ENGSTER: Winning in Tuscaloosa

Les Miles checked out of Tuscaloosa with the win that was a necessity to stay in good graces with LSU fans. Nick Saban's most prominent accomplishment at TigerTown wasn't the shared 2003 national title with USC. It was his 4-1 record vs. Alabama.

By virtue of Saturday's 16-13 overtime decision over the Crimson Tide is LSU is 5-1 vs. the Crimson Tide since 2000. In the 90's, the Tigers were 2-8 vs. the Red Elephants; the 80's produced a 4-5-1 record against ‘Bama; the 70's saw LSU go 1-9 vs. the Tide; LSU went 1-5 against Bama in the ‘60s.

LSU started playing Alabama yearly in 1964, and the first 36 encounters of the annual meeting of SEC titans left LSU with an 8-27-1 mark against its vaunted rival. Saban changed the pattern with his only loss to Alabama coming in a 31-0 debacle at Death Valley in 2002 against a miffed Dennis Franchione.

Bear Bryant rolled to a 16-3 advantage over LSU from 1964-82; Since the Bear's retirement and death, the Tigers have played the Tide to a near draw, going 10-12-1 against a team and program, which was the envy of the nation during the 25-year reign of the Bear.

The victory at Tuscaloosa solidifies LSU's current superiority over Alabama, and the men from the Heart of Dixie could be sucking wind against their Bayou State neighbors for years go come. There is a certain irony to the outcome of Saturday's clash at Bryant-Denny. LSU prevails with a black quarterback from Alabama throwing the winning score a few yards from the site where Gov. George Wallace bellowed his support for "segregation forever" more than 40 years ago.

LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe is attempting to extinguish unrest on the campus of the Ole War Skule due to ignorant displays of purple and gold Confederate flags, and Alabama faces a constant battle against its segregationist past. Both schools must bury the racism of yesteryear to thrive in all athletic and academic endeavors.

The Bear integrated his team after USC's Sam Cunningham tore the Tide defense apart in 1970. Allen Barra notes in "The Last Coach" that Bryant was ahead of his time in many ways, but he took his time before giving black athletes the opportunity to wear the crimson jerseys of their state university.

The tough guy from Moro Bottom, Arkansas was a study in contradictions. Bryant had a face lift in his late 60's and regularly read columns penned by Ann Landers to his players.

Saban can certainly relate to Bryant's belief in his personal appearance making a statement, and Miles mixes strength with empathy in his relations with his athletes.

LSU has had nine head coaches since Charles McClendon's unceremonious departure in 1979. Miles has shown he can withstand pressure and fight back. It appears he could be seeing a lot of Bama counterpart Mike Shula in the next decade or so. Shula is the Tide's seventh coach since 1983. He is now 0-3 vs. LSU and may face the McClendon syndrome in reverse.

Charlie Mac held his own against everybody but Bryant and Alabama. McClendon won 70 percent of his games, but as 2-14 against the Tide. Someday, fans in Tuscaloosa may lament the fact that Shula can beat everybody but LSU. Times have indeed changed.

Bryant not only dominated LSU when he was boss man at Bama, but he was also 4-1-1 vs. the Tigers when he was head coach at Kentucky from 1946 to 1953 and at Texas A&M from 1954-57. There will never be another mentor like him, and Shula must do his best to succeed in a land where memories of the Bear have gained legendary status since his passing on Jan. 26, 1983.

Miles must capture an NCAA title to put the ghost of Saban to rest at LSU. That will be a much easier task than conquering the obstacles Shula faces at Alabama. He must do the impossible. Stare down the shadow the Bear while also being measured by the standard Bryant created.

Watching Steve Spurrier whip Florida by a 30-22 count at Columbia, S.C. Saturday was surreal. Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy at Gainesville in 1966 and led the Gators to unprecedented heights from 1990-2001, posting a 122-27-1 record at the Swamp.

His legacy is enhanced by his performance in his rookie year at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 5-3 in the SEC and have wins over Florida and Tennessee and a near miss against Georgia. Spurrier has lots of games left at age 59.

Ironically, LSU has twice had the opportunity to hire Spurrier. He was available in 1986 when Bill Arnsparger moved to Florida, but Chancellor James Wharton opted for Mike Archer. If Saban had defected to the Dolphins a month earlier last year, Spurrier quite possibly would have been hired at LSU.

Les Miles has the look of a winner, but the leader at South Carolina is the closest modern day approximation to Bear Bryant. Spurrier went 20-13-1 from 1987-89 at Duke. In the 15 years after his departure at Durham, the Blue Devils were 42-126-1. In the 15 years before Spurrier took the Duke job, the Blue Devils were 60-100-5.

It's hard to chalk off his record at three different college venues as the product of luck.

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