LSU vs. Florida, 1997: An Oral History | Part Two

By CODY WORSHAM and JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Editor and Tiger Rag Associate Editor

Editor’s Note: Twenty years ago this month, LSU beat Florida in Tiger Stadium in one of the most iconic victories in program history. Tiger Rag conducted hours of interviews and dug into the archives to relive that win. This is Part Two, which takes readers in the game. Part One, the lead up to the game, is below. The full story will appear in the October Issue of Tiger Rag Extra, on newsstands across Baton Rouge next week and available for purchase here

LSU vs. Florida, 1997: An Oral History | Part One

STARTING FAST

LSU raced out of the gates, despite an early stumble, building a 14-0 lead with two one-play drives. On their first offensive drive, the Tigers picked up four first downs in seven plays, only to turn the ball over on a Rondell Mealey fumble at the Florida 22-yard line. But the Tiger defense broke out the Bandits, pushing Florida back 13 yards on three plays – landing the first of six sacks of Gator QB Doug Johnson on the evening – and forcing a punt to Faulk. No. 3 took it back 30 yards, and one play later, LSU was in the end zone, courtesy of a 40-yard dash by Tyler.

Booger McFarland, Defensive Lineman: “Anytime you’re the underdog, you want to start out fast.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “Those (first) two drives, it seemed like everything we did was working. One of the first plays of the game, we ran Kevin up the middle for 15 or 16. (Then) we went off the left side with what we called a 29 option, which actually was an audible – just like the touchdown was – and Kevin got like 30 yards.”

Kevin Faulk, Running Back: “Every positive play, the crowd and the stadium really was just loud.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “Everything we did was like clockwork, just like we practiced it during the week. It was weird, because it normally never happens like that. You always have some kind of issue that prevents getting it from working, those first 15 scripted plays.”

Kevin Faulk, Running Back: “That’s why the coaches get paid. They understood that we had an advantage with the option game against their defense and we used it.”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “Mistake-free football was a must for LSU, but they started off the game with a turnover. The Tigers were driving the ball downfield impressively on their game opening drive behind a string of carries by Kevin Faulk, when Gator defensive tackle Reggie McGrew stripped the ball from Rondell Mealey on his first carry of the game.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “If we would’ve gotten down on ourselves or started to worry a bit, then Florida would’ve taken over the game and won the game. One of the things we talked about going into the season was not allowing anything to creep into our minds, to take us out of focus on our common goal, which was to win every game.”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “Fortunately, the Tiger defense did what no one expected them to do early in the game – stop Florida cold. The Gators…had to punt after three plays. Faulk took the punt to Florida’s 40, and the Tigers took advantage of the great field position immediately. Tyler elected to keep on an option and followed great blocks from Mealey and Alan Faneca into the end zone.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “What I do remember the highlight on that touchdown was…Florida came out in a Bear defense, named after the Chicago Bears of ’85, where they would pretty much have everybody on the line of scrimmage and one linebacker, plus each cornerback and a safety. I ended up calling, Check Red 18, option to the right, and once I get out there, Rondell heard the call, and everybody blocked down.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach[mfn]“Q&A with DiNardo,” by Gerry Johnson, Tiger Rag, Oct. 13, 1997[/mfn]: “It’s all about numbers, if you can get them in the right numbers.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “I’m supposed to pitch off the end, and the end didn’t take me. I think it was Javon Kearse. He ended up taking the running back, and I just cut up right inside of them, made one little move, and myself, Alan, and Mealey were running down the sideline for 40 yards. The only player close was Fred Weary. Alan and Rondell shielded him away from me. That crowd erupted like the greatest volcano eruption you could ever imagine in the history of volcano eruptions. It was awesome.”

 

Kevin Faulk, Running Back: “Any game, any sport where you start out fast and quick, it gives that team a lot of confidence that they were looking for and that they need; especially when you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country. You have that confidence about your team that you can win this game. You almost believe more as the game goes on. That’s almost the same thing. You’ve got to believe that you have a shot.”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “The Tigers continued to put the pressure on Johnson on their next drive.”

Herb Vincent, Sports Information Director: “It was a tense atmosphere. Gerry DiNardo had told me before the game that we were going to do something different with our defense, but he said not to tell anybody until the game starts. He said to wait until we got into the game to tell anybody and see if it works. LSU was getting to the Florida quarterback a lot, so I started going through the press box telling people about The Bandits defense. It was evident when that group came in. It was the star of the game.”

