In the eight years since that inaugural “Game of the Century” between LSU and Alabama, former Tigers center T-Bob Hebert has found the joy of important personal milestones in his life.
But from an athletic standpoint, no game he ever played could top that immense showdown on that chilly November night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“I’ll never forget the juice in the air,” said Hebert, now co-host of the “Off the Bench” morning sports talk show on WNXX-FM 104.5. “The electricity. The environment. It was the top feeling of my life other than the birth of our child and getting married.”
It seemed, at the time, an all-or-nothing battle for the SEC Western Division, the favorite’s role in the SEC Championship Game, and one of two spots in the BCS National Championship Game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
With so much at stake, the enormity of the game was palpable.
“It was the tensest football game I’ve ever been to in my life,” ESPN and SEC Network commentator Paul Finebaum said.
It was also one of the hardest hitting.
In a game that would eventually count 42 NFL draft picks and numerous free agents among its participants, 28 players would be drafted on defense. Ten of those were first-round picks, like LSU’s Eric Reid, whose brilliant goal-line interception was the game’s most dramatic play, Morris Claiborne, and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick and HaHa Clinton-Dix.
“It was probably one of the most physical games I ever got to witness,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, then Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
“Two really good defenses. It was like a dinosaur game nowadays, 6-6 or 9-6 or whatever it was, I mean, that just never happens anymore.”
“To me, you love competition like that,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “That’s why you come to places like this, so you can play in games like this and play against really, really good teams.”
The game drew howls of derision afterward because no touchdowns were scored, though LSU running back Michael Ford stepped out at the end of a 15-yard run at the 7 in overtime to set up Drew Alleman’s game-winning 25-yard field goal three plays later.
But it didn’t take away from the sense of accomplishment and relief the Tigers felt after it was over.
“When Drew’s kick went through the uprights you felt the burden off your back,” Hebert said. “There was so much buildup to the game. It was a great test. You passed the test, and at the time you felt that would be it.
“Of course, we know what happened.”
After the loss, Alabama only fell one spot to No. 3 in the BCS rankings. Two weeks later, No. 2 Oklahoma State lost 37-31 in double overtime at Iowa State, allowing Alabama to move back into that slot and set up a rematch in the BCS title game with LSU.
Alabama 21, LSU 0. It was a score that continues to live in LSU football infamy, the first of eight straight losses for the Tigers against the Crimson Tide.
LSU’s 13-1 mark matched the most wins in school history from its BCS national championship season of 2003. It resulted in the Tigers’ 11th SEC championship ever. But in a sense, the season was ruined. The Tigers beat Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion Oregon, Big East and Orange Bowl champion West Virginia, but players like Hebert were left feeling hollow. And it hollowed out the euphoria of beating Alabama in the regular season.
“It was a great feeling at the time, but it’s not actually a win I have any real affinity for,” Hebert said.
“You win a championship and you basically become immortal. When you get second, you disappear. That’s what happened, unfortunately.”
It will take an LSU victory to finally end the suffering, Hebert said.
“The healing will finally be able to begin,” he said.
Advocate sportswriter Brooks Kubena contributed to this report.