Five years ago, the week that changed Louisiana’s football fortunes

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When football fans in Louisiana awoke the morning of Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, things could have hardly been better.

The undefeated and No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers were getting set to play for a third national championship in less than a decade that night against their hated rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide, in LSU’s backyard, the Superdome.

Less than 36 hours earlier, the New Orleans Saints were dominant in starting their quest for a second Super Bowl title in three years, having just set an NFL postseason record with 626 total yards in a 45-28 dismantling of the Detroit Lions in that very same Dome. Next up for the NFC South champions was a divisional round matchup with the San Francisco 49ers on the west coast.

But football success, like fame, can be fleeting.

We all know what happened next.

That night, LSU’s offense couldn’t get across the 50-yard line and Alabama dismantled the Tigers, 21-0, to win the national championship.

Five days later at Candlestick Park, the Saints rallied from a 17-point deficit to take a pair of fourth-quarter leads, but the 49ers’ Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis with a 14-yard touchdown pass with 9 seconds left to claim a 36-32 victory.

Little did we know then how fleeting that success would be.

Since that loss to Alabama, not only has LSU failed to defeat its rival, but it hasn’t won an SEC West title or been to a BCS or New Year’s Six bowl.

Since that loss to the 49ers, not only have the Saints failed to win an NFC South title, but they have had four losing seasons, have only been to the playoffs one time as a wild card and endured the severe punishments of the “BountyGate” scandal.

The sting doesn’t stop there.

LSU’s former coach, Nick Saban, has turned Alabama into the most dominant program of our lifetimes. When Saban leads his Crimson Tide on the field Monday night against Clemson at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, they will be going after a fifth national championship in nine years – and a third title since hoisting the crystal ball that night in the Dome five years ago.

Had the Saints hung on against the 49ers, they wouldn’t have traveled to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, but instead hosted the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants. Just in the last 13 months, the division rival Carolina Panthers have reached the Super Bowl and the hated Atlanta Falcons, after a bye this weekend, are strong contenders in the NFC this year.

LSU starts 2017 with a new head coach in Ed Orgeron. The Saints will begin 2017 with effectively a whole new coaching staff after last week’s “parting of ways” with long-time staffers Joe Vitt, Greg McMahon and Bill Johnson – who, ironically, replaced Orgeron after the 2008 season.

Just as the fortunes reversed negatively five years ago this week, the hope remains they can reverse back in the other direction.

Only time will tell. In the meantime, we can remember the hope of five years ago this week. Imagine what the party in our state would have been like with a national championship and a Super Bowl title in the same winter.

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Lenny Vangilder


Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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