Last night, Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy; the first time since Billy Cannon in 1959 that an LSU player has–and it was just one more peak in what has been one of the most thrilling LSU seasons I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.
It really has been something for LSU fans.
I started writing this entry the morning after LSU beat Alabama for the first time since 2011, and yet…I resisted posting it at the time. I try not to be superstitious, and succeed for the most part, but when it comes to college football (or the Saints), I give in to superstition all the fucking time, even though I know it’s absurd. For example, every season I pick out two images–one for my Facebook profile picture, the other for my Facebook cover picture. I do not change those images all season unless LSU loses; after a loss I choose two different ones because those two images have clearly run out of luck. Same with what I wear on game days. I always wear LSU sweats when I am at home; I’ve worn my yellow sweatshirt for every game I’ve watched at home this season, and will continue wearing it for the play-offs.
Every bit of juju, you know?
And watching the growing love affair between the people of Louisiana and Joe Burrow has been an absolute joy to watch. Being a football fan in Louisiana is somehow different than it is anywhere else–I don’t really know how to describe it. We cheer the wins and mourn the losses, but we never ever seem to take the losses out on the team. The losses are disappointing yes, but there’s always this sense that the fans and the team are in it together, more so than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Drew Brees is a god in Louisiana and in New Orleans; now, Joe Burrow is one as well.
Paul said to me recently, “I never really think about you being Southern other than during football season.”
And he’s right–it’s true. One of the few remnants of my childhood upbringing is my deep and abiding love and enjoyment of college football. I’ve managed to shed most of my raising; values I was instilled with as a child that as an adult I’ve come to understand are neither right for me as a person or as a citizen to hold. It’s a struggle I continue to have even now; at least once a day my first thought in response to some situation or something someone says or something I see on-line is reprehensible, undesirable, and horrifying; shaking me to the very core of who I am as a person.
I suppose one can never completely be free of a Southern evangelical childhood. (Which reminds me of my essay “Recovering Christian”–which I really should finish writing.)
But one of the things I still hold onto is my love and enjoyment of college football. I grew up watching the games on ABC every Saturday; rooting for Auburn first and Alabama second. I always liked LSU–purple and gold has always been one of my favorite team color combinations, plus they had a real live tiger mascot–but they were a secondary team for me. I always liked their traditions and their stadium and all of that, but as I said, Auburn and Alabama came first. After I moved to Louisiana I began following LSU more–obviously, it’s much easier to follow the Tigers in Louisiana than anywhere else in the country–and of course, in the wake of Katrina turned my full fan capabilities to LSU, and have never looked back (I still root for Auburn and Alabama, in that order; I root for them except for when they play LSU and when they play each other).
This season has surpassed my wildest dreams for LSU.
I would have never predicted that the state of Louisiana would be having a football-season long (and probably much, much longer) love affair with a kid from Ohio.
I mean, seriously. I was cautiously optimistic about the season before it began.
But in all the fantasy narratives of an LSU football season I’ve daydreamed quite happily about, what this 2019 season has become was one that never entered my mind. Not even with my incredibly all-over-the-map creative imagination, would I have dared to dream what this season became.
LSU 55, Georgia Southern 3
LSU 45, Texas 38
LSU 65, Northwestern State 14
LSU 66, Vanderbilt 38
LSU 42, Utah State 6
LSU 42, Florida 28
LSU 36, Mississippi State 13
LSU 23, Auburn 20
LSU 46, Alabama 41
LSU 58, Mississippi 37
LSU 56, Arkansas 20
LSU 50, Texas A&M 7
LSU 37, Georgia 10
I also realized over the course of this season why it’s so difficult for me to care about the NFL (other than the Saints): because there are too many LSU players in the NFL playing for non-Saints teams, and I just can’t root against LSU players. Ever. It came to me when I watched the Texas A&M, when they finally took Joe Burrow out of the game to thunderous applause, a standing ovation and the crowd chanting his name, with–I am not ashamed to say it–tears in my eyes: I can never root against Joe Burrow, so whoever he plays for in the NFL I am going to have to pull for–and what happens when he plays against the Saints?
