LSU-Bama 2012 was historically heartbreaking
By MARTY MULÉ
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
As he so often does, Herb Vincent put LSU’s stunning 21-17 defeat to Alabama in clear focus. “Feels just like Southern Cal,” said Vincent, who was an LSU student in 1979 when the No. 1-ranked Trojans spoiled a heroic Tiger performance in the final minute.
That game 33 years ago, against probably the most talented opponent ever to set cleats in Tiger Stadium, is the benchmark of heartbreak for LSU partisans.
But Vincent, now the associate athletic director of Tiger athletes, equated similarly sinking emotions about the last minute meltdown against the Crimson Tide.
A loss is a loss is a loss. But Saturday’s did feel worse than most, just like USC, and is one that will be remembered bitterly for decades - just like these, the most devastating LSU setbacks in the last half-century or so.
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1979, USC 17, LSU 12: Two Heisman Trophy recipients (Charles White in ‘79 and Marcus Allen in ‘81), the Lombardi Award winner in Brad Budde, future Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott in the secondary and Anthony Munoz on the line, 12 All-Americans, 12 first round draft choices and 31 players who would spend at least one season in the NFL dotted the Trojan roster.
“They were what we now call ‘The Next Generation of Athlete,”’ said John Ed Bradley, the LSU center that night. “Except this was then. USC was the first team with that kind of athlete across the board, big but with speed - fast but with size.”
The game turned out to be such an inspiration that, in LSU lore, it now holds the same kind of mythic quality as the Alamo does for Texans.
Against an opponent that averaged 12 pounds more than the defensive line of the New Orleans Saints, the Tigers knocked the Trojans out of their athletic supporters for 59 minutes and 28 seconds. The outcome was decided not by play or players but very clearly by a bad call. With three minutes to go, LSU leading 12-10, USC quarterback Paul McDonald called a pass play from his 36, but his line jumped. As defenders Benji Thibodeaux and Demetri Williams zeroed in, McDonald intentionally threw the ball away.
At that point a flag fluttered to the Tiger Stadium turf, and it seemed everything was over except the shouting. Then, incredibly, umpire Neil Gareb of the Pac-10 signaled a penalty against LSU!
Thibodeaux’s hand brushed McDonald’s helmet as he made the tackle.
Ignoring the offsides - then the intentional-grounding infraction - killed LSU’s chances of offsetting penalties.
The Tigers sagged almost visibly. The drive continued, and with 32 seconds left McDonald hit a back slicing across the middle for an eight-yard touchdown - and a truly valiant Tiger effort went down the drain.
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1959, Tennessee 14, LSU 13: Coach Paul Dietzel’s Tigers were playing for a 20th consecutive victory - and a second straight national championship - and dominating the home-standing Volunteers everywhere but on the scoreboard.
One week after Billy Cannon’s epic punt return against Ole Miss, LSU led only 7-0 at the half despite 170 yards of offense to Tennessee’s 38. In the third quarter the Tigers missed two field goals, one from 22 yards out. That LSU attempted the second field goal went against Dietzel’s philosophy.
The Tigers had a fourth and two at the Tennessee 5. If LSU went for it and failed, tendencies showed Vols coach Bowden Wyatt would punt on first down that close to his goal. But Dietzel felt a field goal would ice the game. It missed.
On its next possession, LSU started another drive, getting to its 41 on a flat pass from Warren Rabb to Billy Cannon. Then Rabb called the same play, this time to Johnny Robinson in the right flat. Defensive back Jim Cartwright cut in front of Robinson and returned the pass 59 yards for the first touchdown scored against LSU in 10 games - 40 quarters. “If we had been ahead 10-0,” Dietzel later said, “that pass never would have been thrown.”
Then a lost fumble at the LSU 26 resulted in another Tennessee touchdown.
LSU finally scored early in the fourth quarter, and Dietzel decided to go for two. Cannon was stopped just short (though the Tigers of that team still steadfastly maintain he got in).
The Bayou Bengals were clearly the superior team, gaining 334 yards to Tennessee’s 112. Cannon (122) and Robinson (115) each rushed for more yards than the Vols gained as a team.
It could have been LSU’s costliest defeat ever. In those days when the national championship was decided after the regular season, the Tigers had only mediocre Mississippi State and Tulane left to play.
The dream of being No. 1 again went up in the Smokies.
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1969, Ole Miss 26, LSU 23: Archie Manning broke Tiger hearts the same way LSU moved Ole Miss to tears in 1959, 1960 and 1961, by depriving them of a perfect season with dramatic heroics.
As a sophomore in 1968, Manning completed 24-of-40 passes for 345 yards, passing for two touchdowns and running for a third, rallying the Rebels from a 17-3 deficit to a 27-24 victory.
But in 1969, LSU fielded as complete a team as the school ever had before, with a defense that gave up just 384 rushing yards all season, and with an offense that averaged 35 points, heady stats especially for the day.
Quarterback Mike Hillman hit receiver Andy Hamilton with a 32-yard touchdown strike in the third period to put LSU ahead 23-12, as the legion of Tiger followers to Jackson went into a purple-and-gold frenzy.
Manning jump-started the Rebel offense, getting to the LSU 3 where he scrambled into the end zone to cut the score to 23-18.
An LSU fumble at the Tiger 23, put Ole Miss in position for the lead, and Manning sneaked in from a foot away. He then ran in a two-point conversion to put the Rebs ahead 26-23.
Hillman answered with a drive to the Ole Miss 23, where safety Glenn Cannon made three sterling plays. The Tigers were in kicker Mark Lumpkin’s range, but on fourth down with time running out, Coach Charlie McClendon elected to go for the yardage and possible victory rather than the tying field goal.
The fourth down pass was batted down, and LSU sustained its first - and only - defeat of the 1969 season.
It was almost too much for Frank J. Polozola, then a Baton Rouge attorney and later a judge, a huge LSU fan, took the loss so hard that filed suit in Federal District Court seeking an injunction to prevent Archie from “further harassment of the Tigers.”
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net.