Updated: Jun 18
LONN JACKSON PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
In an atmosphere combining the nihilistic dread of Blade Runner and the hellish opening of Saving Private Ryan, the 2012 BCS National Championship Game between LSU and Alabama came to a tooth-removing end...
Before the game, history was there for the taking....LSU were playing to become the greatest college football team in modern history, the rightful predecessor to the same Awards-season sweep and national brand obsession as 2019's Tigers.
Tyrann Mathieu was 2011's Joe Burrow, 2011's defense was reminiscent of the domination seen by our 2019 offense...Coach Miles was perceived as one of the most visible and appealing coaches in the country, full of hilarity including bizarre decisions and even crazier behavior like grass-chewing and humorous post-game press conferences which I fully endorse, echoing Coach Orgeron's high profile persona bonanza.
These were the best Tigers of all time, far before Joe Burrow even finished puberty....the 2011 LSU Tigers were a colossus.
Prior to Joe Burrow's 2019 unit eating 7 Top 10 teams in one year, this group were ahead of their time, beating eight ranked teams on their way to an SEC Championship, including #3 Oregon in Dallas in week one, #2 Alabama on the road for my birthday and besting #3 Arkansas 41-17.
DB Tyrann Mathieu led the G.O.A.T defense, nearly winning a Heisman. As Patrick Peterson's wisdom surfed around inside his head, the Honey Badger experienced a sophomore campaign beyond his wildest dreams, scoring 4 TDs, all extremely crucial scores (3 vs Top 12 Ranked opponents), setting SEC or NCAA records for creating turnovers, and blowing everyone's collective minds every time he touched the ball.
Even with a ho-hum offense, LSU still dropped 40+ points on eight teams, six of them ranked in the top 25, beating the Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and National Champions that year, winning every game by 10+ points, sporting future NFL studs like Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Spencer Ware, Rueben Randle...but we were still missing the singular, crucial piece on any football team: far and away, LSU's quarterback position had been for passengers only...
However, even 2007's Matt Flynn realized no title would ever be won by a quarterback taking a backseat willingly...but through the whisky and fertilizer-soaked lens of Les Miles, LSU tested the limits of just how ineffective an offense could be while still remaining victorious.
LSU had already won two titles in the previous 8 years featuring ragged, archaic offenses...but none of those defenses decided games like this 2011 Chavis squad...nobody could beat us...
The stars were aligned...the title would be contested within the fiery Cajun cauldron of the Superdome, home turf where the Tigers had won their last two National titles....including one under this very head coach.
We announced our championship destiny as a steambreathing unit ready for the big time after a gutsy week one scheduling and dismantling of Oregon, but in sensing our proximity to the final reward too early, we may have sealed our own fate.
Once the title game kicked off, the pliers were affixed as the morphine dripped through the veins, a swimming alternate abyss of dormant reality dragging you forth... one pull at a time toward blood-encrusted defeat...
Our eternal good luck charm, the perseverance and gravity of the Superdome's shelter, became a perverse scene of the crime, a lighted stage for Louisiana sports' greatest moments...and....after January 9th, 2012: its worst.
If a form of trauma is possible from watching football, then there will never be any harsher punishment than watching every snap of the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
I still remember where I was, watching the game with my still-current girlfriend Chelsea, someone who'd watched every game of LSU's journey to the top...she didn't know much about football or care...but her damning statement after the 1st quarter still rings true:
"LSU look off..." She said, not relishing the truth.
"It's only the 1st quarter we're good!" I implored, pacing back and forth as the game's long and drawn out delinquency was given a cinematic pulse by Brent Musberger's booming commentary.
I tried to ignore her words....but she felt exactly what we were all beginning to sense:
LSU's only route to victory was either a defensive touchdown, Tyrann Mathieu doing something crazy in the return game, a huge Bama mistake or a 3-0 victory....nothing else would do the job.
Unfortunately, none of the proceedings would ever be up to LSU: Bama controlled the ball with a steely grasp for 21 minutes (6 more than LSU) and grabbed 21 first downs to the Tigers 5...it felt as if LSU's defense were out there the entire game, all due to our offense's inability to continue drives... one slice, one tooth yank at a time.
This was death by a thousand tooth pulls, yanking fiercely at the gums, drawing blood until the pain reached a screaming, inflamed dissonance....our hearing went in and out, our eyesight was taken and only partially restored, confusion all around as a mass of hulking bodies continually rammed into each other, play after play like an Old Testament version of the O.J Simpson trial.
