TSD is taking a look back at the 2013-14 academic calendar year in LSU sports.
There were countless exciting plays, games and moments, and even a few heartfelt ones, but as always some stood out above the rest. This week I'm rolling out the five most memorable moments from this beat writer's vantage point. (They will all come from the football and basketball programs as those are the two beats I cover.)
For those curious the only criterion used in my selection was "Which moments will I remember most vividly, as if they had just occurred, 10 years from now?" I have not ranked them, so they appear in no particular order.
** You can also share your favorite moment from Tiger athletics in 2013-14 on TSD. Send a brief email with your name, hometown and favorite moment to ben85L@yahoo.com. We'll run our collection of fan responses in a free story on the site next week. Limit one moment/email, please.
LSU BATS .400 ON EERIE NIGHT IN ST. PETE
Ironically this event didn't feature a single LSU athlete, coach or team at the time, but that doesn't negate the fact that the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game on January 2 was one of the most anticipated happenings across the Tiger sports landscape in the past nine months.
Played in the home of the Tampa Bay Rays, Tropicana Field, the high school all-star game held in its hands – and drawn-out live television broadcast – LSU's fate with five of the most recruited players in the Southeast and throughout the country. The quintet of five-star announcements made the Tigers far and away the program with the most to gain or lose on the evening.
Three of the prospects with LSU as a finalist hailed from Louisiana, specifically the New Orleans area, in St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette and the Karr duo of athlete Devante Noil ("Speedy") and defensive lineman Gerald Willis. The other two – safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tony Brown, both from Texas – figured to be the tandem that would help reestablish DBU in Baton Rouge for years to come.
However, as we all quickly learned, figuring or counting eggs before they hatched in any capacity was a poor idea.
It's important to remember at this juncture the absurd magnitude of the game (which is comical given how much of a consolation the actual on-field contest is). So hyped was this moment in LSU recruiting for so long that most fans were more excited about watching the meat market explosion than the Tigers' bowl game, which was played less than 22 miles away the day before at Raymond James Stadium.
On that rainy New Year's Day, LSU raced out to a 14-0 lead over Iowa before hanging on for a 21-14 win over the Hawkeyes in a game that felt quite Big Ten from wire to wire. Even before that game, though, both Les Miles and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz acknowledged the Under Armour-clad elephant in the room, something I've never seen in the days leading up to a bowl game.
Said Miles: "We can't wait for January 2nd. I'll probably have some popcorn and be television-side. I may also have some cell phones."
Countered Ferentz, who was clearly amused by the concept of watching high school kids announce on primetime television: "Our best players typically develop during the course of their careers. We don't get all the six-star recruits."
Fast-forward back to the Trop, and not long after the "game" started the real action broke out on the infamous podium, well lit and positioned in makeshift bleachers smack-dab in the middle of left-centerfield.
First up to the podium, at least of LSU interest, was Noil, who is actually kin to Tiger recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson. Noil dashed purple-and-gold dreams by choosing Texas A&M, swiftly and succinctly putting to bed rumblings that LSU would go 5-for-5 on the night.
Next up was Adams, who had the least ties to LSU of any of the five. The Lewisville, Tex., native actually is the godson of Florida recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips. Still, Adams gave hope to Tiger faithful by committing to LSU, something he did in style by bringing his niece into the fold on national television.
Mixed up in all these important declarations was a football game, one I barely even watched from the press box and could hardly tell you who performed well, poorly, scored touchdowns or any of that. That action was so secondary to what was transpiring on the podium, and for LSU that part was about to take a decided freefall.
Within a span of 30 minutes Willis, the second Karr product to the mic, spurned home-state LSU for Florida (which had a head coach in Will Muschamp whose job was thought to be in jeopardy at the time), followed by Brown opting for Alabama over LSU (a decision Brown said he made partly due to the Tide's track program, something that drew laughter among savvy beat writers).
But, if you were covering the LSU side like me, the laughter was short-lived. Message boards, Twitter, your phone and basically anything electronic Tiger supporters had access to began to melt down. Like completely. In the eyes of the fans it was a complete debacle as visions of 5-for-5 were currently sitting on 1-for-4.
To make matters worse, there was a rumor as far-fetched as any I've ever heard circulating amongst reporters about the last recruit to the plate for LSU – Fournette. The coveted jewel of the Tigers' 2014 class was supposedly heading to Texas, where he'd unite forces with Nick Saban, poised to take the job recently vacated by Mack Bown.
Here's the thing, though: As bizarre and asinine as that thread was, the previous events of the day made you question anything you thought you knew going in. Suddenly, in a frenzied environment, anything seemed possible.
And so, in the time between Brown's announcement and Fournette's, that notion was actually entertained. To say there was some tension during that stretch would be like saying Michael Jordan could kinda play basketball.
Common sense eventually won out as Fournette snapped everyone back into reality, committing to the "University of LSU."
I'm told there was more football played in the aftermath of Buga Nation's turn at the podium, but again, I don't remember it and couldn't tell you about it. Never in my life have I attended a game that meant so little, but still meant so much at the same time.
LSU's signing class would end with a flurry as the Tigers picked up several elite defensive tackles and one of the nation's top receivers close to or on National Signing Day, February 5. I wrote about that fantastic finish in this column.
Ten years from now, however, that's not what I'll remember. The memory of that night in St. Petersburg – where hype, deceit and innuendo blended together to literally blur my grasp on reality – is what will stick with me.
Just thinking about it again actually stressed me out a little.