Another Game of the Century awaits Saturday in Tuscaloosa between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama. It’s the third time the programs collide as the nation’s top-ranked teams — the most in college football history.
The series is marked by long stretches of dominance, mostly by the team with numbers on its helmets, not Bengal tigers. Rare is the span when LSU and Alabama trade wins on a consistent basis.
In fact, the last time these teams alternated wins and losses with any consistency was some 30+ years ago, when my idol Ronald Reagan was president.
As a lifelong (and, some might say, rabid) LSU fan, I’ve witnessed firsthand Bama’s superiority over LSU through most of the 1980’s, the 1990’s, LSU clawing its way back into the rivalry in the 2000’s and, more recently, the Tide’s utter dominance.
By “utter dominance,” I mean this: an Alabama win Saturday would be its ninth consecutive over LSU.
“Nine times,” as my old high school principal, Ed Rooney, would say.
But before the Tide goes all Ed Rooney on the Tigers, and to set the stage for what’s at stake Saturday, the series’ pendulum shifts in the modern age merit brief consideration.
The 90’s saw Alabama win 8 of 10 in the decade, including the 1997 matchup between No. 10 Alabama and No. 11 LSU in Baton Rouge. I was there and, to this day, am haunted by visions of Bama RB Shaun Alexander running wild on the Death Valley turf for a school-record 291 yards and four touchdowns en route to a 26–0 victory.
The ’90’s faded and the balance of power shifted from Alabama to LSU, finally, thanks to key head coaching hires on both sides.
LSU brought in a guy named Nick Saban and, in 2000, all he did was notch the Tigers’ first win over Alabama in Baton Rouge since 1969. 19 freakin’ 69!
As monumental as Saban’s hire was for LSU, Alabama had entered its glorious Reign of Mikes by hiring Mike DuBose. It is the Reign of Mikes because, for a solid decade, dudes named Mike coached or thought they’d coach Alabama — Mike DuBose, Mike Price, and Mike Shula (the only exception being that cheeseball Dennis Francione for two years during the Reign of Mikes).
Alabama’s all-time low or, high, depending on your view, involved Mike Price. Hired in late 2002, Price never coached a game for the Tide. He was fired a few months into his tenure for reportedly engaging in shenanigans at a Pensacola strip club while in town for a pro-am appearance at a golf tournament.
The strip club was Arety’s Angel’s and one of the ladies Price was reported to have interacted with there went by the name Destiny Boudreaux.
Needless to say, for LSU fans and the rest of the SEC generally, the Reign of Mikes was real, and it was spectacular. From 1997 to 2011, LSU posted a 10-5 record against the Tide, a mark any sane Tiger fan — if such a person exists — would gladly accept over any time period.
Sadly, all good things must end, as they say, and the Reign of Mikes was no exception. It ended when Nick Saban, of all people, was hired by Alabama after a brief and unpleasant stint in the NFL.
LSU mostly held its own against Alabama for a few years as Saban regained his collegiate footing and set about laying the groundwork for his prolific success.
The rivalry’s modern persona then took hold, marked by the most talented athletes in college football. Massive, fast young men hitting each other with brute force, future NFL stars littered all over the field every time Alabama and LSU suited up.
I was there in Tuscaloosa in 2011 for the first Game of the Century, a 9-6 LSU overtime win.
It’s the last time LSU beat Alabama.
I was also there in New Orleans two months later in January 2012 when the teams met in a rematch to decide the national championship.
Bama hit LSU hard on the opening kickoff, dominated the game, and hasn’t looked back since, the balance of power set firmly in Tuscaloosa as Nick Saban adapted to the game’s modern style while former LSU coach Les Miles kept the Tigers in the stone age offensively.
This year, however, feels different, and the balance of power once again seems in play.
It feels different because LSU head coach Ed Orgeron — the barrel-chested, gravel-voiced Cajun, the man whose only prior head coaching stint was a total disaster at Ole Miss — has transformed LSU’s offense into an explosive, pass-happy attack.
It feels different because in Joe Burrow, LSU has a quarterback for the first time in years.
It feels different because the Tide doesn’t seem quite as Tide-like.
It feels different because of what’s at stake: only the SEC West, the SEC Championship, the College Football Playoff, the Heisman Trophy, and the balance of power in the nation’s most powerful conference.
What doesn’t feel different, of course, is the head honcho on the Alabama sideline, his unmatched intensity, attention to detail, and relentless focus. Saban’s mere presence could help Alabama maintain the balance of power with a ninth consecutive win over his former team.
Nine times. Oh, how we long for the return of the Reign of Mikes.
Speaking of, where’s Mike Price when you need him? Quick, someone call Arety’s Angels!