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From the Sidelines

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 16, 1998

There is a saying in sports that fame cannot help you but it is an even bet to ruin you.

One only has to look at LSU’s 1998 season to see the truth behind that saying.

Everything looked so bright for the Tigers just a few short months ago.

LSU was coming off its third straight bowl victory, a convincing win over Notre Dame. The Tigers’ trio of running backs – Kevin Faulk, Rondell Mealeyand Cecil Collins – were featured on the cover of a number of national and regional magazines and LSU was in everybody’s preseason Top 10.

And then it all came tumbling down.

First, it was All-American guard Alan Faneca announcing that he was foregoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft on the same day that Faulk was announcing he was coming back to school. Then there was theapparent suicide of offensive lineman Naeshall Menard during the spring.

Before the summer was out, Collins would be kicked off the team for problems off the field.

All looked right after the first three games as the Tigers jumped out to wins over Arkansas State, Auburn and Idaho. But weaknesses were alsoexposed in the defense and the Tigers’ ability to score in the red zone, weaknesses that would haunt the Tigers as the season wore on.

All the high expectations placed on the Tigers came crashing down over the next three games, losses to Georgia, Florida and Kentucky. All weregames that the Tigers could have, and should have, won.

LSU appeared to have righted itself with a convincing win over nationally- ranked Mississippi State but then hit its iceberg against Mississippi.

Oxford became LSU’s house of horrors on Halloween as the Tigers fell behind by 21 heading into the fourth quarter. That the Tigers rallied tosend the game into overtime only made it more heartbreaking as Ole Miss recovered its own fumble in the end zone and then stopped the Tigers on the 4-yard line for the win.

Just when Tiger fans thought they had it rock bottom, the Tigers found a new depth to plummet to Saturday against Alabama. For 57 minutes, theTigers dominated the game and appeared to finally put an end to their home losing streak against the Crimson Tide. But every bounce, every tip went against the Tigers in the final three minutes and Alabama rallied to pull out the improbable victory.

That game was a microcosm of LSU’s season. More often than not, it wasLSU that beat itself with conservative play calling, penalties and broken coverages. When one play that absolutely had to be made to win the game,the Tigers consistently failed to make it. Saturday’s game only highlightedthat fact.

The saddest part about the whole season is that the 18 seniors who played their final home game Saturday will go out on a disappointing note.

But by no means are they losers. From that night in September 1995against No. 5 Auburn, those seniors brought the magic back to Saturdaynights in Tiger Stadium, resurrecting a program that was quickly falling out of the national spotlight.

Among them was Kevin Faulk. There has been criticism about him nothaving his best days against the toughest opponents. But in any big game, Iwould take Faulk any day of the week and twice on Saturdays. There mayhave been better running backs in the country but few with as big a heart.

Faulk did not have to come back for his senior season. Most fans wouldhave understood if he did not. But he did, talking about his love for theschool. LSU was the better for having him and not just on the field.The same can be true for all the seniors. The record may say 4-5 as theyenter their bye week but all of them will go out winners.

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