's 318 yards and 4 TDs torched the Cowboys thanks to long bombs down field for John Stallworth (75 yard long gain) and Swann, displaying a much more open offensive attack than had been seen previously, especially on such a big stage.
Overall, the Louisiana Tech Bulldog appeared in 20 playoff games, posting a 14-6 record (tied for 3rd all time with John Elway among others) and became a humorous ambassador for the game through his weekly appearances on Fox's NFL coverage as well as hilarious cameos in random films like Matthew McConaughey's mid 2000s Failure To Launch.
In the end, he became a true worldwide advertisement for Louisiana....
Terry is a legend...and it's a really big shame #12 never threw a pass within Tigers Stadium.
-1 SUPER BOWL
-7x PRO BOWLER
-12,279 RUSHING YARDS
-100 RUSHING TDs
-6,875 RECEIVING YARDS
-36 RECEIVING TDs
-3x NFL OFFENSIVE PLAYER
OF THE YEAR (1999-2001)
-1ST RUNNING BACK TO LEAD HIS TEAM IN RECEPTIONS
FOR 5 STRAIGHT SEASONS (1996-2001)
SAN DIEGO STATE:
-HEISMAN TROPHY RUNNER-UP
-4,589 RUSHING YARDS
-57 RUSHING TDs
More than having a decent shot at LSU records, perhaps Faulk puts up the same numbers at LSU as he did at San Diego State...but under Curley Hallman's stewardship as bumbling head coach of Louisiana State, I think Marshall made the correct choice (12 combined LSU passing TDs in two seasons during Faulk's eligibility and only 500 yards rushing at the maximum for the putrid Tigers offenses of the day).
Could he still have been a Heisman runner-up rising to national media attention with high draft pickability at LSU?
I actually believe so....San Diego State went 19-15-2 during Faulk's time there, including a 5-5-1 and a 6-6 season....so while David Lowery was a touch better quarterback than Jamie Howard, who knows just how much better Jamie becomes as a quarterback due to Marshall's presence in his backfield, running routes in the flat and throwing vicious blocks in pass protection???
But another reason he didn't head to LSU???
Then-Tigers Head Coach Curley Hallman may not have wanted Faulk to play running back anyway: cornerback is the position Curley wanted for the future Super Bowl Champion and NFL MVP.
No wonder he took off for the warm weather and chill vibe of San Diego...they were going to at least allow Marshall Faulk to be Marshall Faulk.
About the Heisman itself: despite San Diego State's 5-5-1 record at the time, most viewers, players, fans and coaches wanted Marshall Faulk to hoist the award. Somehow he was snubbed, robbed I should actually say allegedly by Lee Corso, orchestrating a massive ESPN campaign against Faulk so his pal Gino Torretta could win.
"The best player on the best team should win the Heisman trophy..." was the fabled excuse for awarding Torretta the award over "the Real Best Overall College Football Player of 1992" Mr. Marshall Faulk.
In fact, had Marshall won the award, he would've become the first player from Louisiana to lift the Heisman Trophy...and thanks to Lee Corso, an Alabama WR now carries that distinction...
Let's start a campaign to get Corso off ESPN, finally.
Selected 2nd overall during the 1994 NFL Draft by the 4-12 Indianapolis Colts, Faulk represented Louisiana as the 2nd highest selected player from the state at the time (behind Bradshaw's #1 overall pick).
Immediately upon arrival, Faulk gave the Indianapolis Colts 4 more wins, rushed for over a thousand yards and amassed 11 total TDs, 10 on the ground.
During the 1995 regular season, Marshall went off for 15 combined TDs (a few more in the receiving game), handed the Colts another extra victory for their first season above .500 since 1992, making QB Jim Harbaugh look a lot better than he was, though I'll give Jimmy Michigan a ton of credit: he knew to give Faulk the ball and get the hell outta the way.
