Chalk up another honor for the LSU football team and its fiery, gambling coach Les Miles.
This time it’s the Louisiana Sports Writers Association doing the honors — choosing Miles and his national championship team for the organization’s 2007 Headliner of the Year Award.
When Baton Rouge native Ron Higgins, president of the Football Writers Association of America, presented Miles with the FWAA national championship trophy during a recent celebration at Tiger Stadium, Higgins said Miles proved a nice guy can win the national championship.
Miles, however, does not completely endorse the “nice guy” label.
“I prefer nice guy, but tough football coach,” Miles said. His players would agree.
“He’s really just as tough as coach Saban on the field,” said tailback Jacob Hester, referring to Alabama coach Nick Saban, whom Miles replaced in 2005 when Saban went to the Miami Dolphins. “He’ll get on you, especially the offensive linemen. But you can go up and talk to him more easily.”
Miles started the 2007 off-season by calling out Alabama with an expletive at the Bayou Bash signing day party. He later apologized for his language. By July, he was poking fun at the Pacific-10 conference. As the season finally started, he was just getting warmed up.
The Tigers, who entered the season No. 2 in the nation to Pac-10 power Southern California, started out on fire, rolling by Mississippi State 45-0, No. 9 Virginia Tech 48-7, Middle Tennessee 44-0 and No. 12 South Carolina 28-16. Miles beat South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier at his own game by calling a fake field goal with holder Matt Flynn tossing a no-look lateral over his shoulder to kicker Colt David, who sprinted in for the touchdown. Spurrier nodded accordingly as if to say, “You got me.”
After struggling briefly with Tulane before winning 34-9, the Tigers moved to No. 1 in the nation in the Associated Press poll during a regular season for the first time since 1959.
Then Miles stepped into a phone booth — or a cellular store these days — and came out as the “Ohio Gambler”. Five times, “Vegas” Les went for it on fourth down, including another fake field goal, and made it five times in a thrilling 28-24 win over No. 9 Florida.
“I didn’t just go out and risk everything,” Miles said. “They were all calculated calls. We had good plays in mind. We didn’t just go for it.”
The nation began to notice Miles, Hester, who converted three of those fourth downs, and the Tigers, who went to No. 1 across the board. A setback followed at Kentucky in a 43-37 triple overtime loss when a fourth-and-2 failed.
But good fortune smiled on Miles and the Tigers a week later against Auburn when Flynn found Demetrius Byrd for the winning touchdown on a 22-yard pass play that ended with one second on the clock in a 30-24 victory. The Legend of Les grew.
A week later, LSU defeated Alabama’s Saban at his own game. With the score tied 34-34 and less than two minutes to play, Chad Jones’ safety blitz forced a fumble by Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson that the Tigers recovered at the Alabama 3. Moments later, Hester scored from the 1 for a 41-34 victory and an 8-1 record.
However, the magical season appeared over for some with a 50-48, triple overtime loss at home to Arkansas in the regular season finale the day after Thansgiving.
But Miles and his team had saved their best act for last.
The morning of Saturday, Dec. 1, was a dark one in the LSU Nation. But little did everyone know that a “perfect storm” was brewing.
That day, many thought the Tigers had only a Southeastern Conference title to play for when they were facing Tennessee in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. And on ESPN Game Day program that morning, Kirk Herbstreit reported that Miles would become head coach at his alma mater, Michigan, on Monday.
LSU, however, had struck a deal with Miles the night before and he agreed to stay. An announcement was forthcoming before the game with Miles set to discuss it more after the game against the Vols. Because of Herbstreit’s incorrect report, Miles had a rare pre-game news conference. And the rest is history.
“There was misinformation on ESPN, and I think it was imperative that I straighten it out,” Miles began. “I got a championship game to play. And I’m excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play. And it’s really all I’d like to say. Please ask me after. I’m busy. Thank you very much.
“Have a great day.”
Miles and his team went on to defeat Tennessee, 21-14, for the SEC title.
With LSU on the airplane ride home, the “perfect storm” hit: Oklahoma defeated top-ranked Missouri and lowly Pittsburgh stunned No. 2 West Virginia.
A day later, LSU rose from No. 7 to No. 2 in the BCS rankings, setting the stage for the national championship game against Ohio State in the Superdome, just 87 miles from Tiger Stadium.
The denouement had a rocky start as LSU trailed the Buckeyes 10-0 in the first quarter, but that proved to be a microcosm of the LSU season. The Tigers trailed South Carolina and Tulane early on before winning. They also trailed Florida, Auburn and Alabama by 10 points in the third period before victory.
“I think this team is full of grown men,” Flynn said. “Full of guys who’ve been there. Guys that never say quit. We’d been down by 10 before. We knew we’d come back.”
He was right. The Tigers scored 31 straight points en route to a 38-24 triumph.
Miles ended that night like a college kid, though, on a Bourbon Street balcony lifting the national championship trophy to the masses.
“This is our trophy,” Miles said at the Tiger Stadium celebration. “This is the state of Louisiana’s championship.” And he didn’t want it to stop.
“That trophy should be carried around the state like the Stanley Cup,” he said.
What an awesome season! The Championship Celebration was a lot of fun, despite the cold weather... it was definitely worth going to cheer on those guys one last time! Congratulations, Tigers!
Incidentally, more former LSU players will play in Super Bowl XLII than any other college! Now, that's saying something! With LSU's 5 players, that totals 20 former SEC players in this Sunday's match-up!