Twenty years ago, I was fifteen, and a high school sophomore in Baton Rouge. I had been going to LSU football games for the past five to six years, with the Tigers not doing much on the gridiron worthy of national recognition. Likewise, Skip Bertman still had another five years to go before he would lead LSU’s baseball team to their first College World Series win.
But in March of 1986, a man named Dale Brown was leading a team of talented but not exceptional basketball players to the height of college basketball: the Final Four. There was no Shaq on this team, no Stanley Roberts, no Chris Jackson. Those players would come later, and without the success of this team. This team had Blanton, Redden, Wilson, Vargas, Jovanovich, and Williams.
This LSU basketball team began the tournament of 64 ranked eleventh in their bracket. Twenty years later, they remain the lowest seed to ever make it to the Final Four.
I had grown up in Baton Rouge, having moved there when I was five. While only 60 miles away, New Orleans could have been on the other side of the universe as far as Baton Rouge was concerned. When it came to sports, I lived and breathed LSU athletics. I pretty much still do.
I remember watching the Tigers’ miracle run on television. The joy of the players when they beat number-one Kentucky to advance to the Final Four in Dallas. The tears of Ricky Blanton on the bench as time wound down in their national semifinal loss to Louisville. Coach Brown comforting Blanton and other players after the buzzer had sounded. So close. So far.
Three days ago, the Tigers of 2006, a group of talented but not exceptional young men, knocked off number-one Duke. Duke, ranked number one not just in the bracket they shared with LSU, but ranked number one out of the entire field of sixty-four. Last night, they toppled number-two Texas, and on the anniversary of the last LSU Final Four team, find themselves on their way to Indianapolis with a shot at the national title as they take on UCLA.
So close. So far.