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Now that the college football season has begun anew, I have been thinking about some incredible highlights from last season, at least for local fans. Remember?
Nov. 5, 2022
Drama prevailed even before the teams ran on the field. There is no more treasured accomplishment in Louisiana sports than to defeat Nick Saban, the Alabama head coach who once had that job at LSU (where his team won a national title in 2003) but who had the audacity to move on – first to the pros and then the University of Alabama, which is sort of like the pros.
LSU had a new coach, Brian Kelly, who came from Notre Dame, itself a prestigious football school. (The transaction showed the drawing power, plus the money pot, of the Tigers.)
For four quarters, the contest went back and forth. With 21 seconds left in the game and trailing by three points, Alabama completed a 10-play drive that ended with a 46 yard field goal. Tie game! At the end of regular time the score was 24-24.
Here the American Heart Association should have intervened and demanded that the mandatory overtime period be cancelled for fear of a high-blood pressure epidemic, especially throughout the south.
By the complicated – but fun to watch – rules of college football, when a game ends in a tie each team gets at least one chance to score starting at the opponent’s 25 yard line. Alabama went first and had the nerve to score a touchdown on a one-yard run within seven plays. The extra point was successful and the Crimson Tide went up 31 to 24. Now it was the Tiger’s turn. No score; no win. But LSU answered quickly with a 25-yard scamper that jolted the score to 31-30.
Here was one of those moments that answers the question why football coaches get payed more than chemistry professors. The world of ESPN was watching as Coach Kelly had to decide. Go for the tie by kicking an extra point; or end it all by going for two. Win or lose on one play! It did not take him long to decide. The Tigers huddled then lined up. The kicker was sitting on the bench.
Perhaps the big bang that followed could have been heard as far away as Tuscaloosa. An LSU player named Mason Taylor would be immortalized as he flew across the goal line.
FINAL SCORE LSU 32 - ALABMA 31
According to ancient archives recently discovered in the Atchafalaya swamp, a reason that Louisiana was created was to one day provide aggravation for a man from Alabama named Saban. By the byzantine rules of college football, the loss in effect eliminated Alabama from competition for the national title.
Alabama finished the season ranked 5th in the nation and beating Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl. LSU finished 16th. The team defeated Purdue in a bowl that was less prestigious than the Sugar but at least appetizing-- “The Cheez-It Citrus Bowl.”
But no game was as explosive as that night when Baton Rouge rocked.
Jan. 2, 2023
Arlington, Texas (That’s near Dallas)
12th ranked Southern California Trojans vs. 16th ranked Tulane GreenWave
Somewhere, my guess is in a basement filled with old videos of football games and cluttered with empty Starbucks cups and Pizza Hut boxes, there is a sports geek who does nothing but compiles football statistics. He apparently has contacts with ESPN. Because of him we know this gem, which should be inscribed, somewhere in New Orleans, for all to know:
By the end of the 2022-2023 college season there had been 1,693 games in which a team trailed by 15 or more points with five minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter. Out of that number, the lone win came in 2020, with Texas coming back against Texas Tech.
Amazingly in the 2023 Cotton Bowl the GreenWave embellished that record by performing a feat that was damn near impossible. Tulane scored 16 points in the last 4:07.
Not that the game already lacked improbabilities but the ending provided more. In the closing minutes, the Green Wave pushed the Southern California offense behind the goal line. That offense was powered by arguably the best quarterback in the nation, Caleb Williams, who would win the Heisman Trophy for being the nation’s top player. The Trojans were forced to kick the ball, which began an improbable Tulane drive for a touchdown ending with a six yard catch that was initially called incomplete and then, after what seemed like an hour of breath holding, was reversed in favor of Tulane.
FINAL SCORE: Tulane 46 - Southern Cal 45.
Usually a mediocre team at best; the Greenies had won some minor bowls before but had not played in a big name bowl since losing to Texas Tech in the 1940 Sugar Bowl. (In 2020 the GreenWave flew to Boise and lost to the University of Nevada in the “Famous Idaho Potato Bowl,” 27-38.)
Tulane finished the season with a 12-2 record and enshrined into the national Top 10—Number 9 according to the final AP Poll.
As for the abundance of bowl games, none was as exciting as the Green Wave’s tsunami.
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