COACH: NICK SABAN
ALL-AMERICAS: CHAD LAVALAIS, DT (THE SPORTING NEWS NATIONAL DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR); COREY WEBSTER, CB; BEN WILKERSON, C
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 2 (1958, 2003)
THE RITUAL goes like this: The girl gives her father, the football coach, a shiny penny before his games, and his team wins. The two of them talk about the power of the coins, which are their special weapon against opponents. On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 4, 2004, LSU football coach Nick Saban boarded a bus outside his hotel for the short trip to the Louisiana Superdome and the Sugar Bowl game against Oklahoma. He carried not just one penny in his pocket this time but three, because his 13-year-old daughter, Kristen, figured one just wasn't enough.
It is absurd, of course, to suggest that those three pennies were responsible for the Tigers' 21-14 victory over Oklahoma, a win that secured LSU's first national title in 45 years. Better to credit the tenacious LSU defense, which held the Sooners to 154 yards of total offense and forced Heisman winner Jason White into 13-for-37 passing, with two interceptions. Better also to point out the 117-yard rushing performance of freshman back Justin Vincent, the game's MVP, and the gritty leadership of quarterback Matt Mauck.
No play affected the game more than the first one from scrimmage. Mauck called a running play to the right in which Vincent was to read the reaction of Oklahoma's defensive tackle and cut accordingly. Seeing Tommie Harris slide inside, the tailback slashed outside and ran 64 yards to the Oklahoma 16. No matter that Mauck lost a fumble four plays later, because the Tigers' Corey Webster intercepted White's first pass, leading to a 24-yard TD run by wideout Skyler Green and a 7-0 lead with less than four minutes gone.
The winning touchdown was scored just 47 seconds into the third quarter by the LSU defense when end Marcus Spears picked off a pass in the right flat and ran 20 yards to the end zone, giving LSU a 21-7 lead. Nearly 30 minutes remained, during which Oklahoma would run 40 plays and gain just 110 yards, an average of 2.8 yards per snap. The game ended with three Mauck kneels and a punt that rolled out-of-bounds on the Oklahoma 12 as time expired. Tiger Nation erupted.
Late Sunday night Saban stood on a temporary stage with his daughter's three pennies in his pocket, holding a crystal football in the air. Adoration washed over him.
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, January 12, 2004