2275...
TGS SEC RETROSPECTIVE...THE HEARTBEAT (AND ECHOES) OF A MOST BITTER RIVALRY!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Forgive those from elsewhere who might not think of SEC rivalries beyond the grudge match du jour that is the Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama, which has reached new heights in the stratosphere after last season’s instant classic. Most also know about Florida vs. Georgia and what used to be called the "World’s Biggest Outdoor Cocktail Party" in Jacksonville. Trust us, however, there are more.

Just beneath the surface beats the heart of another rivalry that could erupt in Mount Vesuvius-like fashion at any time.

Rivalries, oh 'lawdy, does the SEC have some rivalries! And when you talk about a bucket of hate, stirring it up, and getting napalm, we'll stack up LSU and Ole Miss against any.

The 2014 football season is fast approaching! And we're ready at TGS with discounted JULY subscription prices! Click here for more special JULY subscription info on THE GOLD SHEET now!

For the uninitiated, a rivalry that had lost some luster is heating up again. When both programs suffered bad stretches, it was the echoes of Billy Cannon’s Halloween punt return and Archie “Who” that reminded everyone to keep things uncivil. This is a rivalry that has always transcended the games and materialized in the mutual hate between the fans. If you don’t believe it, walk through The Grove on game day in Oxford , wearing an LSU shirt, and see how you get welcomed. On the Ole Miss side, even the children are well practiced in the “Go to Hell LSU, Go to Hell” greeting. Meanwhile, down in Baton Rouge, and not to be undone, “Geaux to Hell Ole Miss” is part of LSU lore.

The historic vagaries of SEC scheduling also conspired favorably, for once, to make LSU and Ole Miss must-see stuff in the past. Whereas many SEC powers would face each other infrequently (Alabama and Georgia, for example), the Tigers and “Johnny Reb” would tee it up ever year. And when we were in our earliest days at TGS, no rivalry burned hotter, especially in the South.

The boiling point of the series probably came between 1958-72. Ignoring ties, LSU won 77% of its games during that period of time, and Ole Miss won 75% of its games. Neither side had a losing season during that stretch and each went undefeated and untied once. Ole Miss went 10-0-1 one year (1960), with the draw against the Tigers.

Pete Finney, longtime sports columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and a friend of TGS for five decades, began covering LSU football since 1954, and a few years ago was recounting for another story some of his memories about the glory days of the LSU-Ole Miss rivalry.

"In the late '50s and early '60s, Ole Miss-LSU was by far the biggest rivalry in southern football and at least as big as anything else in the country," Finney said. "You had great teams, great coaches, great players, and they were both in the hunt for national championships and major bowls."

Although bookended by LSU wins, during the fifteen-season 1958-72 time span, Ole Miss went 8-6-2 against the Tigers during that period. During the stretch from 1951 to 1969 (which includes LSU’s wins in 1958 and 1959), LSU only won 4 times. The Rebels went a total of 12-4-3 in that latter stretch, getting within 4 games of LSU for the overall series before the Tigers would eventually regain control (the Tigers now lead 59-40-4 in a rivalry now officially nicknamed the "Magnolia Bowl").

The Rebels’ six-game winning streak over LSU ended in 1958, when the Bayou Bengals scored a 14-0 win at Tiger Stadium. LSU had gone into the game as No. 1 in the AP poll, No. 5 in the UPI, and Ole Miss had been No. 6 in both polls. Thanks to brilliant punts in the first half from FB/kicker Tommy Davis (a future San Francisco 49er) and a goal line-stand keyed by LB Max Fugler’s four straight tackles, the Tigers were able to stay in the game until TDs by QBs Warren Rabb & Durel Matherne provided a 2-TD cushion that maintained because the Rebs could not throw, missing on their only three pass attempts and forced exclusively to the infantry. The next week, LSU moved up to No. 2 in the UPI and passed up Rose Bowl-bound Iowa, which had been tied earlier by upstart Air Force and would eventually lose to Ohio State, the week after that. LSU would go on to win its only undefeated consensus national championship to date.

Between 1958 and 1965, either Ole Miss or LSU was ranked in the Top 10 every time they played. Both were ranked among the nation's top six teams five of the six times they met between 1958 and 1962. But the most memorable game between the teams occurred in the 1959 season. More on that classic in a moment.

Indeed, the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were the midst of a short period of time when both LSU and Ole Miss were at the top of the college football universe, which happened to coincide when coaches Paul Dietzel (LSU) and Johnny Vaught (Ole Miss) were across the sidelines from one another. In a sense, this era had similarities to the USC-UCLA “Battle for Los Angeles” in the mid-to-late ‘60s, when opposing coaches John McKay and Tommy Prothro elevated Trojans-Bruins to rarified air, and the strategic chess matches between the coaches became legendary. Prothro, however, only stayed in Westwood for six seasons, roughly approximating Dietzel’s seven years in Baton Rouge that concluded after the 1961 season. Vaught, like McKay at SC, had a much longer run in Oxford (1947-70, and then eight more games as an interim coach at the end of 1973), in fact even longer than McKay’s sixteen seasons with the Trojans.

No one towers over school football history in the SEC, not even Bear Bryant at Alabama, as does Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss. Remember, Bryant is far from being Alabama’s only winning coach. Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas before him, and Gene Stallings and Nick Saban after him, have all won national titles. Thomas and Wade both left Alabama with winning percentages over .810, comparing favorably to the Bear’s .824. Between 1947 and 1970, and the valedictory season in 1973, Vaught went 190-61-12 in Oxford--a win percentage of .745. Closest behind at Ole Miss is N.P. Stauffer with .690 win percentage but over just a three-season span from 1911 to 1913. Since Vaught retired, David Cutcliffe’s .600 effort from 1998 to 2004 is the closest any successor has come. (Current HC Hugh Freeze has shown much promise in his two years on the job, but Freeze’s mark is only 15-11.)

More significantly, Vaught’s six conference titles are the only SEC crowns that Ole Miss has ever won. Until the second Ole Miss coming of Manning in the form of Eli, chances are that anything you know about the entire history of Rebel football happened with Vaught on the sideline.

As a guard in college, playing for TCU under legendary Francis “Show ‘Em No Mercy” Schmidt, Vaught learned valuable lessons about strategy. TCU’s teams were known for offensive innovation in the 1930s. Schmidt, who moved on to Ohio State in 1934, and his successor Dutch Meyer, ran numerous variations of the single and double wings as well as the spread. Often throwing the ball 30-40 times a game in an age when 150 attempts a season was a lot, TCU confused and outfoxed many bigger opponents. None of this was lost on Vaught, who despite not being large even by contemporary standards led TCU's line for several seasons. Indeed, in 1932, every starting TCU lineman won all-Southwest Conference honors.

Vaught worked as a line coach at North Carolina in the late 1930s when the Tar Heels were a national power. He served in the Navy during WWII and took the Mississippi job after the 1946 season. Thereafter, he would never coach anywhere else. Inheriting a 2-7 team from 1946, Vaught’s first Rebel team finished 9-2, went undefeated in conference play and won the SEC for the first time in school history! Vaught also brought a new attitude to Oxford. He was serious about football, a thinking man’s coach, and a bona fide winner. His first act as head coach was to order the state highway department to dig a new practice field in an eight-foot pit. He surrounded the pit with trees and campus cops and went to work. Vaught’s practices were always secret, and with good reason. His flexible strategic approach to offensive planning was, like Schmidt and Meyer at TCU, years ahead of the times. Vaught routinely surprised opponents who looked far more talented on paper.

Vaught led Mississippi to 18 bowl games, including 14 straight from 1957 to 1970. He won six Sugar Bowls, was SEC coach of the year six times, and earned three national titles with various polls other than the AP in 1959, 1960 and 1962. Although the great Archie Manning played for Vaught in the late 1960s, Johnny’s best seasons came in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. All four of his ten-win seasons occurred between 1955 and 1962. Only once in that stretch did he win less than nine games. Four of his six Sugar Bowl championships came in those eight seasons as well.

And as good as those fat years were for Vaught, they would have been even better were it not for Paul Dietzel and his LSU Tigers.

Dietzel grew up in Ohio and played one year of college ball at Duke before joining the U.S. Air Force for WWII. He completed his college career after the war as an all-American center at Miami-Ohio before taking assistant coaching jobs at Cincinnati, Kentucky and Army. Dietzel learned from the best in his profession, working for Bear Bryant in Lexington and Earl Blaik at West Point. When a struggling LSU hired Dietzel to his first head coaching job in 1955 the school did not gain a proven commodity, but they knew their man possessed pedigree. Even still, Dietzel’s career in Baton Rouge started slowly.

The Tigers were not the most talented southern outfit and had not fielded truly great teams in several decades. LSU posted losing seasons in 1955 and 1956, before improving to a still modest 5-5 in 1957, the first year of TGS publishing. Then Dietzel hit upon an idea that changed his fortunes, linked to the enactment of substitution rule changes in 1953 which effectively restored football to a one- platoon game. Coaches attempted to find the best ways around the rules, sharing talent across various units to reduce the drop-off between their starters and second string. But no one came up with a more effective method than Dietzel engineered in 1958.

During pre-season drills, Dietzel divided his unfancied Tigers into three units. He selected his best eleven men ("White" team) and designated them the first team for both offense and defense. His second eleven ("Go" team) he designated the second string offense. For his second string defense Dietzel created a unit from mostly underclassmen and walk-ons which he named “the Chinese Bandits”. Despite largely lacking talent and only playing in relief situations to keep the starters fresh, the Bandits developed a feisty character, a true esprit de corps and immense popularity. Members of the unit temporarily promoted to the second string in place of injured players asked Dietzel to move them back to the Bandits as soon as possible. They performed admirably, blocking punts on several occasions to give the offense prime field position. Their spirit inspired better play out of LSU’s stars, and with a first team backfield featuring future Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon, that improvement was costly to opponents.

The 1958 season was thus a non-stop joy ride for LSU as it rolled unbeaten through the regular season with the Chinese Bandits to finish atop the polls. The aforementioned 14-0 win over Ole Miss, the Bayou Bengals’ first success vs. the Rebs since 1950, was the key result, and Dietzel’s team finished the campaign with a dominating 62-0 win over nearby Tulane and thus erasing any doubt among pollsters as to which team deserved the top ranking. LSU would complete its season unblemished at 11-0 with a 7-0 Sugar Bowl win over Frank Howard’s dogged 17-point underdog Clemson. The Tigers’ offense was slowed when “passing” QB Warren Rabb suffered a broken hand in the first half, forcing LSU to the ground for the bulk of its offense. In the end, it would be the defense as well as the irrepressible Cannon, who threw a 9-yard TD passes to end Mickey Mangham (above right), to seal the win.

(Moreover, Dietzel even designed the familiar LSU uniform that endures to this day. The yellow helmet and pants, coupled with a white jersey with purple stripes and numbers were a creation of Dietzel, who later in life became a watercolor artist of some repute.)

But in 1959, Ole Miss and LSU would reach heights that few rivalries ever attain. The result was one of the most memorable college games, and certainly memorable college plays, of all-time.

(It is also worth noting that most of the Ole Miss-LSU games of the era were played in Baton Rouge; Vaught, ever the businessman, would often "sell" the home game back to LSU for the enhanced gate and dollars that the Tigers' then-67,500-seat stadium could provide. Which at the time doubled the capacity of Ole Miss' Hemingway Stadium, and before a renovation would expand Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson, where the Rebs played many big games in the '60s and '70s, to 46,000 seats).

The Tigers remained No. 1 until facing the Rebels on that Halloween night, while the Rebs were also undefeated at that time, ranked No. 3 in both polls. Though the teams had met in a high-profile game the previous autumn, the 1959 Halloween clash in Baton Rouge was to be the South's most significant football game since 1939, when the undefeated, unscored-on colossus that was Tennessee savaged undefeated Alabama.

Dietzel’s 1958 “Chinese Bandits” and LSU’s perfect season, capped by a Sugar Bowl win over Clemson, had electrified the nation. Heading into the Halloween ‘59 showdown vs. Ole Miss, Dietzel’s undefeated Tigers had permitted exactly two field goals to be scored against them all year (to that point covering six games), while Vaught's undefeated Rebels had been almost equally miserly in allowing just one touchdown. Dietzel's team was, of course, rated first in the land, and Vaught's challengers ranked way up at third place nationally. The winner, many believed, would likely become national champion.

The sky was ominous all week in Baton Rouge, and Saturday again dawned gray and drizzly, threatening a further softening of the turf in LSU's Tiger Stadium after a damp week, but scalpers were reported still to be getting as much as $100 for a good seat, and $25 to $40 for a poor one, for Saturday night’s showdown. Another chap offered to swap his Cadillac for four seats; another even more desperate fellow offered to swap his wife for a ticket.

As night approached, the sky would mostly clear, and a throng of 67,500 filled up the Tiger Stadium saucer. The temperature was 73; humidity 100%; pent-up emotion incalculable.

The first half, however, was a nightmare for LSU. Three times the Tigers lost fumbles to Ole Miss. The second lapse was by the idolized All-America left halfback, Billy Cannon, and it made possible a Mississippi score. A tremendous punt by the Rebels' Bobby Franklin had gone out of bounds on the LSU five-yard line. Cannon slammed off tackle to the 15, but was hit while moving the ball from one hand to the other and fumbled to Billy Brewer of Ole Miss (a future Rebels HC) at the 20. (With Franklin, Jake Gibbs and Doug Elmore, Brewer was one of the Rebels' quarterback stars of the game; he covered all three LSU fumbles.) Ole Miss then drove to the Tiger three in four plays. On third down, Gibbs, a future New York Yankees catcher, swept to the right and was hurled back to the five-yard line by LSU end Mickey Mangham, the same Mickey who had caught the game-winning TD in the previous Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson. On fourth down the Ole Miss specialist, Bob Khayat, who was revered at Oxford more for having dated a pair of Miss Americas (Mary Ann Mobley and Lynda Lee Mead) during their Ole Miss days than his future job as school chancellor, kicked a 22-yard field goal. With just half of the first quarter played, LSU was behind 3-0 and in trouble, for the fast and resourceful Rebels kept the Tigers pinned to their own terrain the rest of the first half.

Vaught had a chance to pad the lead before halftime after a fumble recovery at the LSU 29, but driving inside of the LSU 10, Vaught disdained a field goal try, and Franklin was stopped on a rollout from the LSU 7 on the last play of the half. LSU could flatter itself by the 3-0 halftime scoreline, as Ole Miss had dominated the first thirty minutes.

In the third quarter, the electrifying Cannon, who weighed 207 pounds and had twice run the hundred in 9.4 seconds, put pressure on Ole Miss by returning an intercepted pass into Rebel territory. With the ball on the Ole Miss 31, the Tigers' Wendell Harris, who had made five field goals in five attempts entering the game, kicked a wobbler that appeared to be partly blocked, and the Rebels' three points looked larger by the minute.

With Ole Miss still in control and looking like its 3-0 lead would hold up, Vaught would turn conservative, even ordering the multi-talented Gibbs to punt on first downs, where the booming kicks would roll deep into LSU territory. The Tigers were doing nothing vs. the rugged Rebel defense led by LB Larry Grantham (a future New York Titan and Jet). But it was on another Gibbs punt with 10 minutes to play that SEC history would take a decided turn.

Cannon drifted back to field another Gibbs boomer, which angled away from Cannon so that he could not quite catch it. The ball bounced, but it would neatly carom into Cannon's hands at the LSU 11-yard line. And then big fellow was away on the run of the year, the decade or, if you are an LSU fan, the century. He was hit almost immediately, but he drove on. He was hit again and seemed certain to go down. He was hit solidly yet again as he ran the gauntlet of Ole Miss tacklers. He did not appear to swerve from a path near the right sideline; he did not make fancy cuts or feints. He just ran, and punter Gibbs had the last real chance to stop him, but his lunge at the Tiger 45 yard-line was to no avail. Cannon outran the pursuit the rest of the way and fled on to score an 89-yard punt return and the touchdown of his life. The deafening roar in Tiger Stadium could likely have been heard in Oxford, and would even partially drown out the final seconds of the celebrated radio call by legendary Tiger play-by-play man J.C. Politz, whose description of “the play” became a hot seller on “45" vinyl records of the day.

Ten minutes still remained in the game, and down 7-3, the valiant Rebels used nearly all of that time in a long drive that tested LSU to the core. Vaught made an unusual choice to lead the counterattack; he tapped third-string QB Doug Elmore. Sticking to the ground save for a 9-yard pass to HB Cowboy Woodruff, Elmore moved the Rebs for four first downs and deep into LSU territory. When the Rebs reached the LSU 23, Dietzel withdrew the famous Chinese Bandits, who were having heavy weather, and sent in the first team. Still the Rebs marched. They smashed to a first down on the seven--and into an unforgettable goal-line stand. Running from the two on fourth down, Elmore kept the ball, rolled to his left, cut ahead and was stopped cold by T Bo Strange, QB-DB Warren Rabb, and the hero of the night Cannon at the one. Just 18 seconds were left on the clock when LSU took the ball. The crowd counted down from 10 seconds and then went even more berserk than during the Cannon punt return. A breathtaking return which, by the way, effectively sealed him the Heisman Trophy, awarded five weeks later.

Dietzel ran onto the field to shake Vaught's hand and give joyful whacks to the players he could reach. Finally three students carried him off the field on their shoulders. Fred Russell, the legendary sports editor of the Nashville Banner, called LSU's 7-3 win the “fullest and finest football game I’ve witnessed on 31 years of sports reporting.”

In later years, even Vaught would acknowledge the greatness of Cannon’s punt return. “Outside of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803,” said Vaught, “many Cajuns consider Billy Cannon’s run the greatest event in state history.”

Paul Dietzel, however, would never quite ascend to the heights of that Halloween night again as a head coach.

The following week at Knoxville, Bowden Wyatt’s scrappy Tennessee, which had ended Auburn’s 24-game win streak in the opener, played giant killer once again against the top-ranked Bayou Bengals, who entered Shields-Watkins Field (before it became officially known as Neyland Stadium) on a 19-game win streak. LSU was dominating the action, but could not extend an early 7-0 lead. A pair of 3rd Q Vols TDs, including a 54-yard interception return by DB Jim Cartwright, stepping in front of a Warren Rabb pass intended for HB Johnny Robinson (of future Kansas City Chiefs fame), staked them to a 14-7 lead, but LSU got back in the game in the 4th Q following a fumbled punt by the Vols’ Billy Majors, which the Tigers recovered on the UT 2.

Cannon would quickly score a TD to cut the gap to 14-13, but Dietzel, going for the win, saw Cannon piled up less than a foot short of the goal on the 2-point try by none other than Billy Majors, who redeemed himself, and then some, for his fumbled punt moments before, saving a 14-13 win. Despite having three different backs outrush the entire Vol team, the Tigers saw their long win streak snapped, and LSU would surrender top spot in the polls to Ben Schwartzwalder’s Syracuse.

In those days, it was not uncommon for the Sugar Bowl to select two SEC teams if they were the best available, and ranked 2 (Ole Miss) and 3 (LSU) at the end of the regular season, a rematch in New Orleans of the Halloween thriller was an easy call.

However, some felt a rematch would be too sectional to suit the taste of television. "Not so," said Tom Gallery, director of sports at NBC, which would televise the game. "NBC would be most happy if the Sugar Bowl was able to land LSU and Ole Miss. The game would be a natural again, as it was the first time."

LSU was not so enthusiastic. The Tigers would be placed at a severe psychological disadvantage playing a team they had already defeated. Also, LSU was a weary, wounded football team at season's end.

The other bowls were rapidly filling. Syracuse, which took over the No. 1 position after LSU's loss to Tennessee, was paired with Texas in the Cotton; fifth-ranked Georgia, which won the SEC championship after the LSU-Tennessee-Ole Miss round robin, was matched with Missouri in the Orange. If the Tigers wanted a bowl game, it would have to be either in the Sugar against Ole Miss or in Houston's Bluebonnet in another rematch with a defeated opponent, Texas Christian, a 10-0 loser to the Tigers in September.

Paul Dietzel polled his LSU team informally and a full third voted to sit out the bowls altogether. Dietzel and the Tigers preferred to choose a bowl after a December 5 game between Syracuse and UCLA. If Syracuse lost the game, it would mean LSU could be playing at least for the Football Writer's of America's version of the national championship, which was awarded after the bowl games. If Syracuse won, then LSU would stay home. Dietzel said, "If an honor (a bowl invitation) becomes a chore, then perhaps it is left undone."

The Tigers took an official team vote, considering both the Sugar and Bluebonnet invitations as well as sitting out the bowls, on November 23 with a battalion of newspapermen sitting outside. Tension began to mount as the session stretched into a half hour and then an hour. Seventy minutes after the voting started, Carl Higgins, LSU's sports information director, burst into the waiting room and announced, "They voted to play." Billy Cannon walked in with a slight grin and said, "It was a unanimous vote. So I guess it will be Ole Miss again." Dietzel described his reaction as "shell-shocked" as he thought the team would call it a year.

"I can't believe they agreed to play us again," Rebel HC Vaught would say 40 years later. "That was the dumbest thing anybody ever did. No way we were going to lose that game."

Veteran sports columnist Pete Finney agreed. "Paul Dietzel wasn't dumb,” said Finney. “No way he wanted to play Ole Miss again. He basically had no choice because of politics."

The hype for the rematch would almost match the Halloween classic. The game, of course, would be televised by NBC, the first bowl to be telecast in color from coast-to-coast, and tickets were again at a premium, being swapped for used cars and refrigerator repairs. Four tickets went for a 14-foot fiberglass boat; 60 tickets went for a 1952 Cadillac and 4 new tires. The sizzle of the rematch had fans steaming. It was estimated the Sugar Bowl had over a quarter of a million requests for tickets.

But LSU was not in the best of shape. Warren Rabb, the Tiger quarterback, was still hobbled from a knee strain from the Tennessee game more than a month before. Further complicating matters for LSU was halfback Johnny Robinson, who started with a protective covering over his fractured hand suffered in practice for the bowl. He would not carry a single time in the Sugar Bowl, nor did another halfback (and PK), Wendell Harris, whose injuries kept him completely sidelined. It all meant the Ole Miss defense could zero in on LSU's only threat, Billy Cannon.

"We did something I don't think we had ever done before," said Rebel safety Billy Brewer. "We went to a man defense in the secondary because we knew LSU wouldn't be a passing threat. My assignment was to stay with Cannon, go everywhere he went."

Then there was Vaught, who was criticized for his conservative approach in the 7-3 regular season Tiger win, but gave the Rebels the green light to "go for broke" in the Sugar Bowl. This time, the coach wasn't going to hold anything back.

The revenge motive was indeed powerful, and it was the vengeful side (Ole Miss) installed as a 7-point favorite. Murky, damp weather made the field muddy in spots, and a cold wind lowered the temperature to 49 degrees at kickoff. Miserable conditions made for an even more miserable day for LSU. Seething, the rugged Ole Miss defense stonewalled the Tigers, limiting them to a stunning -15 rushing yards; Cannon would gain only eight yards on six carries, and the LSU offense would cross midfield only once. After blowing four different scoring opportunities in Tiger territory, Ole Miss finally broke through late in the 2nd Q when Gibbs hit Cowboy Woodruff, running all alone, with a 43-yard TD pass just 40 seconds before intermission. In the second half, Bobby Franklin would pass for two more TDs (for the day, the Rebs’ 3 TD passes were three more than the Tigers allowed all season), while the Bayou Bengals could drive no deeper than the Rebel 42.

In the end, it seemed LSU’s magic had dried up. The Rebels easily won a disappointing affair, 21-0. Stats can often deceive, but not in this Sugar Bowl, where Ole Miss’ 363-74 edge in total yardage reflected the similar dominance on the scoreboard.

The regular-season clashes stayed heated for the next few years. The 1960 renewal would not have quite the same dynamics as the Halloween 1959 thriller, as LSU had slipped during the first half of the season and entered Oxford with a 1-4 record. Meanwhile, Ole Miss was a spotless 6-0 and getting a lot of respect in the polls, garnering some number one votes and ranking second behind Iowa entering the game. But it was another nailbiter, as underdog LSU outfought Ole Miss for most of the way, and in the 4th Q, QB Lynn Amadee’s 21-yard sprint set up a shot TD plunge by sub FB Ray Wilkins. Tiger PK Wendell Harris, however, would miss the PAT, as he had missed a short FG try in the first half, keeping the score at 6-3 and opening the door for the Rebs to tie with a field goal. Ole Miss would leave it late, with Gibbs completing four passes on a hurried six-play drive in the final minute, to set up a 41-yard FG by T/PK Allen Green, who shoved his kick over the crossbar with six seconds to play to level the score at 6-6.

After the game, Dietzel admitted that if someone had told him beforehand that the clash would tie, he would have been elated, but after the game, he felt like it was a loss.

It would be the only blemish on the Rebs’ schedule. They would not lose again the rest of the season and finished 10-0-1 after beating Jess Neely’s Rice, 14-6, in the Sugar Bowl, and would be named national champions by a variety of sources after finishing second in the final wire service polls, taken before the bowls. (Number one Minnesota would lose to Washington in the Rose Bowl). As for LSU, the tie at Ole Miss would provide a late-season spark, as the Tigers would climb to 5-4-1 by winning their last four games.

More of the same the following season, as for the fourth straight year, Ole Miss came into the 1961 LSU showdown with a perfect record. And for the fourth straight year (in the regular season), the Rebs would leave with a black eye. Dietzel’s sixth-ranked LSU had rolled off five straight wins since losing its opener vs. Rice. On another memorable Baton Rouge autumn night, the Tigers would respond to Ole Miss QB Glynn Griffing tossing a 2-yard TD pass to Wes Sullivan in the 3rd Q that put the Rebs up 7-3. But LSU HB Jerry Stovall, a future NFL star DB with the Cardinals and eventually the LSU head coach in the early ‘80s, would race 57 yards on a counter deep into Ole Miss territory, from where HB Wendell Harris, also the PK, would circle the end for a 7-yard TD to put LSU up, 10-7. Although the Rebs threatened twice in the 4th Q, the 10-7 final score stood.

Dietzel could hardly put the thrill of the win into words, reflecting the magnitude of the moment. “I hope the boys on the 1958 and 1959 teams forgive me, but this is the greatest win I have ever been associated with.”

It would also be Dietzel's last win over Ole Miss.

Though the series would still hit some high notes in the years thereafter, things were still not quite the same after Dietzel departed LSU for Army following the ‘61 campaign. The service academies were still elite programs and commanded national attention in those days, and had three Heisman winners (Army’s Pete Dawkins, plus Navy’s Joe Bellino and Roget Staubach) between 1958-63. So Dietzel’s move, while still a bit curious, was not quite the stunner it would be today if Les Miles left LSU for Army. Other regional insiders, however, believe that Dietzel simply became a bit fed up with what was going on in the SEC, and some of the recruiting tactics being used in the conference. Dietzel was said to have challenged none other than his former mentor and boss Bear Bryant regarding ethics that the LSU coach felt were being compromised in Tuscaloosa.

But as a coach, Dietzel never again attained the prominence he enjoyed in Baton Rouge. He was the unfortunate victim of changing winds in college football. After the early ‘60s, top recruits began to shy away from Army and Navy (and Air Force) as the Vietnam conflict would escalate. High school stars simply did not want to readily join the services after the early 1960s. Starved of the best talent, Dietzel went a modest 21-18-1 in four seasons at West Point. He decided to cut his losses and moved on to South Carolina, where his first team in 1966 finished at 1-9. Dietzel’s Gamecocks improved enough to win the ACC in 1969, but that was the only year USC would qualify for a bowl (Peach, losing to Bobby Bowden’s West Virginia) on his watch.

Dietzel’s nine-year mark with the Gamecocks was only 42-53-1. He would also serve in the dual capacity as coach and AD with USC, and spearheaded its move out of the ACC to independent status in 1971. Dietzel would then became a full-time administrator, next as Indiana’s AD from 1975-78, then back to LSU as the Tigers’ AD from 1978-82.

In retrospect, leaving Baton Rouge was probably a mistake for Dietzel. As a consequence of the relative obscurity his successive coaching career suffered, one of the better four-year spells in SEC coaching history is now largely forgotten. Probably only LSU, and maybe a few South Carolina fans who recalled Dietzel’s Baton Rouge exploits before he took over the Gamecocks, would mention Dietzel in conversations about great SEC coaches.

(Editor’s note: Dietzel ended up living a long and full life, eventually authoring books and becoming an artist of note, before passing away last September at 89.)

But for four brief and fierce seasons, Paul Dietzel joined Johnny Vaught in ruling southern football.

LSU did not exactly disappear from the national scene after Dietzel’s departure, as Charlie McClendon kept the Bayou Bengals relevant. So, too, through the ‘60s did Vaught at Ole Miss, and the 1962 clash picked up where the battles from the previous few years had left off prior to Dietzel’s departure to West Point. The teams would then be ranked 4th (LSU) and sixth (Ole Miss) for the 1962 renewal at Tiger Stadium. But after five straight years of regular-season headaches vs. LSU, Ole Miss would gain its revenge in yet another nighttime game at Baton Rouge. Though discouraged by early interceptions, Ole Miss QB Griffing would end up firing a pair of TD passes (to HBs A.J. Holloway and Louis Guy) to overcome a 1st Q TD by the Tigers’ Stovall, who would end up finishing a close second to Oregon State QB Terry Baker in the Heisman Trophy race. Vaught had his revenge with a 16-7 win.

The teams would occasionally be ranked when facing one another for the rest of the decade, though there would not be a game of real national significance until 1969, when LSU hit November with a perfect 6-0 mark and a number eight ranking in what would be a very crowded season in the top ten. A regional ABC-TV audience would be treated to another barnburner on this November 1 in Jackson. Though only 3-3, Ole Miss was dangerous behind jr. QB Archie Manning, who would trigger a late rally after the Rebs fell behind 23-12 in the 3rd Q , leading a 77-yard drive that would culminate in a 6-yard TD sweep, and after Tiger QB Mike Hillman would lose the ball on a fumble, Manning would lead a 37-yard march that resulted in his third rushing TD of the day, on a one-yard dive with 1:13 to play in the quarter after a clutch 3rd-down completion to TB Leon Felts. The Vaught defense would hold the 26-23 lead deep into the 4th Q, but not before the southpaw Hillman would set sail on a long drive from the LSU 20 to the Ole Miss 23 in the final minute. On fourth down, McClendon would eschew a potential game-tying FG try by PK Mark Lumpkin, who had earlier kicked three field goals, but Hillman’s pass was smothered, and Manning ran out the clock. It would be the only blemish on a 9-1 season for the Tigers.

In retrospect, had “Cholly Mac” gone for the field goal and been successful, the game would have probably ended in a 26-26 tie and LSU (and not Tennessee) would have won the SEC...and, most likely, the Tigers would not have been the victim of an infamous bowl snub in December.

McClendon got his revenge the next year in a regular-season ABC-TV finale at Baton Rouge. After rising as high as fourth in the polls at midseason, Ole Miss had stumbled at home vs. Southern Miss and Manning, a Heisman favorite at one point, suffered a broken left wrist in a November 7 win over Houston. Meanwhile, Cholly Mac’s scrappy Tigers had won 7 of 9, with one of the losses a painful 3-0 loss at unbeaten Notre Dame on November 21, but could still earn an Orange Bowl invitation vs. Nebraska with this proviso: they needed to win their final two games of the regular season, vs. nearby Tulane and Ole Miss. Beating the Green Wave, bound for the Liberty Bowl, was no sure thing, but LSU prevailed in New Orleans, 26-14, before hosting the Rebs, who had been using backup QB Shug Chumbler since Archie broke his wrist. Manning, however, would make a surprise appearance in what would be Vaught’s final regular-season game before his retirement (or so we thought; Vaught would return to the Reb sideline in 1973).

But the game became more of a party for ravenous and revenge-minded LSU, which showed Manning and his bulky wrist cast no mercy. The Tigers’ special teams were gleefully on the mark, especially DBs Craig Burns, who scored on a 66-yard interception, and All-American Tommy Casanova, who returned a pair of punts 61 and 73 yards for TDs, the last one with no Rebels within 20 yards of him once past midfield, and the final cherry on top of a 28-point 4th Q blitzkrieg that ballooned the final score to 61-17.

There was still one more memorable game in the 15-season span between 1958-72, and that was at the end of the time period in Baton Rouge once again on another Saturday night, November 4, in early November of '72, just three days before Richard Nixon would wax George McGovern in the presidential election. Unbeaten at 6-0 and ranked sixth, LSU was a solid favorite vs. the 4-3 Rebs, with Manning’s successor, mobile Norris Weese (who, interestingly, as a future Denver Bronco, would eventually play in a Super Bowl, something Archie never experienced as a player), in his second year as the starting QB. By this time, Billy Kinard had taken over as coach for the Rebels, in his second year on the job (he didn’t even last until the end of his third season, fired in September of the following year after a loss to Memphis State...and replaced for the remainder of that season by none other than Johnny Vaught).

Weese, however, would outplay more-ballyhooed Tiger counterpart Bert Jones for much of the night, and thanks to his 1-yard TD run and three field goals by PK Steve Lavinghouze, the Rebs led 16-10 in the 4th Q. With a chance to put the game out of reach, however, Lavinghouze would barely miss a 27-yard FG, leaving the door open for some late-game Jones heroics. After stopping Ole Miss on its next series, LSU would get the ball back with three minutes remaining and a last chance to keep its record spotless for the ‘72 season.

Jones indeed would fire up one last drive, which the Bengals sustained by converting fourth-down plays and, aided by a pass-interference call, gaining a final first down at the Ole Miss 10 with four seconds left. After the next pass to Jimmy LeDoux fell incomplete, it all came down to one play with one second to go...although Ole Miss fans were far from happy at the slow-fingered timekeeper, as a mere three seconds would tick off the clock on Jones' incomplete pass. Time for one more play!

LSU decided upon a play it would normally use for a two-point conversion, overloaded to one side in a “trips left” formation. An unlikely target for a Jones pass would be RB Brad Davis, who had been on the bench for much of the drive, but as the play unfolded and he slipped out of the backfield, Davis would become Jones’ best option. As Davis looped toward the end zone, headed for the pylon (or flag in those days), Jones' pass was on its way...and Davis would claim to momentarily lose the flight of the ball in the arc of lights at Tiger Stadium! With Davis sticking out his hand, almost blindly, the pass from Jones would connect, and Davis gathered it in just in time to race to the corner pylon/flag where he was met in a violent collision by multiple Reb defenders. No one was sure if Davis had crossed the goal line, but after a few moments the referees signaled TD, and PK Rusty Jackson would convert the game-winning PAT with no time on the clock.

McClendon spared no praise for his star QB Jones, and offered a new perspective on the definition of pressure. “When you're standing back there and the horn is already blowing,” said Cholly Mac, “that's pressure.” As for the recipient of the game-winning TD pass, Davis also had praise for his QB. “I was temporarily blinded by the lights on that last pass and couldn’t really see it,“ said Davis not long ago at an LSU get-together. “But I’ll tell you how good Bert was, because that pass could have only been right on my hand for me to catch it, and that’s where Bert put it.”

Longtime Ole Miss fans, however, remember the game differently. In the following year’s Rebel press guide, the score would be listed LSU 10+7, Ole Miss 16. And after the game, there would also be signs posted by irate Ole Miss fans at the state border with Louisiana that said, “Welcome to Mississippi...turn your watches ahead four seconds.” To this day, longtime Rebel fans have a hard time accepting, first, that Jones could actually get off two pass plays from the 10 with just four ticks remaining on the clock, and second, that Davis really made it into the end zone on the final play.

There have been some other exciting Ole Miss-LSU games since, but it will be hard to top that 15-year period between 1958-72, when Rebels-Tigers often made the college football world stop in its tracks to pay attention. It is hard to find another series with as much history and color. And if the rivalry ever assumes its old stature, rest assured it will be hard to limit the accompanying noise to Oxford or Baton Rouge.


Return To Home Page