LSU football seasons come and go. So does that all-too-finite collection of six or seven Saturdays each fall when the Tigers play in their eponymous stadium.
Young demigods surrounded by golden bands and tipsy fans, and all the glory that can be a Saturday night (or sometimes afternoon) in Death Valley.
They’re all special Saturdays in their way. This one promises to be extra-special. This one promises to be a keeper for the mental scrapbook of great moments sports fans file away in their brains.
This one feels like history. And it starts with one man.
It is as predictable as Thanksgiving day turkeys — the one on your dinner table and the Detroit Lions on your TV set:
For 60 years now and more, those old enough be around then have been asked, “Did you see Billy Cannon play?” For 50 years now, it’s been, “Did you see Pistol Pete play?” For going on 30 years, the question has been, “What was Shaq like at LSU?”
Decades from now, they will ask the same question about LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
His season is far from over. The Tigers have a date with Georgia in next week’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Then comes at least one postseason game, or two, if the Tigers can venture back to Atlanta for a CFP semifinal in the Peach Bowl, or swing way out west again to the Fiesta, then boomerang back to New Orleans for the CFP national championship.
But for most of you, Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium will be your last chance to see Burrow in person as an LSU Tiger. To see that meteor streak across the black, cast-iron-lid of night over Tiger Stadium. To hear the roars for the kid they know back in Athens, Ohio, as Joey Burrow. He's the kid people here have Cajun-ized (Cannon-ized might be more appropriate) as Jeaux Burreaux, an honorary Cajun for life.
It may have been the most valuable platter of crawfish ever served in south Louisiana, the one Burrow ate at a Baton Rouge restaurant two springs ago while LSU coach Ed Orgeron sold him on the notion of transferring to a foreign land after he decided to leave Ohio State.
Burrow could have easily picked Cincinnati, choosing to play it safe for the comfort of a school 2½ hours from home. But like those passes he throws to tightly covered receivers, Burrow took the gamble that his two remaining college seasons could lead to something great.
“I grew up watching Bert Jones,” Orgeron said earlier this week, speaking of the Tigers’ only All-American quarterback. “I saw Tommy Hodson. I saw the great quarterbacks LSU had. We always wanted a great one.
“And we got one.”
Eleven games into this season, Burrow and the Tigers are truly onto something great. No. 1 in the polls. Now No. 2 in the CFP rankings behind Ohio State, so controversial and yet symmetrical. Him the runaway Heisman Trophy front-runner, tearing whole pages out of LSU and SEC record books with his eyes on the FBS single-season pass completion record to boot.
It isn’t just Joe, though.
Orgeron, who should be a finalist for every national coach of the year award, had to utter the words: “Let’s go to the spread offense.”
Steve Ensminger had to be willing to accept new concepts. Joe Brady, a semifinalist for the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant, had to bring them. And players like Biletnikoff Award finalist Ja’Marr Chase, tight end Thad Moss and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (the biggest surprise in a season filled with them) had to give crucial supporting roles.
But around here, Burrow is the celery that stirs the pregame Bloody Mary. He is having the greatest season ever for any Southeastern Conference quarterback, and he will go down as LSU’s greatest quarterback ever, if not its greatest player ever.
For 60 years, Cannon has been the standard by which all subsequent LSU players were judged. For the next 60, it may be Burrow. Has made that kind of indelible impression on the program. And LSU fans have made their impression on him, to the point where he hinted Monday he fears he may be swept away on a wave of emotion when introduced for senior night. Surely, a standing ovation awaits him.
“This place means so much to me,” Burrow said. “Everyone has been so great. I never could have dreamed that this was going to happen, the reception from the people in Louisiana to an Ohio kid who transferred here. It's been such a great two years, and I hope I can show some appreciation to the fans on Saturday.”
Saturday night in Tiger Stadium brings the prospect of a seminal LSU sports experience. A rare few hours to witness one of LSU’s all-time greats in any sport like Cannon, Maravich, O’Neal, Seimone Augustus or Sarah Finnegan. Come rain or clear skies. Come hell or seven overtimes.
The game that will never be forgotten is nearing its anniversary.
Even without Burrow, this is a game ripe with back stories. LSU and Texas A&M, of course, punctuated the Aggies' 74-72, seven-overtime win with a postgame brawl in College Station last year. LSU athletic director Scott Woodward left Texas A&M to return to his alma mater, though not before hiring Jimbo Fisher — the coach LSU wanted and very nearly landed in 2015 to replace Les Miles.
All that bitterness, all that border rivalry stuff, that will blend into the noise surrounding this game next year or the next or the next.
For Burrow, this is it. The next time you see him at Tiger Stadium may be when they unveil a statue of him out front, or put his No. 9 on the façade inside.
He has been that great. He is that demanding of your attendance Saturday night, whether you’ve seen him play 10 times or never.
Because you may never see his like in an LSU uniform again.