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Carl Dubois
Pacific Northwest
Member since Apr 2009
326 posts

Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity

Brian Wilson stood in foul territory on a pregame Sunday morning in early March 2003 and contemplated the LSU Tigers. They were 6-6 after losing the first two games that weekend. They struck out 21 times in those two games.

"There has to be some drama," Wilson said, convinced a team doesn't find itself until it faces adversity.

(Pardon the interruption, but this is, in fact, a football column. It just happens to open with a baseball story. Please stand by.)

Oh, there was drama, there was adversity for Wilson and his teammates, but it was slow in building.

Before or during fall practice, four pitchers -- including ace Lane Mestepey -- underwent season-ending surgery. Kansas swept LSU in an early three-game series. Near me in the press box, David Steinle predicted the Tigers wouldn't win 30 games.

Three positions players, including two who were starters on Opening Night, suffered in-season injuries that led to season-ending surgeries. Two pitchers were playing in that tentative first year after arm or shoulder surgery.

The Tigers lost Wilson to season-ending elbow problems before April. They lost Brandon Nall, the Opening Night closer.

Nine players, six of them pitchers, out for the year. There was other adversity, other drama, not least of which was associated with the pressures of living up to almost impossibly high standards.

Yet, LSU went on to win its first SEC championship in six years.

The Tigers played in the SEC tournament championship game, became the No. 2 national seed, won the regional with a dramatic game-ending home run, won a thrilling super regional against Baylor and made it to the College World Series for the first time in three years. They won 45 games.

What does this have to do with LSU football 2009? A lot, perhaps, but before we get there, let's revisit LSU football 2001.

After LSU lost 35-24 to Ole Miss, the Tigers were 2-3 in the SEC. They heard booing. The coach's daughter asked if their family would have to move again.

Ryan Clark, a senior safety, later told me something clicked inside the players around that time.

"We just went out there to have fun," he said. "Once we started having fun, we started winning."

They didn't lose again. They ended the season on a six-game winning streak that came with an SEC championship and Sugar Bowl victory.

Clark told me the shift in mindset locked in place for good at a practice after a big victory at Alabama, the first game after the loss to Ole Miss. During an intense drill that excludes wide receivers and cornerbacks, LSU's defense shut down the offense play after play in that practice, Clark said.

"I don't think they even got back to the line of scrimmage," he said. "Every time we made a play everybody was just screaming, 'Us 11. Us 11.' It just made me realize how important everyone I play with is to me."

He said that phrase -- "Us 11" -- was a kind of shorthand for the players.

"We would say, 'Us one-hundred-and-something,' but we don't know how many walk-ons we've got," Clark said. "So that wouldn't work. So we just say 'Us 11' for any group of 11 you want - offense or defense."

As LSU prepared to play Illinois in the Sugar Bowl, Clark explained how the Tigers saw in late October they were being counted out, locally and regionally, so they turned to the only people they thought believed in them: each other.

"A lot of times, especially in Baton Rouge, it feels like nobody has faith in us, nobody counts on us," Clark said during bowl preparations. "Now everybody loves us because of the second half of the SEC Championship Game, but we don't want that. That's not what matters to us.

"We love our fans, but we do it for us. We don't do it for the coaches. We don't do it for y'all to say, 'Those guys played good.' We do it for us 11. That's what we write on our tape. That's what we write on our gloves. That's what we live by."

He wasn't the only senior who told me the players realized how fickle fans can be, that in the search for a consistent source of inspiration, that's potential quicksand. He wasn't the only senior who felt burned by the coach for calling out specific players in public, in the media.

So the players circled the wagons, and Clark said he felt it most acutely during that hard-hitting practice after the Alabama game.

"I think that was probably my favorite moment, to just realize that it wasn't just, 'All right, you're from Lafayette, you're from West Monroe, I'm from New Orleans, and we play together now,' it was just like we're all one. Whatever we accomplish we're going to do it with each other and for each other."

LSU football 2009 has an offense in crisis. The Tigers are the most criticized 5-1 team in college football. They have to figure out what to do about their problems and how they will react to criticism.

One thing Brian Wilson said to me that day in March 2003 was, "Everyone's too nice." Nobody wanted to say the tough things. I don't know if Les Miles surrounds himself with people willing to stand toe to toe with him and call him out when they think he's wrong, but that's a valuable resource for any CEO.

