Ever wish you had a wayback machine and could change the past? Well, we got one for Christmas.
So join us for an exercise in counter-factual history we’re calling “It’s a Wonderful Nick.”
- Jan. 1, 2005: A week before, LSU fans breathe a sigh of relief when, on the team’s Christmas Day flight to Orlando and the Capital One Bowl, Nick Saban changes his mind, turning down the job offer from the Miami Dolphins to remain in Baton Rouge.
“My wife, Terry, said to do what my heart said,” Saban explains. “Why leave a place where you’re happy?”
In the game against Iowa, Ronnie Prude’s interception on the final play seals a 25-24 victory. He credits receiving a signal from Saban to get into man coverage for making the pick possible.
- Nov. 12, 2005: The Tigers’ Katrina karma finally runs out. After starting the season with a miraculous comeback at Arizona State and making an emotional return to Tiger Stadium for an overtime victory against Tennessee, No. 3 LSU loses to No. 4 Alabama 13-10 in overtime when JaMarcus Russell is intercepted in the end zone.
The victory propels Alabama past Texas in the BCS standings and ultimately to the Rose Bowl, where the Tide outlasts Southern California 41-38 for the national championship. The win earns coach Mike Shula a 10-year, $80 million contract and a statue in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
LSU loses to Texas Tech 13-10 in the Cotton Bowl. Saban turns down an offer from the Saints, who hire Sean Payton and draft Vince Young after free agent Drew Brees signs with Miami.
- Oct. 7, 2006: The Tigers intercept Florida freshman Tim Tebow three times in a 23-10 victory.
“They actually thought they could fool us with that dumb jump pass,” safety LaRon Landry says.
LSU goes on to defeat Ohio State 41-14 for the BCS championship. With his Alabama program facing NCAA sanctions, Shula leaves to become coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Alabama then hires Rich Rodriguez.
- Oct. 6, 2007: LSU falls to Florida 46-44 in triple overtime. Saban says he regrets settling for a field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Gators’ 7 late in regulation instead of going for the first down.
Disheartened, LSU loses to Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas and then to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. FireNickSaban.com is created.
- Nov. 8, 2008: Saban’s emphasis on “The Process” pays its biggest dividend as Jarrett Lee overcomes three interceptions with a 21-yard connection to Brandon LaFell in overtime to lift second-ranked LSU to a 28-21 victory against No. 1 Alabama in the Game of the Century at Tiger Stadium.
But a loss to Florida and Tebow in the SEC title game sends the Gators to the BCS Championship Game — and LSU to the Sugar Bowl, where the Tigers play listlessly in a 31-17 loss to Utah. A disgusted Saban makes the players donate their bowl swag to charity.
- Nov. 21, 2009: Jordan Jefferson alertly spikes the ball at the Ole Miss 5 with 1 second left, and Josh Jasper kicks the winning field as the top-ranked Tigers edge the Rebels 26-25.
It’s the closest call of the year for Saban’s third national title team — which includes Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, who validates his selection by rushing for 275 yards and four touchdowns in the championship game against Texas at the Rose Bowl.
Saban turns down offers from the Saints and Notre Dame.
- Dec. 4, 2010: In an unprecedented action, all of Auburn’s victories, including a 24-17 win against LSU, are vacated after Cam Newton’s father is arrested for hawking signed memorabilia at the Iron Bowl.
Playing on 48 hours’ notice, the Tigers edge South Carolina 27-24 in the SEC title game, then outlast Oregon 58-56 for back-to-back BCS titles with Ingram winning another Heisman.
Texas A&M and Missouri reject offers to join the SEC because they feel they can never compete for the conference crown as long as Saban is at LSU. Rice and SMU are picked instead.
- Nov. 6, 2011: LSU turns another “Game of the Century” into a 42-3 laugher over Alabama as true freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, in a Heisman-clinching performance, rushes for four touchdowns and throws for three more, accounting for 620 yards in just three quarters.
After the Tigers’ 63-14 victory against Oklahoma State in the BCS title game, conference commissioners vote to begin a 16-team playoff starting in 2014 “so somebody besides LSU can win something.”
- Nov. 26, 2012: The Tigers’ quest for an unprecedented fourth straight title is derailed when Manziel defies Saban and the NCAA by selling his game-worn gear on eBay. Manziel later goes duck hunting with Phil Robertson and is never seen again.
- Dec. 7, 2013: With a chance to avenge their first on-field defeat since 2010, win the SEC championship and advance to the BCS title game, the Tigers’ attempt for a game-winning extra point against Georgia is blocked and returned for a two-point conversion because none of the LSU players know the other team can score on such a play.
Tigers fans are so upset that they organize a boycott of the Outback Bowl, and only 275 tickets are purchased from the school’s allotment.
Declaring he will no longer put up with a bunch of ingrates, Saban resigns and on the same day gets offers from Texas, the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans. He then announces he will make his decision the day after at the nearby Under Armour All-America Game by lining up caps representing the teams on a table and picking one blindfolded.
- Jan. 2, 2014: With the country watching, Saban reaches under the table to pull out two LSU caps — one of which he puts on, the other he tosses to St. Augustine star running back Leonard Fournette.
All is well.