ENGSTER: Favor Repaid

It took nearly 42 years, but Arkansas has finally exacted its pound of flesh for LSU's 14-7 Cotton Bowl victory over the Razorbacks on Jan. 1, 1966.

The Hogs were ranked No. 1 in America and boasted a 22-game winning streak as Frank Broyles prepared the Porkers for the date in Dallas with Charles McClendon's 7-3 Tigers. Mac stunned Arkansas with a win that deprived the Hogs of the national championship.

The parallels between then and now are notable. This time, it was LSU perched atop every national poll as the Tigers and Razorbacks took the field on Nov. 23 in Baton Rouge. It was Houston Nutt's Hogs who were two-touchdown underdogs, as LSU was in 1966.

Darren McFadden and Casey Dick conjured up images of Joe Labruzzo and Pat Screen as Arkansas won for their underappreciated coach. Like McClendon in '66, Houston Dale Nutt Jr. won't need much time to ponder any inquiry about his biggest victory.

On a postcard afternoon in Tiger Stadium, the stage belonged to No. 5. The kid from North Little Rock dashed, darted and danced to 206 yards as D-Mac dominated a 50-48 triple-overtime thriller a stone's throw from the PMAC.

McFadden fumbled the first two times he touched the ball last Friday, but Arkansas recovered from a shaky start and a 6-0 deficit. The only turnovers in the epic battle occurred on the first and last plays of the marathon – McFadden's fumble on the opening kickoff and Matt Flynn's interception in the third overtime.

Due to weird SEC scheduling, LSU fans were deprived of seeing Hershel Walker and Bo Jackson run against the Tigers. But fans will recall McFadden with the same tormented feelings that Emmitt Smith elicited during his three years at Florida.

By the time Emmitt retired from the NFL 15 years after leaving Gainesville, he had rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns. McFadden is good enough to rival those marks if he stays healthy as a professional.

McFadden will quite likely finish second to Tim Tebow of Florida in the Heisman balloting. But no player ranks ahead of the man with his area code of 501 tattooed to his bicep as an NFL prospect.

Ironically, McFadden is destined to become a Miami Dolphin. Nick Saban left behind the worst team in the league when he suddenly decided red was his favorite color last December. The Dolphins' reward for Saban leaving the cupboard bare will be the first choice in the 2008 draft. Perhaps visions of coaching D-Mac will lure Saban back to his estate in Fort Lauderdale and off the Titanic in Tuscaloosa.

Saban closed his first season at Alabama by losing his last four games. The Tide went 6-6 in Nick Lou's rookie campaign. By contrast, Les Miles is 32-6 in three years at LSU. A 26-game winning streak will get Saban even with Miles.

In the 115-year history of LSU football, only nine teams (1908, 1958, 1961, 1987, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007) have won 10 games in a season. Three of those units were directed by Miles, who must beat Tennessee to join five of his predecessors (Bernie Moore, Paul Dietzel, McClendon, Mike Archer and Saban) as SEC Championship winners.

If Miles moves to Michigan, he will keep a torrent of memories of his last stand at Tiger Stadium. An emotional pre-game ceremony was highlighted by the last run through the goal posts by Glenn Dorsey – perhaps the finest defender produced by a school with a galaxy of talented predecessors.

Shortly before Dorsey trotted onto the field, his fellow senior, and gifted linebacker, Arlington "Ali" Highsmith was greeted by his parents, Elvis and Venus. They sent their son from Miami to Baton Rouge and never looked back, and their smiles were as crisp as the cool autumn breeze permeating the rafters of Death Valley.

Despite Saban's prowess in recruiting, he never tried to snare D-Mac, who was terrorizing Arkansas prep competition in 1984 at Pulaski Oak Grove High School. McFadden, who was a Parade All-America standout, made just one visit to a university and committed to the Hogs prior to his senior season when was only 16 years old. For this accomplishment alone, Nutt should retain his job at Fayetteville.

McFadden stands to make his NFL debut at age 20, and the coach of LSU next season will be elated that D-Mac is nowhere to be found in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock the day after Thanksgiving of 2008. "He's going to play in the NFL a long, long time," Miles said with admiration after witnessing a Herculean performance from the best player in the land.

Miles made the comment with relief that McFadden would not be on his date card … wherever the winds of fate take Miles in 2008.


Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and Tiger Rag. Reach him at jim@la-net.net.

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