But something clicked and Harbaugh became an effective quarterback thanks to Faulk's tremendous play, forcing the levels of those around him to rise and suddenly, out of nowhere, the Indianapolis Colts were a playoff team....thanks to Faulk.
When Faulk went down due to a nagging toe injury (flaring up after a 16 yard gain in the Wild Card round vs San Diego) Harbaugh led the Colts within 4 points of beating Neil O'Donnell's Pittsburgh Steelers for a trip to play the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX...
Still, I honestly don't think the 1995 Colts squad come even close to that level of competitive fire without drafting a Louisiana kid like Marshall Faulk.
After a few injury-shortened years, 1998 became Marshall's most outrageous yet, playing alongside another Louisiana young gun, QB Peyton Manning. During their high octane offensive season in the face of adversity (as the Colts only won 3 games), Manning combined with Faulk for 906 yards through the air to go alongside Faulk's 1,319 on the ground...
One of the single coolest seasons you'll ever see from a running back...just watch.
But when he was traded to St. Louis the next year, it started off as a nightmare scenario: first, being sent away from such a promising offensive setup next to Peyton Manning, then in St. Louis, Trent Green going down with a season ending injury during preseason...nothing looked good.
Then, QB Kurt Warner shoved a flaming grocery cart through an empty parking lot, picked up a football, took the reins of Mike Martz's whizkid offense, WRs Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce stood up as the two premier pass catchers in the game, Head Coach Dick Vermeil cried as much as he won and suddenly, the Greatest Show on Turf was born.
Cashing in on their unforgettable, 1999 conquest with a classic, cardiac finish Super Bowl victory over Tennessee, most believed Dick Vermeil's St. Louis Rams would become a never-ending dynasty. Though Jeff Fisher's defense may have stuffed him for only 17 rushing yards, his 90 receiving yards were the most for any running back in a Super Bowl at that time.
In 2000, Marshall won the MVP, but St. Louis underachieved in the playoffs;
2001 saw a return to the Super Bowl stage, the Louisiana-native rushing for 76 yards to go with 54 receiving in an emotional homecoming at the Superdome....
Somehow, the Rams would lose by a field goal, a reversal of fortunes from 1999...Marshall Faulk so unlucky throughout his career once more.
Faulk even won a trio of consecutive Offensive Player of the Year Awards from 1999-2001, producing magic the immediate instance he first walked under the arch, while Nelly's "Country Grammar" could be heard blasting from the window of every Impala or Escalade in the distance.
Simply one of the most dominant players I've ever witnessed, Marshall Faulk is eerily too often left out of the "greatest RBs of all time" discussions.
Well, he sure as hell won't be here.
-2 SUPER BOWLS
-14x PRO BOWLER
-2x NFL OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
-COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
-PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME
-BCS ORANGE BOWL APPEARANCE
Sure, Bradshaw has more Super Bowls...but this list is about transcendence and "what coulda been".....if Peyton Manning signs for LSU in the mid 90s, the Tigers are winning a National Championship...this was a bidding war for Archie's affections and Phillip Fulmer's ability to acquiesce to the Mannings' every demand made the Volunteers the hot ticket.
But don't you ever forget it: Peyton Manning is a Louisiana-native....a New Orleans native....and he should've played for LSU...the Tigers had to make it happen but failed due to the poor infrastructure at the time.
Head Coach Gerry DiNardo didn't have a lot to work with and frankly, DiNardo did a hell of a job to even bring the program to a point where Nick Saban could create an ascendancy and develop a national power which still stands to this day....but you just cannot miss on Isidore Newman High hero Peyton Manning, a young slinger who grew up in Louisiana, an area where his father was still a hero despite the Saints' struggles.
Well, after all of it, Manning ended up at Tennessee, went to the NFL's Colts and into a first ballot Hall of Fame career...an icon and legend of the game who could've elevated the Tigers' entire program in the same fashion as 2018-20 Joe Burrow, only 24 years earlier...
An Ultimate "What If"....
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Duchess, all will be well!