No one here gets out alive....
Watching LSU punt the ball over and over again, while surrendering tough 3rd down conversions, became a hideous brain damage we were forced to accept..but witnessing the riskiest coach in college football history sit back, shrinking in the moment and letting himself get upstaged by his most conservative peer was...all too much (to quote the Beatles).
While Les Miles was too scared to switch quarterbacks, here was Nick Saban identifying our coach's fear and conservatism and going for the win, utilizing a fake field goal to convert on 4th down. Despite the eventual stop by LSU on the next few plays, forcing another field goal attempt, this proved to be one of the psychological plays of the game....
Regardless of Saban's obsessive fundamentalist / pragmatic tactics, right then and there everyone knew Les was trying not to lose...meanwhile, Saban was prepared to win at all costs.
Within the vortex of red and white confetti, a swirling pain raining down upon the Superdome floor like crystallized blood, there stood the broken 2011 Tigers, standing alone, watching their sworn enemies holding our trophy... in our house...on our field...
Gut-wrenching images of raging bull Tyrann Mathieu, drained, distraught, trying to disappear within his own helmet...the cameras kept flashing... right in his face. Morris Claiborne looked disturbed, angry even, taking a knee alongside Odell Beckham Jr as the two melted in agony...this loss meant everything...
Eric Reid shook his head in disgust unable to process what just happened; after blocking a field goal and playing his heart out, Michael Brockers looked dejected and that sense of helplessness as a defender may have informed his NFL Draft application after only two years, one as a starter...
Some players were so pissed off their anger couldn't be contained, smashing or breaking objects in the locker room; offensive weapons like Russell Sheppard and Alfred Blue felt hoodwinked...why Sheppard wasn't used during the game in any way shape or form boggles the mind (Shep should've been an LSU quarterback rather than a receiver, but that's the subject for another soon to be released piece)....many of the Tigers' offensive players who saw the field had already escaped: humiliated and incapable of showing their face around their defensive counterparts.
Coach Les Miles couldn't even fake a grimace as he stared off into the void, eager to run away and hide his emotionless visage for the off-season.
As Saban celebrated his most aesthetically satisfying victory, Miles explained away the loss during a bizarre post-game press conference in which the Michigan alum sounded hazy...or at least so full of shit he could only muster a feeble, mumbled attempt at pretending to care.
I loved Coach Miles...but on that day, he gave up on his players, he gave up on his team and really, judging by the desolate next 5 years under Miles following LSU's 21-0 beatdown, he gave up on LSU.
In what was one of the most unexplainable absences of creativity, innovation or character ever seen in sports, our coaching staff quit on our players, leaving them for dead in the isolated remnants of their own battle-weary hearts: if LSU were geauxing to win that title, it would've been an improbable victory, not only facing the best defensive performance in a title game ever seen (ours would've been superior had our own defense had an offense to keep us fresh), but also usurping the idiotic substitutions and personnel selections of Les Miles and OC Greg Studrawa.
Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, Bennie Logan, the unused Russell Sheppard, Barkevious Mingo, Odell Beckham Jr, Spencer Ware, Kevin Minter, Michael Brockers...all these guys were left to their own devices.
....and until 2020's Superdome-clinching title, the ghosts still haunted the program, the Joe Alleva-era nearly destroying LSU's established powerhouse structure and recruiting pull in the aftermath:
There was the dramatic Les Miles firing fakeout vs A&M, the Tigers drowning in a tidal wave of mediocrity as 8-5, 9-4, 8-4 seasons became commonplace...all before the real hammer fell after the Mad Hatter's befuddled madness reared its head again during a make-or-break, choose-or-lose moment vs Auburn, the title-winning coach's last game in purple and gold.
The title loss in 2011/12 didn't just ruin that epic season, it stole LSU's dignity and pride away for nearly the next decade...usually, in the moment, a title game loss signifies the beginning of a process leading to further greatness...but how rarely has that ever been the case?
That craven, insidious game, contested during the lost sin of January 2012, forever cast LSU as Alabama's party toy... for 8 years we became bound to the doormat of the Tide's trophy room...
Despite the greatness and savage destruction of Bama in 2019, Tiger fans all over need to remember just what was at stake and what was forever lost: until we take the opportunity to beat Alabama in a future title game, we still haven't made this right...until we skulldrag them across a Taco Bell parking lot for 9 years straight, we haven't evened the score...while Joe Burrow may never stop tormenting Saban's mind, our work remains unfinished.
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