Therein lies the rub with being a football fan.
This season has been amazing, absolutely amazing, and ever so much fun to watch. If someone had told me last season that LSU would be leading Alabama 33-13 at half-time in Tuscaloosa, or that they would hang fifty on A&M, or about those big final touchdowns against Texas, Florida and Alabama, I would have thought they were dreaming. Sure, I go into every season hoping LSU will play well and have a big year–I always hope for the best–but this season? Never would have dared hope that it would turn out like this. I was excited for Joe Burrow last year when he transferred in, but there was also that element of well, he couldn’t get the starting job at Ohio State–and much as I enjoyed watching him play, Danny Etling was also a transfer quarterback and while he did win some big games (who can ever forget that insane upset of Auburn in Tiger Stadium, coming after the embarrassing loss to Troy, when everyone wrote off not only LSU but predicted Coach O would be fired at the end of the season? I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Danny Etling), it wasn’t like he lit up the record books…and he couldn’t beat Alabama.
And after last year’s Alabama game, I certainly never dared to hope LSU would beat them this year. But they did, and it was a thriller of a game, an absolute classic. (I may have told Paul to replay the game when I am on my deathbed, so I can die happy.)
And yes, I am aware that I might take LSU football a little too seriously.
But what a season. I was checking some notes yesterday, and came up with these incredible moments:
*LSU has actually only trailed four opponents during the course of this season: they trailed against Florida 28-21 in the third quarter, only to win 42-28, including a goal line stand at the end of the game when it really didn’t matter if the Gators scored;
*LSU trailed Texas 7-3 in the first quarter, but took the lead back at 10-7; in fact, with 1:30 left in the first half LSU kicked a field goal to go up 13-7…but the halftime score was LSU 20, Texas 7. Texas would close the gap to two points twice in the second half, but the famous 3rd-and-17 touchdown pass slammed the door shut once and for all on the Longhorns;
*Vanderbilt scored first, but by the end of the first quarter LSU was up 28-7.
*LSU trailed Auburn 3-0 early before going up 7-3 and later, 10-3. Auburn scored to tie it at 10-10, but LSU never trailed again;
*With five minutes left in the first half the Tigers kicked a field goal to go up 19-13 on Alabama; the half time score was 33-13. Alabama never lead, the score was never tied, and Alabama was never able to pull close than five points the rest of the game. The third quarter was all Alabama, and they made the score 33-27 with fourteen minutes left in the game–the set-up for another one of Alabama’s come-from-behind wins. Joe then took the Tigers 75 yards, making at least three conversions on third downs to go up 39-27–and when the Tide scored again, Joe took them another 75 yards to put the final nail in the coffin with less than two minutes left in the game;
*Vanderbilt scored first, but by the end of the first quarter LSU was up 28-7.
*Also worthy of mention in the Texas game: Texas had 1st and goal and was stopped four straight times. LSU took over on downs. On the first play Joe threw one of his few interceptions; Texas had first and goal inside the five. LSU’s defense again stopped them four times–so that was eight consecutive stops inside the ten. Amazing.
*In the SEC title game, the score at half-time was 17-3. In a three minute flurry in the second half, LSU went ahead 34-3 before Georgia scored again.
It’s really been a magical, wondrous season to watch and enjoy; there have been so many times where all I’ve been able to say it “OH MY GOD” as I watched–the most recent, of course, that insane play where Joe avoided three tacklers and launched a pass that went for 71 yards….while running to the sideline.
There have been so many great moments this season.
And I haven’t even talked about the great story behind this season either: the coach no one wanted; the third string quarterback who left his original school so he could get a chance to play; the running back everyone thought was too short to play college ball; the linemen no one wanted; the receiver who was too skinny–they all came together in Tiger Stadium to create one of the greatest teams in the already storied history of LSU football.
I am so thrilled I got to see them play in person twice–the Georgia Southern game, and one of the greatest experiences of my life–the Florida game.
Thank you, Joe, Coach O, and everyone else on the team from the bottom of my heart.