When Bleacher Report’s Alabama Featured Columnist John Fravel asked me to join him at the LSU-Alabama game this weekend, I have to admit I thought I was being punk’d.
When I realized that he was just being a really nice guy, I thought, "Well, this is great; I get to talk my wife (that was fun) into letting me off the hook"—in my part of playing host to the 60 women coming to my house for a baby shower on Saturday.
With short notice and my wife unable to join me, I offered the other ticket to a friend that happens to be a huge Tennessee fan.
A Volunteer and a Tiger traveling 500 miles (from Charlotte, NC) to Tuscaloosa for an Alabama game—what could go wrong?
I lived in Birmingham, AL in the late '90s, and there was this one section of town that kind of scared me—somehow that’s where the Volunteer wound up finding us "luxurious" accommodations.
Well, I’m sure they were luxurious back in the 1930s when that particular roadside motel was erected, but today it’s the kind of place they rent by the hour. Thankfully it did have a clean hot shower.
Normally my wife helps me pack when I do any traveling, which is great because she is far less forgetful than I. Apparently the Volunteer is in the same boat because we both forgot to pack deodorant!
This would prove to be more of an issue for our gracious host and his lovely wife, though they never complained.
It’s probably what they expected from an old corn dog and a Rocky Top boy—they’re just lucky it wasn’t a very hot day.
Once we made it to Tuscaloosa and found the largest, loudest, and, by 10 am standards, most “festive” group of LSU fans we could locate, we started enjoying a little libation.
As we started partying with the "Louisiana Hot Sauce" crowd, I ran into the little brother of a childhood buddy, and he caught me up on the last 25 years of neighborhood gossip.
That was cool. What wasn’t cool was the idea he and I hatched that my Volunteer buddy should not be in neutral colors for the game.
He (the Vol) warned us that the football gods would not be favorable toward us if he donned the purple and gold.
Nonetheless, he proved to be a mere mortal and offered little resistance when the two "Hot Sauce" Honeys that we dispatched arrived to request he change his attire.
Under normal circumstances I would have known better—friends just don’t let friends MIX FAN.
We made our way to "the quad" somewhere near the clock tower they call "Denny Chimes"—don’t ask me for directions, for as you’ll read "after the game," we didn’t pay "strict" attention to where we parked.
(For future game-day travelers to Tuscaloosa, let me suggest you employ another strategy!)
In any event, I must give a good ole Cajun shout-out to John Fravel’s tailgating crew, the Tipsy Tiders.
The "Cajun Pistol Pockets," deep fried by John Philip Troha, were the best thing I’ve eaten at an opposing tailgate, probably ever. Jamey Cather’s grilled Bratwurst and burgers weren’t too bad either!
Thanks to all for the wonderful Southern hospitality.
The first half was exactly what I expected: a hard-hitting, defense-dominated, low-scoring battle royal.
LSU took the early lead on an impressive drive led by Jordan Jefferson and Charles Scott that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown reception by Deangelo Peterson—his career first.
Alabama was able to cut the lead to four on a 28-yard field goal by Leigh Tiffin and was driving later in the half in an attempt to take the lead before halftime.
A Greg McElroy pass, intended for TE Colin Peak, was intercepted by LB Kelvin Sheppard inside the red zone, allowing LSU to run out the clock, securing the 7-3 halftime lead.
Nick Saban committed his team to the swift and powerful feet of Heisman hopeful (front-runner in my opinion) RB Mark Ingram, who led the charge to open the second half (and for the rest of the game to finish with 144 yards—106 in the second half) and set up a go-ahead touchdown.
After a beautiful "Hat sighting"—a fourth-down conversion attempt that was completed to WR R.J. Jackson—was negated by a procedural penalty, LSU punted from midfield and downed the ball one inch from the goal line.
The Tiger defense once again shined as DT Drake Nevis came through the right side of the line and wrapped up McElroy, who was charged with intentional grounding in the end zone to give LSU a safety that brought the lead down to one at 10-9 in favor of the Crimson Tide.
At this point the injuries had really started to mount, as starting QB Jefferson joined Ciron Black and Patrick Peterson (who would return to be re-injured at least twice more before the game’s end) on the sideline. By game's end no less than seven starters had missed action due to injuries.
Led by sophomore backup QB Jarrett Lee and a phenomenal 34-yard run by Charles Scott—which ended when two Alabama defenders pancake-tackled him at their 49-yard line and (possibly according to some reports) broke his collarbone, likely ending his season—the Tigers retook the lead when Scott’s backup Stephen Ridley broke several tackles on a dive turned end-around for an eight yard touchdown.
The failed two-point conversion attempt left the score at 15-10.
It was all Alabama from there, though the Tigers had their chances.
