Matt Flynn had just thrown the last of his four touchdown passes in the BCS
championship game on Monday night, a soft lob to tight end Richard Dickson, who
might as well have been wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak, for all the
success that Ohio State had in covering him. With the Buckeyes driving—they put
up a window-dressing touchdown to cut the final score to 38--24—Flynn stood on
the bench with less than two minutes left, leaning over to embrace teammates
and taking in the scene. The normally stoic Flynn, a senior from Tyler, Texas,
sighed deeply several times and blinked back tears. ¶ "I was standing there
thinking what this team had gone through, and what I'd gone through," he
recalled later in the Tigers' nearly deserted locker room at the Superdome.
"I mean, you can't dream it any better than that."
On his first visit
to the Baton Rouge campus, when he was a star at Robert E. Lee High, Flynn
arrived at night and stood outside Tiger Stadium. The grand old bowl was bathed
in light, "and it gave me chills," he recalls. "I knew it was a
place I wanted to be, a program on the rise."
Flynn committed to
LSU before his senior season. What he didn't know was that, six months later,
LSU would sign an even more highly touted quarterback. For the next four years
(including a redshirt season), Flynn was a backup, playing behind one JaMarcus
Russell the last three. During that time Flynn was tempted by outsiders to
transfer, but he stuck it out, holding for extra points, taking snaps in
garbage time, waiting "stubbornly," as he put it, for his day in the
That day arrived
this season, but only after Russell left early for the NFL (and became the No.
1 pick in the draft). Even then the sunshine quickly faded for Flynn. He was
tearing up Virginia Tech in LSU's second game when he suffered a high
right-ankle sprain that kept him out of the next game and curtailed his
mobility for several weeks. Then, on a late touchdown run against Arkansas on
Nov. 23, he separated his throwing shoulder. Two painkilling injections allowed
him to stay in that game, a 50--48 triple overtime loss, but the bum shoulder
kept him out of the SEC championship game eight days later. "I've watched a
lot of games here, but the hardest thing I've ever had to do was watch that
one," he said of the Tigers' 21--14 win over Tennessee.
The point being,
nothing comes easy for this kid. On LSU's first possession against Ohio State,
Flynn was making a check at the line when center Brett Helms snapped the ball
prematurely. Flynn covered the loose ball, but the busted play lost 17 yards
and the Tigers were soon punting out of their end zone. The Buckeyes took
advantage of their good field position, getting a 25-yard field goal from Ryan
Pretorius to increase their lead to 10--0.
By then the Tigers
may have been thinking, We've got them right where we want them. After all, LSU
had trailed in six of its first 11 victories this season. In a familiar
10-point hole, the Tigers, naturally, exploded for 31 unanswered points.
The game got away
from Ohio State late in the second quarter, starting with Flynn's perfectly
placed throw to wideout Brandon LaFell in the left corner of the end zone. That
gave LSU its first lead of the night. Three plays later, under intense pressure
from blitzing safety Harry Coleman, Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman was
intercepted by cornerback Chevis Jackson. That set up a one-yard scoring plunge
by Jacob Hester, extending LSU's lead to 24--10. The Tigers were on their
TWO DAYS before
the title game—speaking of dreams—Hester, the Tigers' senior all-purpose back
and devoted Elvis fan, was asked to list his top five songs by the King.
Without hesitation, he said, "If I Can Dream is Number 1." That
gospel-influenced, Vietnam-era plea for peace would be an odd choice for anyone
but an Elvis connoisseur. Hester says he has been to Graceland about eight
times and lives in a house in which the Elvis Room so overflows with objets
d'Elvis that he recently palmed off on his mother, Nancy, a plaster Elvis bust
and a life-sized cardboard cutout of the young singer in gold lamé. That
facsimile, Nancy reports, "scared the daylights out of the man who came
over to fix my ceiling fan. He thought there was an intruder."
Released as the
finale of the 1968 Elvis Comeback Special, the lyrics for If I Can Dream
include the promise:
As long as a man
Has the strength to dream,
He can redeem his soul and fly.
Those words held
special meaning on Monday night not only for Hester—a one-time noseguard who
had to beg for the chance to carry the ball in high school, then rushed for 200
yards in his first start at fullback—but also for his teammates. The Tigers'
best player, for instance, havoc-dispensing senior defensive tackle Glenn
Dorsey, spent a year as a toddler with braces on his legs to correct his
severely pigeoned-toed feet. While other kids played hide-and-seek, recalls
Dorsey, "I was on the porch, just watching everybody." Now, at 6'2"
and 303 pounds, Dorsey "is one of the most impressive players I've ever
seen," said Ohio State right tackle Kirk Barton, who marveled at the ease
with which Dorsey "rag-dolls" offensive linemen.