Most 2003 Tigers want LSU to beat Nick Saban
By Josh Cooper
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TUSCALOOSA — The memories of 2003 will never go away for Stephen Peterman.
The former LSU offensive lineman is lined up right behind then-coach Nick Saban in that famous photo of him hoisting the crystal ball — recognizing the Tigers 2003 national championship.
But as his first reaction upon hearing of Saban's return to the college game as Alabama's head coach, all Peterman could think of was Nov. 3.
"When coach Saban got the Alabama job, the first thing I thought of was the first time Alabama played LSU," said Peterman, now an offensive lineman with the Detroit Lions. "It was kind of a letdown because it was one of our rivals. I understand why he did it, but that doesn't mean I am going to be pulling for Alabama."
Much has been made of Saban's relationship with LSU fans and their adoration for him after that 2003 season moving toward their current distaste.
Lost somewhere in the clutter has been Saban's relationship with his players from that squad. He often talks of them with great fondness, using examples of that team in his news conferences when he talks of the glory days. His book, also is littered with references of them.
"(Coach Saban) was a fiery guy. He got after you continuously. He patted you on the back. He let you know why he got after you. He knew what he wanted," said Michael Clayton, a wide receiver on that team and now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "He had a sense of urgency about himself, wanting to get better year by year and his mindset, the way that he thought, for every player to buy in, and if you didn't buy in, you were basically not wanted because it could only hurt our chance."
Said Peterman: "Those days, you never wipe away those days. The relationships we had on those teams were great. We practiced hard, we played hard and coach Saban hired the right guys as assistants and got us all playing together."
When that LSU team defeated Oklahoma in the 2003 national championship game, it completed the Tigers' transition from run-of-the-mill SEC school to conference superpower. When Saban left for Miami after the 2004 season, the players didn't harbor any bad feelings for him, and they don't now.
Especially for players in the NFL, they realize that the business of the sport rests above loyalty for a team. If Saban's going to Alabama was better for his disposition then they understand.
"You do what's best for you and your family," Peterman said.
"It was a great opportunity, and I wish him all the luck in the world. Just not when he plays LSU."
Added former Tigers wide receiver Skyler Green, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, "My reaction when coach Saban became the Alabama head coach was that the LSU fans would be like, 'oh man they are going to hate him for doing that.' But it's a job. Coaches go different places all the time."
So who will Saban's former players root for Saturday?
The coach who nurtured them as they went through their college years, or the school for which they played.
"I think I'll go with my old coach. I love LSU, but I also love coach Saban," Green said.
"I'm going to pull for both, and whoever wins, it's up in the air. I would love to see coach Saban win, but at the same time I want my team to make it to the national championship."
Said Clayton: "I'm pulling for the Tigers 100 percent, man. (Coach Saban) has made that program better in the things that he has accomplished at Alabama. He has some great senior leadership up there but like I said, my loyalty lies with the Tigers."
LSU at Alabama
4 p.m., WHNT-19
Five things you might not know about the LSU football program
Alabama coach Nick Saban recruited LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini out of high school. Pelini, who hails from Youngstown, Ohio, decided to go to Ohio State, rather than Michigan State — the school where Saban was an assistant at the time.
The Tigers are ranked in the top-5 in all defensive categories. Its lowest rankings are fifth in scoring defense (15.38 points per game) and rushing defense (71.63 yards).
LSU has not lost a game in November since 2002. During that stretch, the Tigers are 15-0 in the month.
The Tigers have won three straight road games against Alabama. It is LSUís longest winning streak in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama marks the sixth ranked opponent that the Tigers will play this year.
Josh Cooper, Daily Sports Writer
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