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Boos Provide Motivation

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.

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“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.”


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