ORLANDO, Fla. — There is a line of thinking that many postseason bowl games have lost their appeal in the College Football Playoff era. Some observers might even say many of those games have become meaningless. For those pundits, LSU seniors Christian LaCouture and J.D. Moore are about to set the record straight.
The first Tigers teammates to wear the coveted No. 18 jersey in the same season, LaCouture and Moore are two of the toughest guys in the entire SEC. But LSU’s 21-17 loss to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl rocked them emotionally, reducing them to tears in the aftermath of their final collegiate game.
So for those observers who contend bowl games have become devoid of meaning, maybe you haven’t been watching closely enough.
Moore was in the initial wave of players to exit the field at Camping World Stadium on Monday, but it wasn’t to duck into the locker room and warm up on an unseasonably cold day in central Florida. He stood in the tunnel greeting teammates as they made their way in.
The finality of it all seemed to set in after almost everyone had passed. Moore shuddered, before tight end Foster Moreau enveloped him in a bear hug of consolation.
“A lot of memories are kind of flooding back,” Moore said of that moment. “[It’s] a different experience from last year on the same field, not putting on the champion hat. It’s bittersweet. It’s tough.”
LaCouture had his No. 18 jersey draped over his shoulder as he gave his final postgame interview as a Tiger. Hours earlier it had been spotless and white. But as he spoke, it was dotted with paint stains from the playing field.
“I’m not going to dry clean it. I’m going to keep it just like it is,” he said. “The blood, sweat that goes through it, you want to keep that stuff.”
LaCouture comported himself to speak with media, but his puffy red eyes betrayed him. This wasn’t how he envisioned going out at LSU, and the emotions were understandably overwhelming.
“I’m trying to keep my composure, because this is tough,” he said. “This team, for me personally, whenever I was down and something happened to me, those guys in there were always there for me. When someone on your team is down, they’re really there for you. They support you and really try to make you feel better.”
LaCouture would know.
His 2016 season was a nightmare. In one week, he tore his ACL and saw his family’s home severely damaged by the cataclysmic flood that put Baton Rouge and vicinity underwater. But he got through it, in part, because his teammates were there for him, and that played a factor in his decision to return to LSU for a fifth year of eligibility this season.
Most of Moore’s career was spent as a battering ram opening holes for Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. Earlier this season, attrition forced LaCouture to play every snap at defensive end against Syracuse — all 82 of them. That’s as close as you’ll get to the old two-way iron men in the modern age of football.
Despite their obvious physical toughness, neither of them could hold back the tears after losing to the Fighting Irish. That’s how much it meant to them. In the playoff age, it might be easy to call all the other bowl games meaningless. But that would be way off the mark, according to the men who wore No. 18 this season.
“It’s disrespectful,” LaCouture said.
“At the end of the day, what you do throughout the season, you get rewarded for. A bowl game, especially the magnitude of this, you want to win because it’s a great team you’re going against.
“It just sucks. It really eats at you. … Everything just hurts right now. It sucks, knowing I’m not going to be in that tunnel again. Everybody takes things for granted, until it really hits you.”
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