Marcus.Spears.LSU.010404

Marcus Spears gestures to the crowd during LSU's 21-14 victory over Oklahoma in the 2004 BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 4, 2004 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series of excerpts from The Advocate’s upcoming book, “LSU BY THE NUMBERS,” celebrating the best player (and other greats) to wear each number in Tigers football history. This week: No. 84, Marcus Spears.

There was perhaps no football player who ever put on the purple and gold with a bigger personality than Marcus Spears, affectionately known as “The Big Swagu.”

There was perhaps no LSU defensive player who made a bigger play in a bigger moment than Spears, either.

It was the first possession of the third quarter, with LSU leading Oklahoma 14-7 in the 2004 BCS National Championship Game in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners had the ball on second-and-13 at their 17-yard line after Spears sacked Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White for a 3-yard loss. As White went back to pass, Spears floated back into coverage from his left end spot, picking off White at the 20 and rumbling into the end zone for what proved to be the winning points in the Tigers’ 21-14 victory, securing LSU’s first national championship since 1958.

“It was a zone blitz, and the defensive end drops into the flats,” Spears said. “Usually quarterbacks never see that, and Jason White hadn’t seen that all year.

“I knew from watching film that their tendency was to throw a slant route to Mark Clayton. We called the play, and I ended up being in the right position at the right time.”

After the championship confetti was swept away, Spears flirted with turning pro but decided to return to LSU for his senior year. He turned in one of the most dominant seasons ever for an LSU defensive lineman, piling up 49 tackles with nine sacks (second most in the SEC) and his fourth career interception. For his play, Spears earned consensus All-American honors to go with his All-SEC status from his junior campaign.

Born in Baton Rouge in 1983, Spears signed with LSU in 2001 as the No. 1-rated tight end prospect out of Southern Lab. He was part of a now-legendary recruiting class that also included West Monroe offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, De La Salle defensive end Marquise Hill from New Orleans and Christian Life Academy wide receiver Michael Clayton, who with Spears were lauded as the best Baton Rouge duo to sign with LSU since Billy Cannon and Johnny Robinson in 1956.

“I didn’t know much about LSU,” Spears said candidly. “Coming out of high school, you thought about Florida, Florida State, Miami. That’s where the top recruits were going.”

But as Spears and Clayton took recruiting visits together, they started to consider something.

“We realized that all of these guys who were winning national championships were from the state of Florida and going to Florida schools,” Spears said. “We realized with the players we had in Louisiana starting that year, we could probably be pretty good.”

Spears turned out to be more than pretty good. After he was done playing for the Tigers, the Dallas Cowboys made him the 20th overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. He spent the next eight seasons with the Cowboys, wrapping up his pro career in 2013 with the Baltimore Ravens. A year later, Spears embarked on his new career as an analyst with the SEC Network and ESPN.

To pre-order “LSU BY THE NUMBERS” and receive a $10 discount off the $39.95 cover price through Nov. 30, please visit www.LSU.PictorialBook.com. The book will be shipped Dec. 4.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com