The Agony of Victory … 10 years later
By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
After watching his former No. 1 team get upset 29-24 by SEC newbie and No. 15 Texas A&M at home by allowing 418 yards and turning it over twice in the second half after giving up 435 the week before and also turning it over in the second half, Alabama coach Nick Saban is probably in the mood for a miracle … or a new defense.
Saban was as upset 10 years ago last weekend at his defense and was not in celebration mode despite the “Bluegrass Miracle” that gave his LSU team an unbelievable, 33-30 win over upset-minded Kentucky on Nov. 9, 2002, in Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky.
With two seconds remaining and LSU down 30-27, Tiger quarterback Marcus Randall took the snap at the LSU 25-yard line and rolled to his right. Unlike Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Randall did not under-throw his receiver. Instead, he put every ounce of his strength and butt into a heave that went 50 yards in the air. Then it tipped off of two or three would-be Kentucky defenders, and LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson grabbed the ultimate rebound - not far from Rupp Arena - at about the 15-yard line, shifted into his sprinter speed and scored a 75-yard touchdown.
Swarms of Kentucky fans - not understanding football - did not watch the play and walked onto the field in celebration oblivious to what just happened. Some of them surrounded Randall as he watched the ball tip and bounce to Henderson as if he was some sort of freak. Then they looked like Transylvania had just beaten them in basketball.
Seconds before, Kentucky’s players - also not understanding football so close to basketball season - gave Coach Guy Morris a Gatorade shower.
Meanwhile, Saban was in his element. His defense had just given up 16 points in the fourth quarter, and his offense had contributed to blowing a large lead. He was ready to shower his team with a dose of reality. Then, somehow his team had won, and for one of the rare times in his life - other than right after taking a new job - he was conflicted more after a victory than at any time in his career.
“Oh, I remember,” Saban said pleasantly last week on the SEC teleconference while he was still undefeated. “I remember it all. And I remember we played poorly that day, and Kentucky had a decent team. We didn’t have a very good week going into the game. We hadn’t played very well.”
Saban also remembered the excellent play by Henderson, whom he was able to sign to his first class in 2000 despite previous coach Gerry DiNardo not recruiting Henderson because he wanted to also run track.
“Their guys misjudged the ball and tipped it up, and Devery did a great job of running through it and scoring,” Saban said. “We practice those kinds of plays. I think there’s a little bit of luck when you hit one. Things have to go right for you. The ball has to bounce your way, and it did that day.”
Saban couldn’t get the other part out of his head, though.
“But the other thing I remember about that is we didn’t play very well that day, and we won,” he said. “And we played really, really bad the next week and got beat as bad as we ever got beat. So that wasn’t a good thing.”
That was a 31-0 loss to Alabama in Tiger Stadium. It was Saban’s only loss to Alabama as LSU’s coach. The Tigers would not be shut out again until Jan. 9, 2012, when Saban’s Alabama team beat LSU 21-0 for the BCS national championship.
“But that was an exciting play, and you know it was fun to be a part of a play like that that people remember this long,” Saban said.
Still, Saban continued to fret about how bad his team played in victory that day even on the plane ride home. And he was not alone. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, now Florida’s head coach and so much like Saban on the sidelines that it’s scary, was Saban-like in his approach to the win.
“Well, we stunk on defense that day,” he said this week. “Honestly, I was walking off the field, and I got to the bottom of the numbers before I realized we had scored. I had no idea until our players started running on the field. I was like a lot of Kentucky fans. They didn’t realize we scored either. It was one of the more unusual games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Like many Kentucky fans, Muschamp did not even watch the last play.
“I was just kind of walking, thinking about different things we could’ve done game-plan wise, call wise,” he said. “We didn’t call a very good game. Then I realized all our players running by me, and I’m thinking, ‘What in the world could our players be happy about right now?’ And I realized Devery had made the catch.”
Still Muschamp was not exactly dancing in the aisles on the plane, either. He was in Saban mode.
And finally, according to eyewitnesses on the plane, Saban’s wife Terry had seen enough. “Nick, shut up and enjoy it,” she said.
“I can’t remember that part,” Saban said, but he did not offer a strong denial. “She says, ‘Shut up and enjoy it,’ and ‘Shut up and,’ lots of other things about every other day. I get reprimanded quite a bit. So for me to remember what happened 10 years ago on that one, that’d be tough for me.”
Alabama lost a tough game to Texas A&M Saturday and likely blew a chance to repeat as national champions. But Saban better not gripe too much.
“Shut up, Nick,” Terry might say. “You already have three rings, not counting ours.”
GUILBEAU’S A.P. POLL: 1. Kansas State, 10-0. 2. Oregon, 10-0. 3. Notre Dame, 10-0. 4. Georgia, 9-1. 5. Florida, 10-1. 6. Texas A&M, 8-2. 7. Alabama, 9-1. 8. LSU, 8-2. 9. Ohio State, 10-0. 10. Florida State, 9-1. 11. Oklahoma, 7-2. 12. South Carolina, 8-2. 13. Clemson, 9-1. 14. Stanford, 8-2. 15. Oregon State 7-2. 16. Nebraska, 8-2. 17. Rutgers, 8-1. 18. Texas, 8-2. 19. Louisiana Tech, 9-1. 20. Louisville, 9-1. 21. Mississippi State, 7-3. 22. USC, 7-3. 23. Texas Tech, 7-3. 24. Michigan, 7-3. 25. Oklahoma State, 6-3.
GUILBEAU’S SEC POLL: 1. Georgia. 2. Florida. 3. Texas A&M. 4. Alabama. 5. LSU. 6. South Carolina. 7. Mississippi State. 8. Vanderbilt. 9. Ole Miss. 10. Missouri. 11. Tennessee. 12. Arkansas. 13. Auburn. 14. Kentucky.