The concussions were scary for Ben Leard, and the back surgery and separated shoulder were certainly no fun. But what really hurt him was an all-out booing blitz from his team’s fans on an October day in 1998.
“Hearing all those boos in my direction, I was embarrassed,” Auburn’s senior quarterback said. “It’s something I never wanted to hear again. It’s been a motivating thing for me. It’s something I’d never experienced and never wanted to again.”
Leard has given Tiger fans little reason to gripe since that 17-9 loss to Tennessee. He certainly hasn’t had another day like that one, when he completed one pass in 10 attempts.
Leard has been the trigger man for the 20th-ranked Tigers’ surprising resurgence, leading them to a Southeastern Conference division title and a Citrus Bowl berth against No. 17 Michigan (8-3) Monday. It will be his first bowl game as the starter and the team’s first since 1997.
“I think he’s done great,” Coach Tommy Tuberville said. “He didn’t have great stats. He didn’t do a lot of great things on the field at times, but he’s an excellent leader and he won games.
“And he won games he wasn’t supposed to win. That’s important about a quarterback. I know he took a lot of ridicule for throwing some interceptions and not playing as well. It’s hard to criticize a quarterback who’s won as many games as he’s won.”