NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The first time Lamarcus Joyner saw what became known as the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” he was astonished as anyone else. The more the Florida State defensive back watched replays of the Hail Mary pass, a desperation heave that miraculously turned into the game-winning touchdown that saved Auburn's season, the more he suspected something other than skill was at work.
“I don't believe in luck,” Joyner said. “But that was luck!”
Ricardo Louis doesn't care how anyone wants to label it. He just knows that on Nov. 16 he made a touchdown catch that was every bit as immaculate as Franco Harris’ reception 41 years earlier for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That was long before Louis was born and later starred at Miami Beach High, but similar in several ways to his own improbable catch.
“Call it what you want,” Louis sniffed. “We’re here today.”
Auburn defeated Alabama on a miraculous, end-of-game runback on a missed field goal two weeks after the Georgia game. But what gave significance to that jaw-dropping victory over the defending national champions was the 73-yard touchdown prayer from Nick Marshall to Louis two weeks earlier.
If not for that play, Auburn wouldn't be preparing to face Florida State in Monday’s BCS National Championship Game. Saddled with two losses, they would have ended up in a lesser bowl, not taking aim on the school’s second national title in four years.
And Louis became an instant Auburn legend.
The sophomore receiver was recruited by every major college in Florida, but elected to head out of state to Auburn.
“I wanted to experience life somewhere else,” said Louis, who moved around a lot growing up, from one South Florida neighborhood to another.
He caught three passes as a freshman in 2012 and Auburn finished 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC). Louis was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver this past season with 26 receptions, only two for touchdowns.
But the one against Georgia turned out to be the biggest of his life, far bigger than any he had made at Miami Beach High.
With time running out and Auburn trailing by a point to Georgia, Louis encouraged Marshall to throw him the ball on the fourth-and-18 from their own 27. In the huddle, Louis all but begged Marshall to look his way.
“Something just told me to tell Nick to throw me the ball,” Louis recounted. “I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Throw me the ball.’ He didn’t say nothing at first so I said it again, ‘Throw me the ball.’”
Marshall got the message. Louis took off streaking down the middle of the field and Marshall let fly.
Replays show Louis initially looking over his right shoulder as the ball descended toward his left. There was no way Louis would have made the catch had the ball not been touched.
But touched it was.
Georgia defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons reached up and deflected the ball, actually causing it to gain more lift — and more time for Louis to reach. Louis turned his head, saw the ball and “reeled it in.”
“I heard it hit flesh, which is what made me look up,” Louis said of the deflection. “There was a split second where I lost sight. And then it got tipped and it was right next to me.”
Like something that appears out of thin air.
Louis raced in for the touchdown as 80,000 fans at Jordan-Hare went wild.
“When I heard the crowd roar, that’s the loudest I ever heard Jordan-Hare get,” Louis said, “and I knew something great had just happened.”
Louis doesn’t know what became of the football. He said he threw it to the ground during the celebration in the end zone and never saw it again. After the game, he gave away his right glove to a young fan, but kept the left. He also kept his cleats as a memento.
Folks around Auburn now recognize Louis. Others send him Twitter messages that link to the replay, one he has seen numerous times in the weeks since. His friends back home in Miami called to congratulate him. He said Auburn fans often tell him where they were when he made the catch. He said was told that one man suffered a heart attack from the excitement.
“I felt kind of bad but they said he was all right,” Louis said.
Louis said the play is one that he'll never forget, obviously.
“It's a great feeling that you can change people’s lives, making them happy,” Louis said. “Every time I think about that play, that's what I think about, how I affected everybody else’s lives.”
Auburn's life, too.