Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
All the analysts providing cogent insights into the strengths of the two teams, Alabama and LSU, playing in the BCS National Championship game — there seemed to be no weaknesses — didn’t give enough emphasis to one point: It is tough to beat the same team twice in the same year.
Rematches often take place in the National Football League, and some teams win twice in the pros, but not all that often. In college, there are classic cases of rematches in bowl or conference championship games where the loser smarts and the winner gloats, but when they line up the second time around, there is a reversal in who gets to smile for the camera.
Perhaps the best example of that came about in 1959 when LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn were the powerhouses in the SEC. When LSU and Ole Miss met on Halloween night, it was comparable to the Alabama-LSU game this season. It was a tight, low-scoring game in Baton Rouge, with Ole Miss leading most of the game, 3-0, on an early field goal. Neither team, with first downs as scarce as a sober Cajun, could penetrate the goal line.
Then in the fourth quarter, Billy Cannon, who weighed 207 pounds and had run the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds, fielded a bouncing punt at his 13-yard line and turned up field with one of the most memorable and sensational plays in SEC history. First, Cannon shocked Ole Miss by fielding the punt in that situation. By the time he gained momentum, there was no stopping him, as he broke tackle after tackle and thundered 87 yards for a touchdown and a 7-3 victory.
The next week, LSU would lose, with Cannon failing to score on a two-point conversion attempt in Knoxville, which provided the upstart Georgia team the opportunity to become SEC champions by defeating Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech in a row. Ole Miss angled for a rematch with LSU and got it in the Sugar Bowl, but it was a similar script to that of Alabama in New Orleans Monday night — the Rebels dumped LSU handily, 21-0, and laid claim to the national title.
In 1996, Florida State defeated Florida in Tallahassee and was all set to play Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl when Texas upset Nebraska in the first Big 12 Championship game, 37-27, in St. Louis. Nebraska was a three-touchdown favorite. Suddenly the Sugar Bowl succumbs to a rematch of the Gators and the Seminoles. Bobby Bowden was not for the idea, however. He knew the advantage that Florida would gain on a neutral-site rematch.
Steve Spurrier moved quarterback Danny Wuerffel into the shotgun and enjoyed a field day as Spurrier and the Gators dominated their in-state rival, 52-20 — Spurrier’s only national title. Had the Seminoles played Nebraska, as they expected, they likely would have won the national championship.
BCS officials are smiling, but nobody is happy in Stillwater, Okla., where the Cowboys are disappointed that they, with one loss, did not have an opportunity to play in the championship game.
“There are good football teams everywhere,” says Rich Brooks, former Kentucky head coach. “The best football is played in the Southeastern Conference for one reason — defense. Nobody plays defense like that league. It is brutal. Until other leagues learn to play defense like the SEC, things are not likely to change. The SEC will keep on dominating college football as long as they remain superior on defense.”
The debate goes on about the BCS format. The extra game, the so-called “plus one,” concept — the top two teams play after the bowls — first advanced by Georgia’s John Stegeman years ago and supported strongly by Vince Dooley, may eventually get traction.