Press them, and they’ll spit out
the games like a spigot: LSU 14, Arkansas 0; LSU 7, Ole Miss 3; LSU 7, Auburn 6; LSU 20, Alabama 10; etc.
It’s all almost a reflex reaction
to questions – discussed thousands of times across Louisiana each fall –
that require updating almost yearly: Who were the best players in Tiger football
history? Which were the most memorable games? What years had the greatest
Tiger Rag is querying them
Good questions deserve others.
Did Cannon, the most decorated
Tiger of them all, and who first lined up at halfback at LSU 50 years ago, mean
more to his team than, say, Russell did last season? Or, for that matter, was he
more valuable than G.A. “Doc’’ Fenton, who was LSU’s first superstar when he
played a century ago?
Was LSU’s stunning 7-6 upset of
Auburn in 1988, the famed “Earthquake Game,” or the 14-7 shocker over Arkansas
in the 1966 Cotton Bowl a greater achievement than a defeat – even a gallant one
– like the gut-wrenching 17-12 loss to Southern Cal, in which the loaded
Trojans, with three future Pro Football Hall of Famers on their roster, needed a
highly questionable penalty to beat the Tigers in the last minute?
Were the 1958 Tigers a better team
than the 1946 Bayou Bengals – or even the 1936 LSU squad – because it had an
unbeaten record while the other two each had one loss and one tie?
Sometimes things happen.
Over the course of the next few
years, the ’46 team had 18 members drafted, 15 of whom played pro ball. The
fabled national champs of 12 years later couldn’t match that.
Of course, these types of questions
can never be definitively answered. All factors and circumstances – meaning
every athlete and team would have to be put in exact situations and against the
same quality opponents and similar conditions to see how they fared – are
impossible to duplicate. I just can’t be. Every player is measured individually
by the people around him: his teammates. Some truly great athletes can’t
consistently shine because they don’t have as much help as others; others excel
because they do. A back-breaking schedule may hold back a team or an individual
Eras can’t be compared. All these
men played under different conditions – and, as major a factor as anything,
What would the stats of today’s
athletes look like and how would they perform if they played under the rules of
the 1950s, when a player couldn’t come out of a game twice in the same quarter
without the team being penalized? Or, even earlier, when plays were sent in from
the sidelines and no one in the huddle could speak except the messenger without
The point is that the games Fenton
or Tinsley or Cannon or Russell played at LSU were all vastly different.
Still, after four decades of
watching Tiger football, frequently up-close and personal, and some deep
soul-searching, some things are absolute in my mind: Regardless of the stats,
Casanova remains as great a player as LSU ever put on the field.
The 1969 Tigers, who averaged 35
points offensively and gave up less than 400 yards rushing all season, is the
most complete LSU team. The upset of defending national champion Arkansas in the
’66 Cotton Bowl by an injured and under-achieving band of Tigers was the
greatest game LSU played in that time. But the Southern
Cal defeat, considering everything – including the different talent
levels – was the greatest effort.
There is no right or wrong in any of this, but that’s one man’s opinions.
Still, the quick research for the
project dislodged a couple of names only a few aging Tiger fans might remember:
Glenn Smith and Paul Lyons.
Smith was a third-string sophomore
tailback when the hard-luck 1967 Tigers, 10 points away from an unbeaten season
instead of their three losses, played in the Sugar Bowl against undefeated and
seventh-ranked Wyoming. And this wasn’t Wyoming in the way you
usually think of the Cowboys. These guys were really good, with a couple of
future NFL stars in Jim Kiick and Jerry DePoyster.
LSU couldn’t get one foot in front
of the other in the mud in the first half, trailing the Cowboys 13-0 at the
break. Looking for someone to spark his team, Coach Charlie McClendon sent in
Smith, who responded with 79 yards rushing, opening up the rest of the Tiger
offense, and LSU went on to win 20-13.
Smith was the Sugar Bowl MVP and
the toast of his hometown – and he finished his LSU career without ever starting
Lyons was the capable quarterback who McClendon
started ahead of the immensely talented Bert Jones for most of two seasons.
Lyons was what
you’d call a “good college quarterback.” Jones was clearly a greatly talented
quarterback, but one who wanted to do it his way and not necessarily the coach’s
In a long-forgotten 1971 game at
in which Badger fans rained down non-football epithets on the young Tigers,
showering them with calls of “Racists! Racists! Racists!” the self-styled
“enlightened” Badgers reasoned that anyone from the South must hold certain
views. (Isn’t that what we now call that stereotyping?)
Lyons threw for 165 yards and ran for 135 yards in a 38-28
LSU victory – one which America was reminded of for most of
the next decade. In one of Lyons’ runs, he rolled into the end zone and
dramatically threw his left arm, ball in hand, over his head.
ABC-TV, which then was the only
college football network and which carried that game, used that shot for its
opening segment for years afterward. It was a constant reminder of a satisfying
Names and games like that may not
mean as much as the most obvious ones in a hundred-year history. But they still
bring a strong sense of accomplishment.
Marty Mule’ can be reached at