- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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We don't need to wait for all precincts to report. We don't need no stinkin' second opinions. The best 1 minute and 54 seconds in sports last weekend, bar none, didn't happen on a field of play at all.
It happened once LSU football coach Les Miles took the postgame podium Saturday night in Baton Rouge feeling so emotional about Senior Day -- and, in particular, how one of his departing players had been labeled a disappointment by the media -- that he took off on a thundering, growling, wonderfully whackadoo rant that left him jabbing a finger through the air at several points and jamming his hands down hard on hips as he hissed and roared, bellowed and howled about how, "I AM PROUD OF THESE MEN!" He fearlessly evoked how he wasn't ashamed to admit his own playing career at Michigan "was a FLOP!"
"Just so ya know," Miles said, dropping his voice a couple registers. Then he took off on a verbal naked bootleg again.
It was fabulous. It was unique. And as any keen student of human behavior knows, if Miles was capable of that virtuoso performance, there has to be more where that came from, right?
A subsequent search for The Les Miles Hot List did not disappoint.
But before we get to that, some friendly words of advice first: If you haven't already seen the video of Miles' latest Tour de Les performance, you really ought to watch it today, this being Thanksgiving and all -- the closest thing we have to a national football holiday. Because it's impossible to keep from laughing once you do see it.
Miles' nicknames include "The Mad Hatter" and "Les-ticles" (because of the gutsy gambles he incorrigibly takes during games). He is an engaging mosaic of a man who has the elastic face and deadpan comic timing of Bill Murray, and yet can summon the righteous indignation that made his old Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler, famous. One big difference is publicly, Miles always has his players' backs. And by the end of Saturday's rousing rant, you can understand why LSU players run through the wall for Miles.
Hell, you can picture having to pick mortar out of your hair yourself.
As the other entries on the Miles Hot List confirm, the best part often is, just when you think Miles has really, truly come unhinged, there is usually a moment when a boomlet of laughter erupts from Miles' audience, and then he blinks then perhaps smirks, signaling he was indeed lucid all along.
That happened after Saturday, too, as Miles was working up to his big finish and he gave this marching order to Tigers fans because his players had just won a cliffhanger: "YOU GO FIND THEM, YOU THROW YOUR ARMS AROUND THEM, YOU GIVE THEM A BIG KISS ON THE MOUTH --
"IF you're a girl," Miles added, quickly catching himself.
The room was now rocked by an explosion of laughter.
Miles ought to win an Emmy for Best Improvisational Performance by a Leading Man. But these career moments of his weren't bad either:
1. The game in which Les takes a "tumble" while leading the team onto field before a 2011 clash with archrival Alabama:
After a reporter requests that Miles take him through the sequence where he came running out the tunnel and then had a "slight altercation" before hitting the ground, Miles responds: "Hey listen, we have contact. Just at any point in time in this program, I just want you to know that you best be ready, OK? Better have your land legs and be ready to roll, because you're gonna get it. Right or left or straight ahead, someway, somehow.
"I brought the team to the field and I just want you to know, it appeared to me that the field was strewn with excess fan members and people with flags, and maybe even an occasional mascot or two. And as I made my way through what, again, appeared to be a minefield of people, from the side, unbeknownst to me, there was contact between one of our players and a cheerleader -- male, I may add. That male cheerleader kinda clipped me from the side as I was running full speed -- or, uh, slower than full speed, but generally, you know, in the upper quadrant of speed. And, uh, I hit the ground pretty good. But I was masked by the flag -- there was a flag waver there that certainly hid my embarrassing tumble."
"Were you 'nicked'?" Miles was asked.
"I was not nicked," he declared. "I came up gingerly, but kinda walked it off and avoided a baton twirler as I got to the bench."
2. The 2010 Alabama win, after which Les expounds on muddling, icebreakers and monkeys on the back:
After Miles opened his glowing postgame remarks by saying, "I was honored by being on the sideline with that team today," a reporter told him that it seemed as if a particular LSU player was "muddling around on offense until, out of the blue, came that 75-yard touchdown pass. Was that kind of a monkey off his back?"
"Oh yeah," Miles squinted at his questioner, clearly amused. "We call that 'muddling around.' We really do. 'OK, guys, c'mon now. Right now, here's what we're going to do: Early in this game, we're gonna muddle around. OK? And then later, we're gonna call that 'monkey off the back' play.' Yeah, you MUST be right."
REPORTER (after a smattering of laughter erupts): "I guess an 'icebreaker' is what I'm saying."
"Ohhhhh, like on a date, right? Wasn't that a helluva reception?" -- Miles says and puckers up, awaiting a kiss that never comes.
3. A close-up video, plus a quote, clarifying for the umpteenth time why Les eats grass during games:
Miles is routinely seen plucking a few blades of grass from the field and munching on it, or sticking it in his lip like a chaw. As he has explained many times, "You're not eating. All you're doing is tasting." But why? Les goes deep: "I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know I'm part of the field and part of the field," he says. "I can tell you one thing, the grass at Tiger Stadium tastes best."
4. The 2011 news conference in which Les reveals how he used Twitter to diagnose an injury:
"I have tweeted Michael Brockers," he said. "And I have tweeted a doctor about Michael Brockers. And a doctor has tweeted me back. And I suspect that Michael Brockers will play well. You know, the view of his knee by way of tweet is not as strong as kind of a one-on-one examination. I think the one-on-one examination by our trainers once he tweeted me appeared that this would not be a serious injury. So I don't imagine they'll be any problem there."
5. The Oklahoma State-Oklahoma pregame interview, in which Les is asked a philosophical question about having an opponent's number that has stumped coaches for, well, eons, really:
"I know THIS," shouted Les. "Our guys can't wait to play this ballgame. It's gonna be great ... Emotion has to be controlled at times. But most of the time, let 'er rip!"
6. The Best Les-ticles Game Ever:
LSU and Miles would have never won the 2007 national championship if he hadn't gambled five times on fourth down against defending national champion Florida and Tim Tebow. LSU converted all five times during a thrilling 28-24 win. Afterward, running back Jacob Hester, a hero of the Tigers' comeback, admiringly said of Miles, "He's definitely got some serious, you know "
7. The Worst Les-ticles Game: Probably the 2009 clock mismanagement nightmare versus Ole Miss.
Miles spent a few days after the loss accepting the flogging for his failure to call a timeout soon enough in the final 30 seconds. He didn't deny he had a brain cramp.
"I'd be the first one to tell you that I would like to think that I had called timeout before that. I can't imagine that I did not. I can't tell you that I did, and that's my issue."
This is a tongue-in-cheek website where someone has slavishly compiled 640 examples of the wit and wisdom of Miles, complete with live links to the original sources. A sampling:
"Whether the light switch is on in every room or not, I'm not certain. But I can tell you that most of the house is lit." Les as recorded by The Times-Picayune Nov. 22, 2008, about the improvement a starting player had shown.
"Louisiana has a heritage of great players that play their high school football within the boundaries of Louisiana," LSUSports.net noted him saying on Jan. 2, 2005.
Les, speaking to The Advocate of Baton Rouge in 2010, delves into X's and O's about an opponent as only Les can: "They will still attack you, not only vertically, but up the middle and with width."
Ow. Wouldn't that hurt?
So what makes all of this worthwhile for Les? What is the overarching point he is always trying to underscore? I think it's this:
"I think there is an emotional toll that's taken on this game," Miles told LSUSports.net on Nov. 9, 2009, "and it's wonderful."
Just so ya know.
After Les Miles vehemently defended his senior players, we went looking for other amusing actions by the LSU coach. The list is long and entertaining.