By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
STARKVILLE, Miss. – The time is January 2012, the place is Bourbon Street, the feeling in your gut is a sickness born of despair, not from one too many Hand Grenades from Tropical Isle.
You just witnessed your team blow a chance at being considered the best that ever was thanks to 60 minutes of offensive ineptitude on the grandest scale. You’re sick, and the only way you can cope is to drown out the roar of the Tide fans rolling joyously through your streets with the sweet, sweet release found at the bottom of the bottle.
You close your eyes, but instead of the welcomed blackness that belongs behind closed eyelids, all you see are re-runs of sickly short-side options and thwarted toss dives. And, oh, the horror! The horror that was the passing game! You quickly open your eyes and stand, wishing to run as far away as your booze besotted body allows, wishing things were different.
But there’s a strange man standing in front of you, one who just a minute ago was not there. He is an apparition of sorts. He glimmers, as if reflecting the flashing lights of 1,000 scoreboards, and he has a message for you.
"Calm yourself,” he says in a voice reminiscent of the Midwest. "The good times are coming.”
Maybe you have had one too many of those hand grenades.
"In less than two years’ time,” the surely insane man continues, "the Tigers will have a quarterback who throws for 340 yards or more in consecutive games.”
"The LSU offense will be a shining portrait of excellence. But be warned, the LSU defense might be its downfall.”
A bitter laughter swells in your innards, but is suppressed by the still heavy despair. Did this clown not see what just happened? You prepare to walk away.
Sensing that he’s about to lose you, he grabs your wrist, and you suddenly are where you were not.
The neon-lit street blends into a bleak and desolate rural setting. The crimson-clad army is now dressed in a dingier maroon. The pleasant jazz music is erased by the incessant and cacophonous clanging of cowbells.
You gulp before murmuring, "Are we in hell?”
"No,” the stranger responds. "We are in Starkville. Welcome to the future of LSU football.”
Leaving you with that cryptic message alone, he ushers you through the discord into the bleachers, where your head begins to swim for the next three hours as a mostly unknown group of Tigers put points on the scoreboard faster than you can count.
You recognize some of them. That quarterback, isn’t he the one that transferred from a community college after getting dismissed from Georgia?
You stare in amazement as he marches the LSU offense down the field with miraculous efficiency. Each throw is delivered in stride to a streaking and sure-handed receiver. You are giddy when, in the second quarter, he lobs a picturesque fade to the endzone where his receiver perfectly times his jump to catch it at the highest point. Your jaw drops in the third quarter, when he throws a deep ball on fourth and short – and completes it!
Up and down the field they went, using an arsenal of offensive weapons to score 59 points on a Southeastern Conference team, and you suddenly wonder if you might be in some different world rather than a different time.
Your confidence, all but lost on that fateful night in New Orleans, is now overflowing. "I love the future! Who the hell is going to stop us? Nobody!”
The stranger shakes his head and points back to the field.
The feeling of being in an alternate universe is cemented only when you watch LSU’s defense. You’re so accustomed to seeing playmakers wreak havoc on opposing offenses that what you see simply does not compute.
Your team that once not that long ago struck fear into opposing offensive coordinators now can’t stop a nosebleed. You follow the Bulldog ball carriers as the bounce off would-be tacklers like they’re in a pinball machine, each whiff tearing at the fabric of your soul.
Ultimately, the ship is righted, but what you saw was enough to unsettle your gut again. You’re not sure you’re ready for this strange new world.
"What is this place?” you ask the man.
"This is the future,” he replies. "Where Alabama gives up 42 points in a single game – and wins! And LSU gives up 44 points in a single game and, well … loses.”
You black out as the clock hits zero, and come to on Bourbon Street, unsure if maybe what just happened was some sort of trauma-induced fugue. Then the man taps your shoulder again. You turn around and realize for the first time that he looks familiar.
Didn’t you see him on TV while watching a recent NFL playoff game?
He pulls out a copy of Tiger Rag magazine, dated October 8, 2013, complete with in-depth statistical and verbal analysis of LSU’s most recent aerial assaults and defensive troubles. You snare it and tear through it while walking away from him, utterly amazed at how much the world has changed in such a short amount of time. What apocalyptic event brought about this insanity?
You are immediately uncertain if the future is a safe place after all.
"Hey man!” the stranger calls out.
Still bewildered you turn your head, wondering what other strange wisdom he has in store.
"We still run the toss dive – and it’s one of our most successful offensive plays!” he says, before he disappears, cackling, in a flash of light.
Yes, reality is stranger than fiction.