Whether it’s Alabama or LSU that walks away with the national championship Monday night, it won’t be the first title for either team.
The Crimson Tide have claim to 13 national titles while the Tigers have won the crown three times, including twice in the past decade.
LSU’s first came more than 50 years ago in 1958, and I followed their success every Saturday night on WWL-AM (870) in New Orleans, a station that carried all of their games. As opposed to today when we have college football on television virtually all day every Saturday in the fall, back in those days you had just a TV game of the week. Unless you could see the game in person, radio was your only other option.
LSU usually played their games at night, and my Zenith radio was able to pick up the action from the New Orleans station that had a clear channel frequency. Tigers broadcasters John Ferguson and J.C. Politz provided the play-by-play account.
That 1958 LSU team was coached by “Pepsodent” Paul Dietzel -- he got that name because of his smile -- and consisted of just 55 players, including just three seniors. Not much was expected of that group since they had gone just 11-17-2 during the previous three seasons. The Tigers had some great Cajun names on that squad like Lynn LeBlanc, Larry Kahldin, Mickey Mangham, Durel Matherne, Andy Bourgeois, Carrol Bergeron, Emile Fournet, Gaynell Kinchen, Hart Bourque and Mike Schexnaildre.
But “The Man” on that team was Billy Cannon, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy the next year. His greatest run came Halloween night during his Heisman Trophy season in 1959 when he returned a punt 89 yards against Mississippi to lead the top-ranked Tigers to a 7-3 win over the No. 3 Rebels. The teams met in a rematch -- sound familiar -- in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1960, with Mississippi winning 21-0.
During the 1958 season, the NCAA had limited substitution rules, so players had to play both offense and defense. The rule was that if a player was in the game at the start of a quarter he could be replaced and then return only once during the quarter. With that being the case, Dietzel created three different units in an effort to prevent fatigue and basically platooned them
The first was the “White Team” which consisted of all two-way starters. The “Go Team” was the offensive specialists and was made up of third-string linemen and second-string backs, and the third unit was the “The Chinese Bandits,” made up of second-string linemen and third-string backs and were tabbed the defensive specialists. The Chinese Bandits, taken from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, were considered the most vicious people on earth.
In a 13-3 win over fifth-ranked Alabama, in Bear Bryant’s first season as head coach at the Capstone, the Bandits replaced the White Team with the Crimson Tide having a first-and-goal at the 5. The Bandits were a huge success, keeping Alabama out of the end zone and limiting them to only a field goal.
In another memorable moment from that season, LSU beat Ole Miss 14-0 at Tiger Stadium before a capacity crowd of 67,000. That was the first sellout in the history of that stadium.
The Tigers ended the 1958 season with a 10-0 record, with their closest game coming at Mississippi State when they edged the Bulldogs 7-6. They defeated Clemson 7-0 in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1959, at old Tulane Stadium. In the Tigers’ three national championship seasons, their final game in each of those years was played in New Orleans. In addition to the Clemson win, they defeated Oklahoma 21-14 at the Superdome to take the 2003 national championship and then ran past Ohio State 38-24 at that same site to capture the 2007 crown.
Guess where this year’s national championship will be played? That’s right ... New Orleans.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org