NEW ORLEANS – Not long ago he was the guy in the baseball cap.
For three years, quarterback Matt Flynn stood on the LSU sidelines, hoping he'd get the chance to play yet, deep down, knowing he rarely would.
Life's like that when you're backing up the future No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Flynn didn't complain. He understood his role – but that didn't mean he liked it.
"Sure," Flynn said, "I thought about transferring. Anyone in that situation would."
The Tigers are glad he didn't.
Talented as his predecessor (JaMarcus Russell) may have been, LSU is a better team with Flynn under center. Coaches and teammates alike will tell you the Tigers earned their spot in Monday's BCS national title game largely because of Flynn, a fifth-year senior who's making the most of his one and only season as a starter.
"Sometimes things don't always happen quickly," said LSU coach Les Miles, whose squad will face Ohio State in the Superdome. "Sometimes you have to have patience in life and work hard and trust that things will turn out well.
"I think this season means more to him than maybe a number of other guys on our team for that reason."
Even though he never topped Russell for the starting job, it's not as if Flynn entered his senior season as an unproven signal caller. In 2005 he took over for an injured Russell in the Peach Bowl and guided LSU to a 40-3 victory over Miami.
But the following fall, with Russell healthy again, Flynn found himself back on the sidelines. He saw action in seven games and ended the season with only 133 passing yards. At times Flynn began to wonder if he should take his talent elsewhere.
"It's going to creep into your head a little bit," Flynn said of transferring. "I thought about it a little bit, but I signed up to be a LSU Tiger. I knew if I kept plugging along that good things were bound to happen. I'm just fortunate to be in the situation I'm in now."
Flynn has thrown for 2,233 yards and 17 touchdowns this season – including a 22-yard strike with one second remaining in LSU's 30-24 victory over Auburn. Although deep throws aren't his calling card, Flynn has improved his touch on long passes and his crispness and precision in the short game has helped make LSU's offense efficient throughout the season.
The Tigers are averaging 38.7 points and 448.2 yards per contest, and they've showed tremendous resolve by coming from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee.
"If it wasn't for Mat Flynn this year – his leadership alone – we wouldn't be where we are today," LSU running back Jacob Hester said. "We've got some young guys in the huddle who start bickering when things aren't going right. Matt and I are always there to settle them down."
Even when he hasn't been at his best, Flynn has earned the respect of his teammates by playing through nagging ankle and shoulder injuries. When Flynn's health problems have forced him from the game, backup Ryan Perrilloux has performed admirably in his place.
Perrilloux, a sophomore who has started two games this season, was one of the most highly-recruited quarterbacks in the country when he signed with the Tigers in 2005. Although Flynn will get the start, Perrilloux is also expected to see the field against Ohio State.
"I'll be standing right there on the sideline next to Coach Miles, just waiting for my chance," Perrilloux said.
Funny, that's what Flynn did for the past four years. With one college game remaining, he said the way his LSU career is ending has made the whole experience fulfilling.
A general studies major, Flynn can see Tiger Stadium from the three-story house he shares with two friends and his dog, Boudreaux, a 140-pound Italian mastiff. Teammates have told reporters in the past that Flynn is known for hosting some crazy parties, so you can only imagine what he may have planned if LSU emerges victorious against Ohio State.
Flynn, on so many fronts, would have plenty of reason to celebrate.