2008 Allstate BCS National Championship
The whoop of Les Miles interrupted what had been a quiet, polite, press conference with the normally soft-spoken LSU coach reflecting on his good fortune of leading his bunch of football warriors.
In the middle of those introspective thoughts, Miles paused, and then gave out his bellow. "Excuse me. Just kind of had to do that,'' he said, "just one of those things.''
Exorcising his emotions was understandable. His Tigers had just earned LSU's second BCS championship trophy in four years, putting an end to a roller-coaster season of blowbacks, comebacks and setbacks, a season in which the sometimes under-appreciated Miles coached the Tigers to victories against five teams ranked in the final Top 15, and, in the process of fighting severe injuries and outside distractions, defeated five coaches with national championship resumes: South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Florida's Urban Meyer, Alabama's Nick Saban, Tennessee's Phil Fulmer, and, now, Ohio State's Jim Tressel.
That took some doing, which eventually, after the Tigers' not-as-close-as-the-final-score 38-24 victory over Ohio State, made LSU the first two-game losing champion since Minnesota in 1960. Thinking back on it from his spot on the post-game podium, Miles mused of his team of domination, dramatics and second chances, "It was like divine intervention.''
To the Ohio State players, early in the game, it seemed like divine guidance. Sophomore tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells broke loose for a 65-yard touchdown on the Buckeyes' first possession. On Ohio State's second series, backup running back Brandon Saine found himself free, courtesy of broke coverage, and caught a 44-yard pass to the LSU 15. Three plays later, junior kicker Ryan Pretorius kicked a 25-yard field goal.
Things had to look easy at this point for Ohio State, seeing as how the Buckeyes gave up just a nation-leading average of 10.0 points per game. This one, to some, must have seemed over.
Think again. LSU had been down by 10 against three other opponents (Florida, Auburn, Alabama) and won them all. "The coaches sat us down and reminded us we've been in big games before,'' said sophomore offensive tackle Ciron Black. "That we've been down before, to just focus and play like we know how to play.''
From the point of that 10-point deficit, with 9:12 left in the first quarter, LSU proceeded to control the ball, running 36 of the next 55 plays, converting eight of its next nine third downs and stopping Ohio State on four of its next five.
The Tiger rally began with senior quarterback Matt Flynn leading LSU on a 10-play drive to set up junior kicker Colt David's 32-yard field goal. The Tigers were showing some signs of life.
Flynn then drove his team 84 yards - thanks in large measure to two personal fouls on the Buckeyes - to a tying touchdown. Flynn saw Ohio State preoccupied with four LSU receivers bunched to the right and took a quick snap and hit tight end Richard Dickson for a 13-yard score.
With the score evened, the stage was set for a second quarter 21-0 point eruption the likes of which the defensive stalwart Buckeyes couldn't have imagined.
Things conceivably might have been altered, but for the biggest play of the night - by the most unlikely player, but fittingly, considering this unconventional season.
Ohio State drove back to the LSU 21 to line up for a 38-yard Pretorius field goal. Suspecting a fake, Ricky Jean-Francois hesitated a nanosecond and then roared in, throwing aside a Buckeye lineman, and getting a hand on the ball. Junior linebacker Darry Beckwith fell on it at the 34. LSU then drove to the go-ahead touchdown - which would never be relinquished - a 10-yard pass from Flynn to sophomore receiver Brandon LaFell.
"They were in position to add three points,'' Miles said, "and instead we get the short field and come back to get seven. That was really a big play.''
LSU ended up scoring 31 straight points, with a four-yard Flynn pass to senior wide receiver Early Doucet early in the third quarter. This game seemed over, and it was, though both teams would trade meaningless touchdowns down the stretch.
As purple-and-gold confetti rained down on the field at game's end, it was left to LSU senior defensive end Kirston Pittman to put everything into perspective: "We're a team of fight, a team of destiny,'' he said. "There were people who didn't think we belonged here . . .'' Then a big roar went up as Jean-Francois, the game's defensive MVP, held aloft the Waterford symbol of the BCS Championship, and Pittman finished, "But you see who's holding up the crystal trophy now.''
The only bigger winner of the postseason was the Sugar Bowl, which pulled off its two games in championship fashion, gaining kudos and accolades from across the sporting world.
Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.