Despite split title, Saban, Tigers bask in Sugar Bowl victory

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 9, 2004

NEW ORLEANS &045; What a sight to behold.

The proud papa, with his purple and gold family all smiles as they awaited their first look at the expectant newborn, held the fragile baby ever so carefully in both hands on each end and held it above for all to marvel at.

Irrefutably, a sight to behold.

Email newsletter signup

Nick Saban stood on a platform, resting above the AstroPlay turf of the Superdome floor and welcomed LSU’s newest addition to the increasingly growing Tiger family after a 21-14 victory against favored Oklahoma in the 70th Sugar Bowl Sunday.

The ADT national championship trophy is a $30,000 gorgeous chunk of eye candy made of Waterford crystal and awarded annually to the winner of the non-Associated Press poll since 1986.

For Saban and LSU fans, which saw the school win its first title in nearly a half-century, the shapely prize is as priceless as a drooling newborn.

The Tigers won the BCS national title but must share the title of national championship after USC was voted No. 1 in the AP poll.

&uot;We have been fortunate enough to win 13 (games). And (my family) made a lot of sacrifices for me. Never being there and never being around,&uot; Saban said of his wife Terry, son Nicholas and daughter Kristen. &uot;So I’m going to enjoy them for a few days. They’ve got to go back to school tomorrow, but they’re going to miss tomorrow. Life goes on.&uot;

It certainly does. The 52-year-old head coach, who has compiled a 39-13 record in four years after inheriting a program that had won three league games in the two years prior, is notorious for living in the present.

He treats, and therefore, those around him &045; namely the players &045; treat the next game as the biggest showdown of the season.

&uot;We believe in Coach and we took the coaching in. We went through some hard times, but it was something that we persevered through,&uot; said LSU junior defensive end Marcus Spears, whose 20-yard interception return for a touchdown that put the Tigers up 21-7 early in the third was the first defensive score in a Sugar Bowl since 1995.

Perhaps what Saban does better than any college coach in America occurs in the days leading up to fall Saturdays. The West Virginian prides himself on preparing every nook and cranny of scenarios, and then goes over them again with a fine-tooth comb.

A protg of New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick, who was Cleveland’s top Brown when Saban occupied the defensive coordinator role from 1991-94, the defensive-minded Saban chaperoned his team to a national title with the country’s best defense.

Conquered Sooners head coach Bob Stoops called it the best defense his No. 1 scoring offense faced this season.

&uot;You know sometimes it just, you know, it doesn’t work out and another team plays better,&uot; he said, &uot;another coach coaches better than me and all of us and that’s what happens.&uot;

Oklahoma, led by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White, flew into New Orleans as the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, averaging more than 45 points per game.

The Sooners left the Crescent City, tails between their legs, as the third-best, and fortunate they didn’t fall further.

The tenacious LSU defense, in a perpetual state of answering critics this season with each performance, rose to the challenge &045; sacked White five times, picked him off twice and held the entire offense to 154 total yards.

&uot;(It) dampens it quite a bit,&uot; said White on the loss, which spoiled an otherwise stellar year. &uot;You know you win 12 games, and that’s extremely hard to do nowadays in college football and you don’t have anything to show for it. It’s disappointing.&uot;

Nothing is rattling Saban and the Tigers currently except for possibly a celebratory hangover. Even the fact that LSU must share its national title with Southern California isn’t bothering the Tigers.

LSU (13-1) got 60 first-place votes to finish with 1,572 points in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, while USC (12-1) finished second with three votes for the top spot and 1,514 overall points.

In the AP poll the Trojans, which knocked off No. 4 Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl New Year’s Day, received 48 votes to finish with 1,608 points at No. 1, compared to 17 writers giving the first-place nod to the Tigers, who finished second with 1,576 points.

&uot;If you won the Powerball and you had to share it with someone else, would you complain?&uot; LSU All-American defensive tackle Chad Lavalais asked before answering his own question: &uot;No.&uot;

However, the Tigers won’t have to share the crystal ball with USC.

The Trojans won’t even get to baby-sit it.