Jordan Jefferson is going to be LSU’s starting quarterback in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 9, and if he wins it, he’ll go down as one of the most significant players in the program’s storied history.
Decades from now, nobody will remember fans calling for his job, his inability to throw with any consistency or even the fact he could have spent the 2011 season in jail. What they’ll remember is Jefferson replacing an ineffective Jarrett Lee in the second quarter of the “Game of the Century” and leading LSU to a 9-6 overtime win at Alabama. They’ll remember how he played the best game of his career against Arkansas, turning a 14-0 deficit into a blowout victory. And they’ll remember that coach Les Miles stuck with him in the SEC championship game despite the worst first half by any quarterback in the history of the game, only to be rewarded with a 42-10 win that capped off a perfect 13-0 regular season.
All that should be good enough for Jefferson, who was charged with second-degree battery after an Aug. 19 bar brawl and missed LSU’s first four games. You’d think by now, Jefferson would be thankful that the privilege of playing quarterback for one of the nation’s elite programs wasn’t taken away from him permanently. You’d think he would understand how close he came to throwing away his career and derailing LSU’s season.
But on Tuesday night, I listened to Jefferson speak publicly for just the second time since he was reinstated to the team on Sept. 28 following a reduction of his felony battery charge to a misdemeanor. Surrounded by reporters at LSU’s indoor practice facility, he answered questions for more than 13 minutes. He was entertaining, insightful, interesting and sincere.
But he’s not sorry. And if you’re wondering who the real victim is here — Jefferson, or the guy he allegedly kicked in the head outside a Baton Rouge bar — you certainly wouldn’t know after hearing him reflect on his senior season.
“Whenever I was going through that, I was questioning why it had to be me to go through this,” he said. “I had to stay positive about it. Once I got negative, that’s when things would’ve fell apart for me. My performance would’ve been terrible if I’d thought about it that way. If I’d have continued to be bitter about that situation, I wouldn’t have had the games I’ve had.”
If you took that quote out of context, you’d probably think it came from a guy who missed a season with a torn ACL. Maybe a player who’d lost a parent or a sibling. Not somebody who broke curfew to go to Shady’s Bar on a Thursday night and then turned himself in to police 10 days later after eyewitnesses claimed he and another player, linebacker Josh Johns, had beaten a man so badly that he ended up in the hospital.
But that wasn’t all.
Asked about his emotions watching LSU play the first four games without him, Jefferson said: “Definitely was kind of a frustrating feeling because I knew I should’ve been out there playing those games. Me sitting out was kind of devastating, watching it through the TV when I knew I should’ve been out there playing. But I had to stay positive and cheer the team on and pray that they’d win every game until I got back.”
On his first conversation with Miles after the incident became public: “He had confidence in what I was telling him and what I told him how things happened. He was doing the best he could to get me back as soon as possible.”
On why he chose not to talk to the media between the time he was reinstated and this week: “It was a situation that doesn’t happen to a college football player often. It’s a terrible situation for anybody to go through. I was mainly focused on getting the position back and finding ways to contribute to this team to help to get victories instead of answering questions about that situation. I was trying to put it behind me and move forward and step away from that and handle my business as far as football-wise.”
Get the picture? Good, because I’m not sure Jefferson does.
Not a single acknowledgement that he made a mistake. Not an ounce of remorse toward either the man he allegedly beat or the team whose season he imperiled. Nothing.
Jefferson clearly looks at himself and sees somebody who has overcome adversity, somebody we should feel sorry for because he missed the first third of his senior year. I see somebody who should feel lucky that he got a very serious charge reduced to a misdemeanor that allowed him to return to the team. Jefferson looks at himself and sees someone who was wronged. I see someone who allegedly tried to rearrange someone’s face and only regrets that it cost him the start against Oregon.
And though he gets full credit for returning as Lee’s backup and taking advantage when opportunity called, this was all Jefferson’s own fault, every bit of it. He broke a team rule to be out late at night during fall camp, at a bar he had no business being inside. And no matter what precipitated the fight that Jefferson got involved in, the senior quarterback at LSU should have known to walk away.
“I’m back with my team, back with the coaches I love, playing the game I love, so there’s really no bitterness,” he said. “We’re playing in the national championship game, so it’s all good.”
Bitterness? Why would there be bitterness? Jefferson is about to be a living legend at LSU, a football program where entitlement has overtaken reality all the way to the brink of a championship.