Helmets and shoulder pads hide the scars.
For legions of LSU fans, the misery of watching their team reduced to kindling Jan. 9 in New Orleans by Alabama was something they haven’t been able to shake eight games and 10 months into 2012.
Consider what it’s been like for the players who lived through that nightmare.
If Kevin Minter had a dollar for every time someone asked him what went wrong for the Tigers that day, by his rough math he would be a millionaire.
“Oh, yeah,” said, LSU’s middle linebacker, his naturally somber monotone adding weight to his words. “Millions of dollars.”
So many have weaved elaborate conspiracy fantasies for what triggered that BCS bleauxout, you’d think the Mercedes-Benz Superdome had become Dealey Plaza with hashmarks.
To Minter, the equation is painfully simple.
You block, you tackle, you execute — or you lose.
Sometimes, you lose badly.
“We just didn’t execute as well as we needed to,” Minter said. “They brought their ‘A’ game. I can’t say we didn’t try to play our best. We had great effort. They were just a better team.”
Some LSU players involved in that game, like Jordan Jefferson and Tyrann Mathieu, have moved on to other more pressing life issues.
There are plenty of other Tigers who played in that game who have had to carry around the stigma of that epic defeat as they continue to wear the purple and gold.
They couldn’t forget if they wanted to.
“It’s been mentioned since the last (Alabama) game,” left guard La’El Collins said. “It never stopped.”
Perhaps that 21-0 loss is a scarlet “L” that will never be erased. But there is a chance at least in the minds of these LSU veterans to correct a wrong Saturday night when they step back into the ring against No. 1-ranked Alabama in Tiger Stadium.
“It’s still in our hearts and minds,” said sixth-year offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk, a student-coach in January as he sat out with a knee injury. “We have a chance to go out there and make it right.”
“We look at it like we left some unfinished business out there,” Collins said.
For most of a year and two-thirds of a season they have tried to stay in ranks and quote party lines about the importance of focusing on each opponent and taking them all seriously.
But as these Tigers have shown, they are quite human. They can’t hear the constant drumbeat about Alabama and suffer a loss like that and not spend some of their time thinking about this game. This one game.
“We tried not to look ahead,” Minter said, “but it’s hard.”
LSU is a serious underdog on its home turf for the first time in 12 years. Few outsiders are giving the Tigers much of a chance to win despite their No. 5 ranking.
But they will give it their best. There is a palpable sense of pent-up emotion and frustration in the LSU camp, emotions they are aching to unleash on the Crimson Tide.
“A lot of guys will show a lot of emotion and their scars,” defensive tackle Bennie Logan said.
“The hurt that we felt in that national championship game will definitely show.
“You’ll definitely see it on the field. We’ve carried that chip all season, through summer workouts and the spring. We want to let the world know that was a hard time. We want to show the world that we want to bounce back from that.
“We really want to dominate this game.”
In terms of its championship aspirations, this has come down to a one-game season for LSU.
In so many ways, it has always been that. The Alabama game has grown to be so huge on LSU’s schedule from a practical, emotional and psychological standpoint it has outshined all else, like the midday sun blotting out the stars.
“I didn’t even know until a couple of years ago that Ole Miss was actually our rival school,” Logan said, “because it’s always been Bama since I’ve been here.
“Before the season starts, people are talking about the Bama game. You don’t hear, ‘We can’t wait until y’all play Arkansas.’ It’s, ‘I can’t wait until y’all play Bama.’ It’s Bama, Bama, Bama. ‘Beat Bama.’ ‘Win Bama.’ ‘You’ve got to beat Bama.’ No matter what it is, it’s always Bama.
“It’s never about Arkansas or Ole Miss. Those kinds of teams aren’t mentioned anymore. It seems like everybody thinks our schedule is just Bama, Bama, Bama. It’s all people talk about. Bama. ‘Beat Bama.’ Definitely, Bama is our number one rival.”
And the Tigers’ only chance to heal the pain that has haunted them for almost a year.
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