Carl Reese, Defensive Coordinator: “We were getting after them pretty good. And the crowd got into it really good. I was up in the press box, and I noticed as the game went on, when we sent The Bandits it, the crowd went wild.”

Booger McFarland, Defensive Lineman: “We knew their offensive line wasn’t as good as everyone said they were. Steve Spurrier did a really good job of distributing the ball so they didn’t have to block for a long time, so our ability to pressure him was based on our coverage. We played a lot of zone defense, and the zone defense forced Doug Johnson to hold the football, and when he held the football, we were able to get to the quarterback.”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “With the ball on LSU’s 44, Johnson overthrew his intended receiver and Donaldson, playing deep coverage, made the easy interception….”

Cedric Donaldson, Defensive Back: “I remember telling Raion Hill and Clarence LeBlanc that they were going to run a comeback. I wanted to break on it, underneath it, but I thought they might run a wheel route on me. So I just kinda hung back, and he overthrew it a little bit. I saw it, and I was like, ‘Oh Lord.’ So when I caught it, I made the first few moves, and I said, ‘I’m about to score this.’”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “…and returned the ball to the Gators’ seven yard line.”

Cedric Donaldson, Defensive Back: “Chuck Wiley. I still rag Chuck on this today. Chuck let Doug Johnson slow me up. I was like, ‘You should’ve just ran through the quarterback.’ I coulda had six. I had to cut back, and I got tackled. Matter of fact, a couple of days ago I ragged him on that.”

 

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “On first and goal, the Tigers played smash-mouth football in sending fullback Tommy Banks up the middle for a touchdown.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach[mfn]“Q&A with DiNardo,” by Gerry Johnson, Tiger Rag, Oct. 13, 1997[/mfn]: “We (had) been trying to get the fullback in the game – it (had) been suggested to us a couple hundred thousand times – but we (had) never really seen a defense where we thought it was good. We thought we could get the fullback involved in the game with some of the things they were doing.”

Tommy Banks, Fullback: “It was a called play and not an option read, so I knew I was getting the ball. I tell people that it was my job to follow Alan Faneca, and sure enough he opened a big hole for me. I went in, and I’m not sure what made me dive – I don’t really remember seeing any defenders – it was like having tunnel vision and I saw the goal line and was going to do whatever I could to score. Sure enough, at the last second I made the dive and the picture was taken. After the score I was kind of numb. I couldn’t really even hear the crowd. The emotion at that time as a true freshman scoring against the No. 1 team in the country, knowing what type of game it was, that was overwhelming.

 

“THIS IS HOW YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO FINISH”

Slowly but surely, Florida would erase the two-score deficit. Johnson connected with All-American receiver Jacquez Green four times to set up Florida’s first score, a Fred Taylor rush from three yards out, to trim the Tiger advantage to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. After a scoreless second quarter, featuring missed field goals from both teams, the Gators tied the score at 14 within three minutes of the third quarter’s start on another Taylor tote. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ offense continued to move the ball, but missed two more field goals, making three misses for the game. All of a sudden, LSU’s lead had vanished, and the fourth quarter began with the score dead level. Then, just like in the first quarter, the Tigers struck like lightning.

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “The 14-point lead did not phase Johnson or Florida or Spurrier.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach: “If I think I have to tell a team who has a 14-point lead on the number one team in the country that it’s a 60 minute game, then I haven’t done my job since I’ve been on campus. I don’t remember saying anything. It would’ve been an insult to the players to think they didn’t know that.”

Kevin Faulk, Running Back: “We just had to keep playing. It’s like Coach said at halftime: They wasn’t going to lay down. They wasn’t going to just give us the game. They’re going to come out and fight. They’re the No. 1 team in the country. They’re been in situations like this before. It’s up to us to overcome that.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “It didn’t make us feel like, ‘Uh oh, here we go.’ We’re in a heavyweight bout. We got Iron Mike Tyson on the other side, and we’re Buster Douglas, we’re trying to knock out the champ. They’re going to punch back. How do you take that punch, and what’s your reaction from that?”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “As pressure mounted on Johnson, the Tigers cashed in on his mistakes. LSU would take the lead for good in the fourth quarter when Donaldson made his second interception.”

Cedric Donaldson, Defensive Back: “We were in an all out blitz, and I knew he was going to have to throw it fast.”

