AUBURN, Ala. — The stakes of the 2013 Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama would never have been as high without Ricardo Louis. For years, Louis dreamed of becoming a superhero. He wanted to be responsible for a rescue.
Yet, instead of donning cape or mask, he put on a football helmet.
Auburn’s season appeared to be coming to an end as the final minutes ticked off in the Tigers’ 2013 matchup against Georgia. A comeback seemed impossible. A 20-point lead had escaped Auburn and that wasn’t the worst of it: The Tigers were down to the Bulldogs, separated from a touchdown by 73 yards. The team needed far more than a Herculean effort to save its year — Auburn needed a miracle.
In an instant, the Auburn receiver made a catch that would set up one of the most stunning college football games, and one of the most astonishing seasons, to ever be played.
Here’s how Louis — a rookie receiver with the Cleveland Browns — remembers Auburn’s 2013 win over Georgia (as told to Lauren Shute):
Ricardo Louis: Prayer in Jordan-Hare
A lot of kids want to be superheroes and save the world. Growing up, people sometimes called me Superman. I never thought about saving the world, but I loved football. I thought it would be amazing to save a game and to be a hero of a game.
As a kid I thought about it all the time. I kind of forgot about it over time, but I never lost that personality that I was Superman, that I could do it all.
There’s a game kids play where you throw the ball up really high and someone has to catch it. Then you have to try not to be tackled by everyone playing.
I used to be the one that would throw the ball up. I used to wait in the back for someone to tip it and I would go catch it. Then I’d run around and go score.
The 2012 season, when we went 3-9, was rough. During spring break a few of us went to Panama City and there were some football players from other schools on the beach. A few Georgia players were there. They were giving us a hard time about our record, saying Auburn sucked.
It felt so bad. I was mad. I was embarrassed. Leading up to the next season, I never forgot that. During the week before the Georgia game I remembered it and let it add to the fire.
We started winning in 2013 and that game was very important. Georgia and Auburn is known for being the South’s oldest rivalry. Going into that game you have to know that as an Auburn athlete. Every time we went into that game, we had the mindset where we had to do whatever it took to keep the Bulldogs from winning.
The whole week leading up to that game we talked about how we had to win. My mindset was, ‘OK, I’m going to bear down, make sure I do all the right things and I’m going to make sure I get prepared in the right way. That way, if the opportunity comes, I can make a play.
I pray every day. I pray before games. That whole year I was praying for greatness to happen in our season. I was down about the year before and I wanted everyone to do great and just make plays. I prayed for that every day, every night. I wanted to be great. I wanted out team to be great. I wanted us to have a great season.
I want every game to be special. I had no idea if I’d have the chance, but I had the mindset that if I had the opportunity to make a big play, I was going to do it.
There were a lot of things happening during that game. Nick Marshall had gone to Georgia and I could feel tension between him and some of his former teammates throughout some of the plays. That kind of got me going. I knew we had to beat them because it was his old school. He wanted to show out and win and we wanted to help him.
I had a pretty good game. I was catching the ball, getting a lot of yards. I was stiffing people, all kinds of stuff. Toward the end of the game, before that play, we were down and it was the fourth quarter, I guess like a minute or so left. We had a couple of plays, but most of the plays went bad. Sammie (Coates) caught a screen across the field and lost a couple of yards. Nick had been sacked. Then it was fourth down and I wasn’t in.
The offense went out there and Georgia called a timeout. I was on the sideline mad because I felt like I was having a good game. I felt like I should have been out there. Then just the vibe on the sideline and the vibe of the crowd was making me more anxious to get out there.
Everyone had their head down. It felt like we lost already. I was pacing up and down the sideline and I was ready to get in. So, Georgia calls a timeout, and the offense came back to the sideline. I went to the huddle and I’m sitting there mad. I was anxious and agitated.
Then Coach (Dameyune) Craig told me to go to five. It’s a position I practiced a couple of times throughout the year, but not very much, so I was like, ‘What? OK.”
We still had some time before we went back out on the field. Nick was standing right across from me and I was like, “Nick, hey, throw me the ball.”
I said it where only he could hear me. He kind of looked at me again and I said it a little louder.
“Hey, throw me the ball.” And he shook his head yes.
When we went back out on the field, I ran past him and said it one more time.
“Nick. Throw it.” And he looked at me.
Before Nick used to throw the ball, he looked at you. He looked at you and then looked at the defense to make sure everything is right before he threw it.
On that play, coach was actually telling him to throw it to Sammie. The play was designed for Sammie to come over because they were in the perfect defense, and if you watch the play, you see him come right across the middle.
Nick had faith I was going to catch the ball. The whole game I had been making plays. Usually I would never just say throw me the ball; it wasn’t really my personality until that game.
He snapped the ball, I’m running down the field and I see two or three defensive backs ahead of me. So, I kept running and the ball was overthrown a little bit, so I realized that and kind of sped up. I looked down to see where the DBs were, and by the time I looked back up for the ball, it was already coming down. My momentum had kept me moving forward, so the ball came down and tipped off the players.
I just looked up and found it. I located it, put my hand out and pulled it in. And then the rest is history.
After that play, I had a flashback to when I was a kid playing that game in the yard. It all correlated to me being the superhero of the game.
The celebration was crazy. In the locker room after we won, we were dancing. The coaches were dancing. Everyone was a champion. That was one of the best feelings ever. The media and all that was great, too.
That whole year I had prayed for greatness to happen. It’s crazy how it turned out and that game has the nickname ‘The Prayer in Jordan-Hare.” That game made me realize how important faith is.
Then came the Iron Bowl. That game — that play — was crazy, too. I got a chance to feel what it felt like when I made that play versus Georgia. I had the same feeling against Georgia that everyone had when we beat Alabama.
And all I could think was, “Wow, this is how it (being Superman) feels.”