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Friday, September 29, 2006


I have not thought this in years. No, make that, in more than a decade.
The New Orleans Saints are a bigger story than LSU football. The buzz in south Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and beyond is the Saints. The Saints' 23-3 win over Atlanta on Monday Night Football, which was only a part of the broadcast, broke the ESPN ratings record with an 11.8 rating, or nearly 11 million homes.
The LSU-Mississippi State game Saturday at 11:30 a.m. will draw a minute fraction of that. LSU players and coaches have been talking about the Saints this week. The Saints have not been talking about LSU. The Saints have had more buzz than LSU for weeks, particularly after LSU lost 7-3 to Auburn on Sept. 16 and made a good Auburn defense look like a great one with bad play calling.
The last time LSU was second fiddle in this state for a prolonged period of time had to be way back in 1993. In 2000, the Saints won their first playoff game ever and finished 11-7 after going 3-13 the year before, but that team did not have the pizazz that this one has. LSU was also very hot in 2000 as it was coach Nick Saban's first year. The Tigers went 8-4 after a 3-8 season the year before and knocked off No. 11 Tennessee 38-31 in overtime on ESPN and beat Mississippi State 45-38 in overtime on ESPN2. So that year was probably a draw.
Before that, both teams were horrible in 1998 and 1999, and LSU easily held the upper hand from 1995 through 1997 as coach Gerry DiNardo went to three straight bowls and reversed six straight losing seasons. The Saints had losing or break-even seasons from 1993 through 1999 with a 3-13 mark in 1996 and 6-10 campaigns in 1997 and 1998.
So, one would have to go all the way back to 1992 to find the Saints as the lead sports story in the state. The Saints went 12-4 that season after winning the NFC West in 1991 with an 11-5 mark. LSU, meanwhile, was in its dark ages under Curley Hallman.
The Saints are just more fun to watch this year with tailback Reggie Bush, who could run from one corner to another before an LSU back can turn a corner. Drew Brees is everything the LSU fans think Matt Flynn is, but Flynn is not. Brees is a heady, smart, cool quarterback without a strong arm who knows how to win and plays more consistently than the strong-armed JaMarcus Russell of LSU.
The Saints' offense is a crisp, rhythmic study in execution. LSU's offense is talented, but its coaches have not decided what they want to do yet. They can't even decide who their tailback is.
LSU's defense is easily the best part of this team, and it is clearly better than the Saints' defense. But LSU's defense cannot alone win at Florida and at Tennessee.
The other reason the Saints are more interesting this year is because the NFL does not have any breather weeks. It does not have armageddon weeks as in college football, but the Saints will never play the equivalent of LSU opponents like Tulane, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Ole Miss.
The NFL has a long season, and the Saints still might end up being an 8-8-type team. So if LSU wants to return to being the best football story in the state, it will have to win at Florida and at Tennessee. And it will have to score more than three points to do it.
The Florida game is a week away. Until then, enjoy the Saints. Oh, I almost forgot. With the Astros strong following in Louisiana and their record breaking run onto the threshold of the playoffs, LSU might be third by next week.



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