Tommy Hodson, ‘Earthquake Game,’ forever linked

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIGLSU quarterback Tommy Hodson looks for a receiver as Texas A&M’s Todd Howard closes in during Hodson’s collegiate debut against the Aggies on Sept. 15, 1986. Hodson went on to set school and SEC records for passing yards and touchdowns.
Advocate file photo by BILL FEIGLSU quarterback Tommy Hodson looks for a receiver as Texas A&M’s Todd Howard closes in during Hodson’s collegiate debut against the Aggies on Sept. 15, 1986. Hodson went on to set school and SEC records for passing yards and touchdowns.

Record-setting quarterback always remembered for ‘Earthquake Game’

Among its vast collection of legendary figures, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches is home to Super Bowl champions, Olympic gold medalists and Kentucky Derby winners.

One thing it does not have is someone who caused the earth to move. But that will change June 29, when a transcendent LSU quarterback officially joins the ranks of state sports greats.

Tommy Hodson made a name for himself as a record-setting quarterback at LSU and Central Lafourche High School and also spent time in the NFL with four different teams — including the New Orleans Saints.

But Hodson will always be remembered for one last-minute play in an Oct. 8, 1988, game between LSU and Auburn. His game-winning touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller caused a celebration that resulted in a mini-earthquake on LSU’s campus.

That play did more than help LSU pull out a 7-6 win. It forever cemented his place in LSU folklore.

Hodson was a record-setter at LSU during his four years as the Tigers’ starter, passing for a school and Southeastern Conference record 9,115 yards and 69 touchdowns.

Hodson’s career comes full circle as he will be joining some of the state’s greatest football players, and competitors from a wide variety of sports, as a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s very exciting because it is such a big honor,” Hodson said. “I was born and raised in Louisiana and played at Central Lafourche, LSU and even the Saints, so that makes it extra special for me.”

Bob Gros, Hodson’s coach at Central Lafourche, said the Hall is a well-deserved honor for the former all-state quarterback.

“He had a super high school and college career, and he even got a chance to play in the pros for quite a few years,” Gros said.

Before busting onto the national scene at LSU, Hodson emerged as a top recruit at Central Lafourche. He was known as one of the top high school quarterbacks in Louisiana, passing for 4,361 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Hodson did more than help the Central Lafourche football end a 15-year playoff drought. He was also one of the top basketball players in the state, averaging 27.4 points per game.

If he had followed his heart, basketball may have been Hodson’s sport of choice.

“Growing up, I really wanted to play basketball,” he said. “But as time went on, I was being recruited (for football) by LSU and eventually caught the fever. It worked (out) good, and I couldn’t have asked for a better career at LSU.”

During the late 1980s, Hodson played a big role in LSU’s success on the football field.

After redshirting his freshman season, Hodson went into the 1986 season as the Tigers’ starting quarterback and helped guide the Tigers to the SEC championship and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

Hodson said he was in the perfect situation as a redshirt freshman at LSU.

“I was a young player on a veteran team,” he said. “I was a role player because we had a lot of playmakers on offense. We were set in a lot of spots, so it was an ideal situation for me. It allowed me to have some success early in my career.”

Hodson’s success didn’t end there as he led the Tigers to a 31-14-1 record and two SEC championships in his LSU career. He also was a first-team All-SEC pick each season.

Mike Archer, who took over as LSU’s coach for the 1987 season, said Hodson played his best in big games.

“Tommy never changed,” Archer said. “He could be having a bad first half, and his demeanor never changed. He went about being a quarterback and doing what he was supposed to do in the game plan, and he never deviated from that. Most times, it worked out because we were able to get the win.

“His attitude carried over to the entire football team because the guys never panicked and never gave up, and that was a credit to Tommy.”

But for all the accolades and lofty statistics, Hodson will always be known for one play in the 1988 showdown against fourth-ranked Auburn known as “The Earthquake Game.”

With time running out, Hodson guided the Tigers on a legendary drive.

On fourth down, he connected with Fuller on the game-winning touchdown that caused the capacity crowd in Tiger Stadium to erupt in excitement. It was a play LSU ran two snaps earlier, but then, Fuller was out of bounds when he caught the pass.

The game-winning touchdown also did something else. It caused a seismograph at LSU’s Howe-Russell Geoscience Complex, located about 1,000 feet from the stadium, to record an earthquake at the time of the game-winning touchdown.

“I guess I’m thankful the guy running the geology department left the seismograph on because it was able to register the earthquake,” Hodson said. “It’s just adds to the great folklore of LSU football.”

Archer said Hodson’s game-winning touchdown would not have happened without another big fourth-down conversion four plays earlier.

“It was fourth-and-11, and he threw a pass to (tight end) Willie Williams on their sideline,” Archer said. “Willie catches the ball 5 yards short of the first down, and he fights his way to get the first down.

“People don’t remember that play, but if Tommy and Willie don’t execute that play, it never comes down to those last two plays.”

Hodson said that touchdown is one people always want to talk about.

“The story seems like it’s got legs,” he said. “It happened 20-something years ago, but I don’t remember it being that big of a deal a few days after the game. The story has just grown since then, and now, it’s a game everyone talks about. It makes for a good story.”

Hodson’s record-breaking college career made him a top quarterback prospect in 1990 and his dream of playing in the NFL became a reality when the New England Patriots took him in the third round.

Unfortunately for Hodson, he went to one of the worst teams in the NFL, as the Patriots struggled to a 1-15 record. Hodson started the last six games of that season and played sparingly the next two seasons before being cut.

Hodson spent time with the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys before ending his career as a backup quarterback for the Saints in 1996. During his NFL career, he passed for 1,823 yards and seven touchdowns.

Although his NFL dreams never materialized, Hodson said he has no regrets.

“I didn’t have the career that I would have dreamed of having, but I got to play six years,” he said. “I have no regrets. I met a lot of great people, and I have friends today from my NFL days.”