A rivalry that dates back to 1894, the Ole Miss vs. LSU match-up has always BEEN THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON
By Acey Roberts,
(As published in the current Sept/Oct issue)
Today’s college football fans are certainly spoiled. There are usually more bowl games than eligible teams; there are more televised games than you could watch and every game is a “rivalry” game.
In the SEC, teams have played each other long enough to develop endless storylines through the years, and you have more than enough reason to drum up vitriol at your pre-game tailgate, no matter the opponent.
For Ole Miss fans recently, MSU has arrived at the Egg Bowl with something to play for besides a Belk or Weedeater bowl birth. Even though they haven’t been very successful against Hugh Freeze, the Egg Bowl means so much more than it ever has in the past, and has taken this rivalry to a new level (or a new low depending on your viewpoint).
Last year, both Ole Miss and State were playing for a Sugar Bowl birth which hasn’t been an option for MSU since WWII.
So, indeed, these are some heady days in Mississippi sports history. However, if you had to pick one team in the SEC to be your biggest clash of the year, I offer the idea that it should be the Louisiana State college to the Southwest over our little brothers to the Southeast.
The recently coined, Magnolia Bowl, has only been in play since 2008 and has been held by the teams four years each, but there is a much longer and glorious history between these two teams that should sway your opinion closer to mine.
There are many things; both on and off the field, that sets the Ole Miss – LSU rivalry apart from other teams the Rebels play each year.
Ole Miss fans typically see LSU as the polar opposite of themselves. LSU is sometimes seen as the antithesis of the University of Mississippi.
But if you look closely, these two teams are more alike than either fan base wants to admit.
Both Ole Miss and LSU are flagship schools in their state, holding both the medical and law schools for their respective states and as much as we hate to admit it, LSU is also a well-respected academic institution.
Both fan bases set the worldwide standard for tailgating and supporting a college football program. After a trip to a game at LSU, you will have a hard time denying that LSU fans love to cook and watch football, and it is questionable which is the greater love.
The opposing fans reap the benefits as you can sample some of the best Southern and Cajun cooking anywhere in the state of Louisiana, right outside the gates of Tiger Stadium. While it may be less formal, you will have to admit, an LSU pre-game cookout reminds you a lot of the Grove.
Historically, both teams shared a reciprocal “Go To Hell OleMiss/LSU” cheer just for each other that still continues today, no matter if the team is playing each other or not. They both shared the ‘Ole’ moniker for a while. In the thirty’s LSU was nicknamed Ole Lou as a counterpart to Ole Miss.
And both teams thoroughly embraced the traditions and heritage of an old Southern University.
Ole Miss was LSU’s first future SEC opponent not named Tulane as the teams faced off in Baton Rouge in 1894. LSU was slightly late to the college football party as Ole Miss played a full eight-game season in 1894 with Alabama, Vanderbilt and Tulane on their docket before beating LSU 26-6.
LSU and Tulane became the hot ticket in South Louisiana for the next forty years. Oxford was stuck as a rural outpost that could not get top players or top opponents to visit Oxford. The rail service in those days was spotty and unreliable. So it took a highway system and an ambitious young football coach from Texas to turn Ole Miss’ fortunes around.
Tulane and Miss. State’s programs began to fall away in the late 40’s which put the spotlight firmly on the Ole Miss – LSU series each year, and for a period, this rivalry was as big as any College football has ever known.
Because of the remote nature of Oxford, Ole Miss typically played LSU in Baton Rouge or Jackson, MS which made the series even harder for Ole Miss but Coach Johnny Vaught embraced the series.
Vaught said, “I liked to play ‘em (in Baton Rouge) because they were a great football team. We always got half the gate receipts from the games in Baton Rouge. We’d make a lot of money, and we knew we could whip ‘em. I always felt they had a lot of coaching changes (four during Vaught’s tenure) and they never did establish a great defense.” (Quote from Ron Higgins article in Times-Picayune 10/21/14).
Ole Miss beat LSU in Baton Rouge 6 straight games from 1952 to 1957, and it began to worry LSU fans and the administration. Finally, new LSU coach Paul Dietzel got wise and began to emulate the great Johnny Vaught.
“Ole Miss is responsible for the success we had. Dietzel said. “In that ‘56 game, it was hot as the dickens in Tiger Stadium, and they played us with three teams while we were only good enough to play our starters. By halftime, we were dead on our feet, so wore out you could squeegee us off the deck. Ole Miss was fresh.”
By 1958, Coach Dietzel had followed Vaught’s recruiting plan by hiring the SEC’s second full-time recruiter, after Ole Miss’ Tom Swayze, and was also using Ole Miss’ training and conditioning schedule, which included 20 full-pad 50-yard sprints at the end of every practice.
Dietzel ran this team for 21 sprints after every practice. