LSU - A Tradition-Laden SEC Program

When the LSU Tigers tee it up with the Gamecocks this coming Saturday, in addition to fielding a bunch of tough football players, they bring a rich and authentic tradition. Let's take a look at some of the LSU traditions ...

On Nov. 25, 1893, LSU began playing football. Its first game was against Tulane, LSU's biggest rival, . Legend has it that LSU's flambouent and distinctive purple and gold colors were adopted prior to that game. Colonel David Boyd, LSU's second president, selected blue and white as the school colors. However, his bland color selection was not destined to last. Charles E. Coates, the football coach in 1893, and his quarterback, Ruffin Pleasant, sought to jazz up the blue and white uniforms. Before that first game, they bought purple and gold Mardi Gras ribbons in New Orleans, and then made rosettes and badges to put on their jerseys. LSU purple and gold colors were here to stay. Nick Saban's web site acknowledges an alternative theory for the purple and gold; LSU Baseball Team Captain, E. B. Young, hand-picked them prior to the team's first game against Tulane in the spring of 1893.

From the git-go, Tulane was LSU's biggest rival. From 1893 to 1938 the rivalry with Tulane steadily intensified, graduating from harmless pranks to a full-blown riot. In 1938, after Tulane defeated LSU, the fans of both teams charged each other on the field, and engaged in a bloody melee not unlike the battle scenes in the movie Braveheart.

From this incident, another tradition was born. In 1940, the student body presidents created a flag that represented good sportsmanship between the universities. The flag, called the "Tiger Rag," was born as a truce between the campus communities to focus on the game and to let the players decide who had the better team. A fire at Tulane's University Center destroyed the original flag, but LSU and Tulane created a replica using archive photos and revived the tradition in 2001.

LSU's band also plays the famous jazz tune, Tiger Rag, at its games; however, the song's pace is faithful to the actual New Orleans song. LSU's version of the Tiger Rag song also has substantive lyrics besides "hold that tiger," etc.

Saban's web site recounts how the school became known as the Tigers. In the fall of 1896, Coach A. W. Jeardeau's LSU football team posted a perfect 6-0-0 record. According to Sagan, LSU first adopted the nickname, "Tigers," because most collegiate teams in that era bore the names of ferocious animals. However, a second underlying reason for choosing the Tiger moniker dates back to the War Between the States. Sagan states that during the War, a battalion of soldiers from New Orleans and Donaldson, Louisiana, distinguished themselves at the Battle of Shenandoah. The battalion became known as the fighting Louisiana Tigers. Thus, LSU football team called themselves, Tigers.

Another LSU tradition, one that has continued off and own since 1937, is "Mike the Tiger." Mike V is a live Bengal Tiger that stands guard at the LSU stadium tunnel that leads from the opponent's locker room to the field. LSU used to bring Mike along with the team on road games. However, due to several pranks by Tulane students, and other accidents, LSU only rarely brings Mike to away games. Thus, we Gamecock fans can rest easy this Saturday evening.

The LSU football program has produced two national championships. The first occurred in 1908, following a 10-0 season. The second LSU championship was fifty years later in 1958. That year, LSU capped its championship season by drubbing Clemson on New Years Day, 1959, in the Sugar Bowl.

LSU plays its home games in Tiger Stadium, which first opened its gates in the fall of 1924. In the 1950s, while virtually all other major college teams played on Saturday afternoons, LSU began a tradition of night-time games under the lights. Perhaps because the partying lasts all day long, LSU's home games are famous for their raucous and rowdy crowds. It was also in the 1950s, as night-time games at LSU continued, that folks began to refer to Tiger Stadium by the nickname "Death Valley."

Gamecock fans know that Clemson likes to claim they play in Death Valley. But like its nickname (Tigers) and its school colors--both of which were borrowed from Auburn--Clemson may have swiped the name Death Valley name from LSU. Not long after Clemson was drubbed by LSU in the 1959 Cotton Bowl, Clemson Coach Frank Howard began calling Clemson's Memorial Stadium Death Valley. Consequently, Clemson alumnus S.C. Jones brought a rock back from Death Valley, California. According to Clemson folks, the rock lay, on the floor of Howard's office, forgotten, for a year or so before Howard decided to have it mounted on a pedestal on September 24, 1966. Even if one buys this claim (and assumes that Howard's office was a mess), this fact indicates at least circumstantially that Clemson's Death Valley, as well as the rock that highlights the name, could possibly be a fraudulent attempt to hijack an SEC school's established tradition.

Let's get back to the genuine Tigers. An interesting pre-game ritual is LSU's walk down the hill. Former head coach Curley Hallman began the tradition in the early 1990s by leading the team by foot down Victory Hill from Broussard Hall two hours before the game. That practice became so popular that Gerry DiNardo and Nick Saban continued the tradition, even though the team began to stay in a hotel the night before home games. The team buses drive from the hotel to Broussard Hall - not Tiger Stadium - in order for the players to make their traditional walk down Victory Hill.

During LSU games, you may hear its band playing the Bandit Tune. This song is played in honor of LSU's defensive teams, which were once called the "Chinese Bandits." This nickname is credited to former LSU (and Gamecock) coach Paul Dietzel, who led LSU to its 1958 national championship. Dietzel coined the name Chinese Bandits based on a line from the old "Terry and The Pirates" comic strip which referred to Chinese Bandits as the "most vicious people in the world." Thus, since 1980, the LSU band has played the Bandit Tune when LSU's defense stalls an opponent's drive. Hopefully, the Bandit song will be heard infrequently or not at all on Saturday.

The most famous play in LSU football history occurred on Halloween Night, 1959. It was then that Billy Cannon embarked on a twisting, turning 89-yard punt return in the closing seconds to lead No.1 LSU to a victory over No.3 Ole Miss. LSU fans claim that families living near the campus lakes came running out of their homes in fear of the noise erupting around them. Six weeks later, Cannon won the Heisman Trophy.

So there you have it. A passle of LSU tradition. Isn't it great to play in the SEC where teams have real, honest tradition?

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