I think Bo Pelini was that kind of assistant coach. He's at Nebraska now, learning how it is to be the CEO.

If Miles has someone he trusts, it's time to turn to that person. If there is someone on Miles' staff who isn't afraid to challenge the status quo, it's time for him to assert himself. It's time for Miles to tell Gary Crowton, "Fix it."

Defeat can bring out the worst in people, especially those on the outside who are powerless to change things. It's easier to say what someone else should be doing than to take care of one's own business.

Clark and his teammates learned in 2001 you can't please everybody, so you might as well work to meet your own standards. If you can walk away knowing you did your best, you'll always have that. Nobody can take that away from you.

There is a satisfaction that comes from doing the hard work that can't be replaced through shortcuts. There is no substitute. The Daniel Stern character in "D.O.A." tries to kill the Dennis Quaid character, steal his book and pass it off as his own. Quaid tells him what he can't possibly know yet, that he'll never know the singular feeling of doing the work.

Getting there by luck or by cheating can bring the shallow trappings of success, but also an emptiness. Doing the work brings a sense of accomplishment, of the character building of discipline -- and other rewards, regardless of whether there is victory or success in the traditional sense.

Ultimately, it comes down to each person taking responsibility, setting a high standard and taking aim at it. Sometimes, the trigger is drama, adversity, or whatever else you want to call it.

This is as good a time as any for the LSU football team to find out what it's made of.

The 2001 Tigers did OK after that 2-3 start in the SEC. Ryan Clark? Back then he told me he wasn't sure he even wanted to play beyond that season.

"Right now I'm not too high on football," Clark said. "I mean, I'm very excited to win the SEC championship, and I wouldn't trade this year for anything, but if this was the NFL, this would only be Week 13 of the (16-game) regular season. My body's really tired.

"I'm just going to give it some thought, pray on it with my parents, and what happens, happens. I'm still going to be smiling, whatever I choose to do."

He's in his eighth NFL season, his fourth with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That 2003 weekend series for the LSU baseball team? It was at Long Beach State. The Tigers lost the Friday game and the Saturday game, badly, setting up that conversation with Brian Wilson.

That Saturday game? Jered Weaver retired 13 consecutive LSU batters and struck out 10. Teammate Troy Tulowitzki was 3-for-4. Maybe you've heard of those guys. Sometimes things look different in the rearview mirror.

One suspects people watching NFL games in 2015 will look back on Florida's 2009 defense and say, 'Wow, look at the talent they had."

What will they say about LSU's offense? That's up to the Tigers and their coaches, if they're properly motivated from within and without and come together through adversity instead of letting it splinter them into fragments.

.

Carl Dubois
has written or blogged about LSU sports since 1999. He decided the week of the open date would be a good time to look back and explore the psychology of team sports as a conversation piece about the 2009 LSU football team. You can contact him at carl1061 'at' gmail.com.


TigerWoody
LSU Fan
btwn where I was & where I will be
Member since Dec 2007
11387 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Wow, Carl! I believe this is your best yet. Hopefully, hopefully this message gets to those who need it most...the team and most importantly, the offense. I for one would hate to see this incredibly talented bunch splinter and prove their harshest critics right.



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lsudiva2010
LSU Fan
2014 Class B BBall Champions
Member since Jan 2008
19302 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
fantastic read as always
i hope to goodness our team can do this ...
but after last year, its all cautious optimism at this point.


Cornholio
LSU Fan
LaPlace
Member since Nov 2007
8182 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Very well done, Carl.


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drenko50
LSU Fan
Lafayette, LA
Member since Feb 2009
1486 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Always look forward to your column. Great stuff.


GeauxGus
LSU Fan
Baton Rouge
Member since Aug 2005
5219 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
..great writing, Carl.....And I mean not just as a "sports column" topical thing, but really good writing style and insights, on its own merits. Good work, and I hope the players pick up on some of this.




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Tiger Phil
LSU Fan
I see burnt orange everywhere
Member since Nov 2007
1284 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
quote:

Defeat can bring out the worst in people, especially those on the outside who are powerless to change things. It's easier to say what someone else should be doing than to take care of one's own business.



Oh man, how true is this statement for the LSU fan base?


