LSU QUARTERBACK MATT FLYNN HAD JUST THROWN THE LAST OF HIS FOUR TOUCHDOWN PASSES IN THE BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, 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 JaMarcus Russell for 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 sun.
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 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 in 2007. 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 way.
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 lam�. 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: