Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ag Football Preview: Louisiana State Football History

Geaux Tigers

One of my favorite things about bowl games is that you are typically paired up against an opponent that you don't normally get to face which often times give the fanbase something fresh and exciting to look forward to. I love playing other traditional big name opponents - we've played Tennessee, Cal, Penn State, & Georgia in recent years. This season our matchup with LSU it is completely different (and even more exciting) because it re-sparks an old regional rivalry that hasn't been played in 15 years.

Even though A&M and LSU have never been in the same conference, this will be the 50th meeting between the two old rivals....with the Tigers leading 26-20-3. The craziest thing about this rivalry is that it was almost always played on enemy soil - over the last forty meetings the game was played only six times at Kyle Field and twice at neutral sites.

Attending a night game at Tiger Stadium, known to the Bayou faithful as "Death Valley", is one of the items on my bucket list....and hopefully in the next couple of years we can do that as a conference game.

The Fighting Tigers are a charter member of the SEC and are the 12th winningest program in NCAA history, just behind last year's bowl opponent, Georgia (LSU is also 14th in W-%age). They are ten time SEC Champs and three time National Champions ('58, '03, '07) with this last decade being their strongest (four top 5 finishes since '03).

This will be the fifth time that LSU hits the field in the Cotton Bowl, most recently playing texas in 2003. This bowl should bring back at least one fond memory for older Tiger fans....one of their most notable victories was the 1966 Cotton Bowl when they upset #2 Arkansas (a big SEC rival now but back then Arkansas was still in the SWC).

The first few things that instantly pop into my mind when I think of LSU football are: night games at Death Valley, incredible pure athletes, tailgating, tailgating, and tailgating. LSU fans are notorious for being a bit loud, raucous, and - well - sloppy drunk. I expect to hear some chants of "Tiger Bait" as we're walking up to the stadium.

Two of the most famous players to suit up in the purple and gold are Billy Cannon and Tommy Casanova.

Billy Cannon

Billy Cannon ('57-'59) won the 1959 Heisman Trophy following up the Tiger's 1958 National Championship. His son, Billy Cannon Jr. played for the Ags in the mid-80s and he could lay the hammer. Tommy Cassanova ('69-'71) was a cornerback for the Bengals and is the only LSU player to be named a three-time All-American for his on-field heroics.

Chinese Bandits

You've probably also heard of the Chinese Bandits. This was the nickname given to the 1958 defensive squad by head coach Paul Dietzel. In '59 they allowed only 143.2 yards per game which has not been bested by a Tiger defense since.

Nick Saban

Their most recent rise to prominence started with the hiring of HC Nick Saban. Coming off of a 3-8 season in 1999 Saban went 8-4 in his first season, then won the SEC in his second season and in his third season they won the National Championship. He left after the '04 season to take the head coaching job of the Miami Dolphins and then turned the entire state of Louisiana against him when he returned to the college scene in 2007 as the head coach of the hated Alabama Crimson Tide.


Saban's replacement was Les Miles, who went on to win the National Championship in his third season as well....but a large portion of LSU fans feel as if he did that off of Saban's incredible recruiting. Miles, who is nicknamed The Hat (for obvious reasons), mystifies college football fans with his passionate yet bizarre interviews and comments as well as his unexplainable play-calling - which somehow, someway, seems to magically work out against all odds. I think he has sold his soul to the devil. There is simply no other logical explanation. I was at an A&M game earlier this season and I saw a LSU fan with a t-shirt featuring a picture of Les Miles along with the tag line "FearLes". Classic.

And yet, somehow, he continues to finish in the top 15 year after year.

Regardless of what Lies Miles, as he is affectionately known in recruiting circles, does - LSU is a top-tier program and that makes this match-up even more exciting.

This past summer I read a book called "It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium" written by John Ed Bradley. Bradley was an All-SEC lineman for the Tigers in the 70s and the book tells a story of his life just before, during, and shortly after his time at LSU but the story it tells is not so much a biography but an explanation of the life of a college football player and how he must deal with life during and after school. I thought it was a fascinating book and it made me think back to my time as a high school baseball player and all the little stories and snapshot memories I have from that experience. It's a great read, regardless of which school your root for.

LSU is one of a dying breed of schools to keep a live mascot....and theirs is pretty exotic. Mike VI is a real life tiger who lives in an amazing three million dollar habitat on campus (talk about putting big $$$$ into facilities). I don't think he travels with the team for road games but I'm not sure what their policy is for bowl games.

Ok, so now that you know a little more about the Fighting Tigers, you probably want to know why this is such a big deal for Aggie fans, right? We've already touched on the fact that there is a long time non-conference history between the two schools - but why do older Ags have a venomous taste in their mouth towards the team from the east?

First of all, there are always recruiting wars between A&M and LSU....the Tigers like to raid east Texas and the Ags like to dip into north/west Louisiana.

The rivalry was played for years and years in Baton Rouge because until the 70's A&M was a small military school (from 1964 to 1975 our enrollment nearly tripled from 8,300 students to 24,000) and Kyle Field wasn't that big (only held 42,000 by 1975 - compared to nearly 70K at Tiger Stadium) so we made more money playing the Tigers at their place. Fair enough.

In the mid-80's a fella named Jackie Sherrill turned the Ags into a national power and the rivalry was restarted with a new 12-year non-conference deal starting in 1986. It was our first time to play the Bengals since '75 and it was initially supposed to be a neutral site game played in Houston at Rice Stadium but LSU nixed that idea, which is funny because now they would almost kill to have an annual game played in the fertile recruiting bed of Harris County.

We lost the first three match-ups but in the seven games from 1989-1995 we lost only once to LSU and there were some thumpings in there. Those thumpings should have continued but the Tigers backed out of the contract and, to this day, have not payed us the $400,000 buyout they owe us for the '96 & '97 games. That's some pretty serious scratch.

Athletic Director at the time, Wally Groff, wouldn't ink a deal to play the Tigers after that.

There is also an infamous collegiate baseball series from back in 1989. The Ags had the best baseball team in the nation (at 58-5) and had to win just one of two games against LSU in the Regional at Olsen Field to send them to the College World Series....somehow they lost them both. The Ags were so good that even though they didn't go to Omaha they still finished #2 in the rankings that season.....but it was LSU that abruptly ended one of the most magical seasons any Aggie athletic team has had.

We also faced LSU in the 2004 Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge....that one didn't go well for us either.

More recently we got a taste of LSU on the hardwood. The first came in our magical '05/'06 season in the second round of the NCAA tournament as LSU hit a 3 to win it at the buzzer. The following three seasons we played them early in the season ('06/'07 in Baton Rouge, '07/'08 in College Station, & '08/'09 at the Toyota Center in Houston) and took two of three from them.

This is a rivalry that extends beyond the gridiron.....and even off the hardwood and diamond. Every single Ag knows a handful of LSU fans that just love to take their digs every chance they get.