The car radio stayed locked on WWL those three dark and lonely hours on our ride from Oxford back to Jackson after the 2009 LSU-Ole Miss game, as though there were no other station in the world.
This must have been what it was like to listen to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast back in 1938, when radio was king. It was easy then, in the theater of the mind, for listeners to convince themselves that Martians were really landing in rural New Jersey.
It was just as easy that November night two years ago to imagine LSU and Les Miles’ football world was coming to an end. It was transfixing, horrifying, to hear Miles’ downcast voice and the final moments of the Tigers’ 25-23 meltdown loss to the Rebels rehashed over and over again.
Oh, the absolute Hindenburg of it all. And one thought kept playing through my mind: “They’ll never forgive him for this. Never.”
Two years later, as the LSU Tigers return to not-so-merry-old Oxford to play Ole Miss, there are still things not forgiven, all right. But the angst has slid from one set of shoulder pads to the other, and the sea change in the fortunes of the Tigers and Rebels - and their head coaches - couldn’t be more dramatic.
The Tigers are No. 1 in the nation once again, 10-0 for the first time since back in 1958, the days when LSU-Ole Miss football games made an entire college football-watching nation pause and take notice. Armed with a soul-crushing defense, an opportunistic offense, and kickers who can actually kick, the Tigers are trying to stay on course for their third BCS national championship in the past nine seasons.
It’s virtually impossible to imagine that Ole Miss is the team that can make LSU’s BCS Express jump the tracks. That’s because the Rebels’ program has become so completely derailed itself.
Two years ago, Ole Miss was on its way to a second straight nine-win season and second straight Cotton Bowl. It was a potent mix of the talent recruited by former coach Ed Orgeron and the ability of his successor, Houston Nutt, to mold that talent.
Nutt, the man who as much as anyone over the recent years - as much as Spurrier or Meyer or Saban - has struck fear into Tiger hearts everywhere, seemed to be working his magic again as he did in the good, old days at Arkansas.
But suddenly, the magic dried up as the Orgeron-recruited talent moved on. The Rebels have lost a school-record 12 straight Southeastern Conference games. Nutt will soon be sent packing along with athletic director Pete Boone, a former Baton Rouge banker. An Ole Miss legend and a Rebels booster - Archie Manning and FedEx executive T. Michael Glenn - are conducting the coaching search. So far all we know for sure is Peyton Manning doesn’t want the job when his NFL days are done.
And the cherry on top, this week Nutt had to suspend starting quarterback Randall Mackey, leading rusher Jeff Scott and a backup H-back.
And now what’s left gets to play No. 1 LSU.
Poor Ole Miss. To borrow a line from the late Dick Schaap, the Alamo looked sturdier.
It’s a tough job, and not because of who’s coming to visit this weekend. Ole Miss is the only SEC West school to never reach the SEC Championship Game. Ole Miss hasn’t won the SEC outright since 1963. Like Mississippi State, the Rebels are surrounded by LSU and the “A-Teams” (Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn) and soon will have to contend with Texas A&M and Missouri in the same relative neighborhood. A tough neighborhood, indeed.
That said, Miles and his players won’t take the Rebels lightly. They’ve been burned or seen teams burned too often to think an SEC road game spells anything but danger.
“They’re going to try to ruin our season,” Tigers tailback Michael Ford said. “They’re not having a great season (really?), but they’re still a great football team. They’re going to play us hard. This being a rivalry, they’re always going to come out and play hard.
“No matter what their record is, no matter how good we are, we know they’re going to play their best.”
The Rebels’ best won’t be nearly good enough. Not this time. Since LSU’s Oxford incident two years ago, these two ships have passed each other going in opposite directions and are now so far apart they’re barely on each other’s horizon.
Nutt is out a job. Miles is back on top.
Funny how short never can be.