Read: Part 1
The Florida Game
It was that big.
It became the toughest ticket in the history of Tiger Stadium.
In some circles it has even been called the best college football game of the decade.
Even Mike VI made his Death Valley debut for this one.
First of all, this was not just about 2007. One season earlier, it was the LSU-Florida winner–namely the Gators–that would largely determine who Oklahoma’s opponent would be in the 2006 BCS National Championship game.
Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, and Florida, of course, won that championship, and LSU was left with the consolation prize of a Sugar Bowl trouncing of Notre Dame, a No. 3 national ranking, and the distinction of being one of the best Tiger football teams ever despite not having won any of the division, conference, or national championships.
So there was more than just this year’s championship chase on the line on October 6, 2007. There was a sense of reconciliation with a game and national championship the Tigers felt like they missed out on the year before.
One of those scores to settle was with Mr. Tebow. It did not go unnoticed by Tiger players and fans that he took it upon himself to become The Swamp’s biggest cheerleader in celebrating touchdowns in the 2006 game, or any game, for that matter.
So the LSU student body, if you remember, welcomed Tebow to Tiger Stadium by somehow getting his cell phone number and sending him hundreds of texts and messages the week leading up to the game. Things like where to get a good catfish dinner or find the best churches in Baton Rouge, for sure.
The game was so big that both the CBS Early Show and ESPN College Game Day staged their programs on the LSU campus. It was the second time already in 2007 that Game Day set up shop in Baton Rouge.
LSU. No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time since 1959.
Florida. Defending national champions. With a quarterback so easy to hate.
Tiger fans were perhaps ready for a coronation instead of a war.
But you may remember that it was the Gators who looked like kings in controlling most of the game. You may even remember thinking there was no way LSU could overcome Tebow, who was unstoppable in his first true road test as a starter.
He made sure to let the LSU student body know what he thought of their little week-long prank too. After scoring to put the Gators up 10-0, you may remember him gesturing to the fans as if he had a cell phone, mouthing the words, “Call me.”
It was the first of three separate times in which the Gators held a 10-point lead. This game just didn’t seem winnable.
Especially after Tebow and Florida, after the crowd had just gone bonkers when they heard from the public address announcer that the coaches’ poll’s top-ranked team, USC, had just been upset by Stanford, and after LSU scored to grind to within three at 17-14, took all of three plays to carve up the LSU defense and score yet again.
You may remember thinking this game wasn’t winnable when usually reliable Colt David missed two field goals of 43 and 37 yards, one that could have pulled the Tigers to withing seven at 24-17. Surely that second miss was the clincher for pessimistic Tiger fans absolutely sure that their team would spend only one week as the nation’s top team in the AP poll, its first such ranking since a year after Billy Cannon’s Halloween run.
You may remember that the Tigers scored two touchdowns on fourth-down plays, another after pulling off a fake field goal, and yet another after having converted three fourth down plays previously on the drive.
If you know football you know based on just that how close LSU came to actually getting shut out in this game.
But you also know that that’s what made this game so great.
But even if you forget all of this, all the little details, there are two things — two men — you should remember even 40 years from now: Les Miles and Jacob Hester.
First of all, it took the head coach to actually make the call to go for it on fourth down five times in the game, including three times in an eight-minute, 15-play drive that spanned 60 yards that gave the Tigers their first lead of the game.
And it took Hester to keep converting each one by seemingly the nose of the football to make his coach a gambler and not a goat.
Miles even passed up a chip shot field goal from the Florida 6, putting the ball in Hester’s hands on fourth down one last time. The senior running back went easy on his coach a few plays later, when he scored the game winning points on third down.
You may remember thinking what Miles might have done had his bell cow not crossed the endzone on that third down play.
And you probably know the answer to that now.
“We pretty much knew it was going to be a chance to win the game,” Hester said. “Coach Miles said, ‘I believe in you. I don’t want a tie. I want to go out and win this thing.’ When your head coach has that kind of respect and trust in you, you want to prove something to him.”
“I gamble more than you think,” Miles said with a knowing grin on his face. “Their offense is a possession offense. … They keep the ball. We knew if we got some fourth-down opportunities, we knew were going to make those calls. We were going to make ’em. We just knew that.”
You may remember Florida players crying after the game, and Coach Urban Meyer calling the game “very frustrating.”
You may even remember that the Gators repaid LSU in a big way the next season in The Swamp after Meyer showed film of the 2007 game over and over to his players.
And that Florida took their turn in winning the 2008 national championship.
But on this night and for this year, it was LSU’s time. The coronation didn’t happen as Tiger fans had anticipated, but the crown most certainly followed the war. Greatest game of the decade? Hard to say. But the passion behind 2007 LSU-Florida is the reason the game of college football is played in the first place, for sure.
Check back this week for Part 3 of the series.