Carl Reese, Defensive Coordinator: “(Spurrier) didn’t know what to do. He tried to do several things. He tried to run the football – these guys stuffed him. He tried to throw the football deep – they stuffed him. He was trying to figure it out. He didn’t have a play.”

Cedric Donaldson, Defensive Back: “Steve Spurrier was screaming, ‘Walk up! Walk up!’ wanting me to play press on Jacquez Green. I just shook my head, thinking, ‘He’s going to get it.’”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach: “We were just playing regular Cover 3. We didn’t really invent anything. It was very creative by the defensive staff. It’s always fun when it works.”

Booger McFarland, Defensive Lineman: “It was a defense that we’d been practicing all week. We knew that if we played it correctly they would actually throw us the ball. They did and Cedric made a tremendous play to take it to the house. We still talk about that today.”

Cedric Donaldson, Defensive Back: “I knew they were going to throw to the sticks. He ran an out at the sticks, and I was waiting on it. I had seen that route 100 times on film. I had to slow down for the pick and catch it behind me. I almost overran it. When I caught it, I knew it was a touchdown.”

 

Herb Vincent, Sports Information Director: “I always made a habit of going down to the field late in the third quarter just to walk around the field and see how the photographers and everybody down there was doing. I remember being on the east sideline behind the Florida bench when Cedric Donaldson intercepted that pass and returned it for a touchdown. That was before we had the east upper deck, so we just had the west upper deck, and I remember looking up and I thought fans were going to fall out. The way they were screaming and the way it was waving, it seemed like it was moving back and forth.”

Cedric Donaldson: “I wish I’d kept the ball. I dropped the ball in the end zone. That’s my biggest regret.”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “The Tigers had a 21-14 lead with 13:13 to go in the game, more than enough time for Florida to get back in the game. LSU’s special teams would see that they didn’t. Bo Carroll took the kickoff for Florida and was heading up the sideline when Theo Williams dived for Carroll and nudged the ball loose. Troy Twillie recovered for LSU at the Florida 30.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “It was like everything fell right into place. Even when Florida scored, the thing about it is how you finish the game.”

Tommy Banks, Fullback: “Once we saw it unfold and saw that, yes, this is our game to lose, it just got us more hungry.”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “There would be no settling for a field goal attempt this time. On 2nd-and-6 at the UF 11, Tyler kept on the option and had a clear path to the end zone thanks to sealing blocks from tackle Trey Langley and tight end Joe Domingeaux. The Tigers’ lead was now 28-14.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “This is how you’re supposed to finish the game.”

Kevin Faulk, Running Back: “We’re actually going to do it. What we talked about, it’s about to happen.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach: “That’s how you beat the number one team in the country: things go your way. You have a good plan. It doesn’t always happen that way, but a lot of times when you’re a better team than the opponent, everything doesn’t have to work.”

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “Florida was not out of the game…Taylor would score his third touchdown on a three-yard carry to bring Florida as close as they would get, 28-21…Florida had their last chance with 6:44 left on the clock. Facing 3rd-and-22, Johnson had plenty of time to throw on the play, but both of his receivers were tightly covered, allowing Raion Hill to make the interception at the LSU 46.”

Carl Reese, Defensive Coordinator: “They did a good job getting after the quarterback. They did a good job making plays. We got to Spurrier, as a play caller, I don’t think he knew what to do about it. He didn’t do anything that kept us from doing it.

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “Steve Spurrier tossed his visor more that night than he ever tossed his visor in his entire life. We frustrated him to the fullest. Our fans knew it and they let him have it.”

Carl Reese, Defensive Coordinator: “To this day, Spurrier, he’s a good coach – it’s proven – but he’s still Shiny Pants.”

“TAKE THEM DOWN”

When the clock hit zero, LSU had pulled off one of its greatest wins in program history. It was LSU’s first win over Florida since 1987, and it snapped the Gators’ 25-game SEC winning streak and 19-game SEC road game winning streak. It also marked LSU’s first win over the No. 1 team in the country, and the celebration was worthy of the win.

Greg LaRose, Tiger Rag Editor, 1997: “LSU sealed their victory on 3rd-and-6 when Tyler found Abram Booty for a much-needed first down.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “We needed to get that first down to keep the ball and keep the clock moving. I didn’t say, ‘The game is over,’ but I said it was getting close. About 10 seconds before the clock hit triple zeroes, the announcer comes on and says, ‘Okay, Tiger fans. No one run on the field. It’s against the law.’ Well, guess what? Everybody’s on the field about 20 seconds after that. That’s when I knew, it’s over. It’s done.”