SonOfMike
LSU Fan
Austin, TX
Member since Oct 2007
5879 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
I love your columns carl. Please continue what your doing


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Geaux4LSU88
LSU Fan
Shreveport
Member since Aug 2005
1611 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
You can tack on the 2000 Houston baseball series to this too. I was at the Sunday game, and we all know what transpired that year...


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Chicken
USA Fan
Jackassistan
Member since Aug 2003
18295 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
quote:

those on the outside who are powerless to change things
the fanbase may be powerless to directly change things, but not necessarily indirectly. The fan base is the customer...


LeMarteau
LSU Fan
Hoover, AL (B.R. native)
Member since Mar 2008
1958 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Carl - great, as always.


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OnlyOneShot
New Orleans Saints Fan
Eunice
Member since Oct 2009
258 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity

I hope the offweek is one this LSU team takes to look at the reasons they really are playing for!



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The Tiger King
LSU Fan
Psalm 41:2
Member since Sep 2003
1860 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity

Chicken, man of the people.

The passion for LSU football in Louisiana is a two-edged sword. Just like a Cajun. Best friend or worst enemy, there's not much room in between.

We fans need to come together to get a happy balance going between praise, encouragement, and criticism. We should point out the positive things the team does as people and students first, football players second. Then we can be free to give constructive analysis and criticism of their on-the-field performance(s).

The same applies to moral living: Reinforce virtue, find and eliminate vice. Vice should not be ignored or tolerated, yet not fixated upon either. Laxity and scrupulosity are both foolish.

Nice change of pace article, Carl. Thanks.


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Meauxjeaux
Memphis Fan
98563 posts including my alters
Member since Jun 2005
32505 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Nice...

I always said on here that nobody wanted a piece of that 2001 team at the end of the season - had there been a playoff system, it would have been a Top 2 or 3 likely to win it all.

quote:

What does this have to do with LSU football 2009? A lot, perhaps, but before we get there, let's revisit LSU football 2001.

After LSU lost 35-24 to Ole Miss, the Tigers were 2-3 in the SEC. They heard booing. The coach's daughter asked if their family would have to move again.

Ryan Clark, a senior safety, later told me something clicked inside the players around that time.

"We just went out there to have fun," he said. "Once we started having fun, we started winning."

They didn't lose again. They ended the season on a six-game winning streak that came with an SEC championship and Sugar Bowl victory.

Clark told me the shift in mindset locked in place for good at a practice after a big victory at Alabama, the first game after the loss to Ole Miss. During an intense drill that excludes wide receivers and cornerbacks, LSU's defense shut down the offense play after play in that practice, Clark said.

"I don't think they even got back to the line of scrimmage," he said. "Every time we made a play everybody was just screaming, 'Us 11. Us 11.' It just made me realize how important everyone I play with is to me."

He said that phrase -- "Us 11" -- was a kind of shorthand for the players.

"We would say, 'Us one-hundred-and-something,' but we don't know how many walk-ons we've got," Clark said. "So that wouldn't work. So we just say 'Us 11' for any group of 11 you want - offense or defense."

As LSU prepared to play Illinois in the Sugar Bowl, Clark explained how the Tigers saw in late October they were being counted out, locally and regionally, so they turned to the only people they thought believed in them: each other.


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NOLA Tiger
LSU Fan
New Orleans
Member since Sep 2006
762 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Great read!


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Chuck U Farley
LSU Fan
The 318
Member since Oct 2007
8994 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Damn Good read Carl, You are easily my favorite LSU sports writer.


Baloo
LSU Fan
Formerly MDGeaux
Member since Sep 2003
49645 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Absolutely fantastic column.


charlieg14
LSU Fan
Member since Mar 2006
3076 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Carl. Great article. I only hope that someone at the Morning Advocate reads your posts here and has come to the conclusion of what a major faux pas they made in dealing with your situation when you left.

Well done, sir. Well done.


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IHATEBAMA
Nevada Fan
ROOSTERPOOT, AK
Member since Aug 2007
135 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
This read has got me fired up!!!! I am ready for WAR EGALE......


EyeOfTheTiger311
LSU Fan
Lafayette, LA
Member since Aug 2005
3955 posts

re: Column: A time of crisis is a time of opportunity
Carl, you should be writing for ESPN, SI.com, or some other national media outlet. Your stuff is 10 times batter than half the quacks out there


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