Julio Jones’ 73-yard (most of it came from a yards-after-catch track meet with the Tigers' banged-up secondary) touchdown put the Tide back out front and turned the momentum of the game permanently to Alabama’s side.
A field goal later in the fourth quarter would put the game away and end the Tigers’ national championship hopes.
No. 2 Alabama 24 - No. 8 LSU 15
You may have noticed from my game summary that I did not mention any excuses, bad calls, or blatant blunders by officials to blame the loss on. I blame the loss on several self-inflicted mistakes and a pretty darn good Crimson Tide football team.
Having said that: Can the most successful, wealthiest, and arguably most powerful conference in CFB please go ahead and hire some decent officials?
Or at least train the ones they have for the love of all that is good and pure!!!!!
Well into the first quarter, there was a call that Alabama wanted (and probably rightly so) to challenge. The play was not reviewed, not because it wasn’t reviewable, but because the replay booth wasn’t "working"—what the heck?
Later, with under six minutes to play in the game and the Tigers down by six, Patrick Peterson appeared to intercept a McElroy pass near the Tigers’ sideline.
With neither of the two officials—who were looking right at the play—willing to make a definitive call, they ruled it incomplete and immediately sent it up to the replay booth.
Apparently it still wasn’t "working," as replays from every angle clearly showed that Peterson got not one but both feet inbounds while controlling the football—yet the incompletion call was upheld, and the Tigers' ability to win the game ended when Alabama capped that drive with a game-clinching field goal.
I’m not big on conspiracy theory, and I don’t believe there is a clandestine plan to ensure a Florida-Alabama rematch in the SEC Championship game, though both teams have had more help than they really need in remaining unbeaten.
What I do believe is that the SEC has surpassed the Pac-10 in pathetic officiating, and it is inexcusable. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive can fine Urban Meyer and threaten to suspend Lane Kiffin all he wants, but I would think a better strategy would be to fix this.
It has gotten utterly ridiculous!
I must admit, with exception given to the tasteless and tacky "we beat the hell out of you" chant, the Alabama crowd was very gracious both before and after the game.
I’m assuming the directions we were given by various locals weren’t "intended" to send us twice around the stadium and for a good two miles of extra hiking to find our vehicle.
Nonetheless, we finally found the ride and said goodbye, none too soon, to TTown, Alabama.
My Volunteer buddy, who I’m still blaming for all of this, saw me "catching up" with my old neighborhood crowd and cut himself off after only two beers, realizing that I would probably not be a good choice to drive us home after the game.
That was a wise choice as I slept (medically referred to as "experienced a coma") from Tuscaloosa, Alabama all the way to Augusta, Georgia.
I regained consciousness as the Georgia State Patrolman asked the Volunteer to step to the back of the vehicle for a field sobriety test. It seems he smelled (my previously consumed) bourbon in the vehicle.
After demonstrating his sobriety and blowing a 0.00 in the breathalyzamagig, my buddy told me he was pulled over for swerving when he was trying to wrest his iPod from my grasp—not sure why I started clutching it, but everything was fine once we got back on the road.
As he had been driving for over five hours and I was suddenly (after a large waffle house coffee) bright-eyed and—pardon the future pun—bushy-tailed, we decided it was my turn to drive.
About 50 miles west of Columbia, SC and one mile from the last exit for about 25 miles, Bambi—more likely Bambi’s huge older brother with at least eight point antlers—bounded from the median directly in front of our vehicle.
I had less than a split second to react, and all I could do was tighten my grip on the steering wheel as we plowed into the animal.
The speed limit on that particular stretch of highway is 70 miles an hour, so of course I was only doing 69, though it felt like 80 to 85.
Really my only other option would have been to try to ditch the vehicle, which more than likely would have killed us all, including the deer. (So please, no PETA march—I chose human life over an animal, but the deer was a goner either way.)
In retrospect, the Volunteer and I are fortunate it wasn’t a lot worse, and for whatever reason the air bag did not deploy, even though the indicator light proclaiming its use did.
When the wrecker service showed up to claim the vehicle, we met "Freakshow" (pictured) from Harold and Kumar’s trip to White Castle.
Instead of hitching a ride with the demolished deer destroyer and Freakshow, we hiked down the road to yet another seedy motel.
I thank God we finally were able to finish the long ride home when the Volunteer’s wife (she wanted me to describe her as toned, tanned, and incredibly hot—for having two kids and pushing 40, it’s not a stretch) picked us up on Sunday.
In the end, let this be a cautionary tale: While any good college football game is worth a trip, no matter what the final score is—friends just don’t let friends mix their fanhood!
I apologize to the football gods and Tiger Nation for allowing a Volunteer to don the purple and gold. It’ll never happen again—at least not on my watch!
By Henry Ball (a.k.a. Southern Man, CFB Czar), Featured Columnist and Syndicated Writer