 

Cedric Donaldson, Defensive Back: “My brother was the first one to jump on the field. I looked up, and I just saw him running across the field, arms wide open, the police chasing him. We had to ask the police to let him make it. My cousin played for Florida. The year before, he laughed the whole time. He played linebacker, so he was on the sidelines giggling while we were getting beat. He tried to run off the field (in ’97). I jumped on his back.”

Herb Vincent, Sports Information Director: “I was on the field because I had to help DiNardo get to midfield and do a postgame TV interview. It just kept getting more and more crowded. Me and one of our student assistants, Adam Thrifley, we were helping hold the crowd back so that DiNardo could do the interview. I remember leaning over to him and telling him ‘You’re going to remember this moment for the rest of your life.’ It was a pretty neat moment.”

Tommy Banks, Fullback: “I remember having a tough time getting back to the locker room after the game. Remember what I said earlier about following Alan Faneca into the goal line? Well I did the same thing getting to the locker room. He’s making a hole all the way through the crowd and I’m following him. But what a moment. It was just so great that all those LSU fans could play a part in that.”

Carl Reese, Defensive Coordinator: “It was wild. It took us forever to get down to the locker room.”

Booger McFarland, Defensive Lineman: “I’d never been a part of anything like that. It was neat, you know? Between 50,000 people being on the field and everybody celebrating, the goal posts coming down, it was just one of those moments you’ll never forget.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach4: “Other than getting a bill from Joe Dean for the goalposts, it was a great night.”

Photo courtesy Herb Vincent

Herb Vincent, Sports Information Director: “I could see over my shoulder that the thing was swaying and it was coming down. I remember our head of facilities went to Joe Dean and said, ‘If we win this game, the students are going to take down those goal posts.’ Joe Dean told him, ‘Let them take them down!’”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “I’m still looking for my helmet and my wristbands from that game.”

Kevin Faulk, Running Back: “When you leave the stadium that night in general, it’s crazy. You could have gone anywhere in Baton Rouge and gotten anything you want, really.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach: “I lived in Five Oaks. Five Oaks was alive until late in the evening with neighbors celebrating outside. Terri and I were right in the thick of it. Usually you go home after a night game, you go try to unwind, but we were out partying in the streets in Five Oaks.”

Carl Reese, Defensive Coordinator: “Our family, we couldn’t get home. I lived in a subdivision as you drive east out of River Road, and we could not get home. Our bunch just went back up into my office and laid low. When we finally got home, it was about 5 or 6 in the morning. It was the wildest thing in coaching I’ve ever been around.”

Tommy Banks, Fullback: “I’ve talked to so many people who were there that it seems like that stadium must’ve held 200,000 people that night.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “Everybody I’ve met was at that game. I’ve met 7.2 billion people, and I think they were all at that game.”

Cedric Donaldson, Defensive Back: “That’s the good thing about having that game, and the bad thing. The good thing is, everybody remembers. The bad thing is, that’s all they remember you for, and they forget everything else.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach: “When you coach at LSU, Terri and I used to say this all the time, you are responsible for a lot of people’s happiness. Anytime you can give fans a reason to be happy, you feel good for the fans, because they just love their Tigers.”

Booger McFarland, Defensive Lineman: “That was almost validation that we were back and we could play with anybody in the country. That was kind of the turning point for us.”

Herb Tyler, Quarterback: “My girlfriend, she asked me, ‘Excuse me for my ignorance, but why does everybody ask you about the Florida game?’ She’s not a football fan whatsoever, but she was at LSU at the time. She went to the game and left at halftime. When she got back to her room, the game was over. She was like, ‘Man, everybody came back talking about how great the game was.’ So she asked me, ‘What’s the big deal?’ The big deal about that game is that’s the first time LSU’s ever beaten the No. 1 ranked team at Tiger Stadium. But not only that: It brought so many people together on one night and for one common goal. There’s nothing else that could ever match that feeling, when you have a passion for LSU football.”

Gerry DiNardo, Head Coach: “I just felt like I could make a lot of people in Louisiana happy if we could win some games. I thought about all the fans who were happy. I was happy for the team, and happy for the fans who were happy. It was a gift.”

 

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. LSU vs. Florida, 1997: An Oral History | Part One – TigerRag.com
  2. Spreadsheet Quarterback: The Etling-Chark connection beats Auburn – TigerRag.com

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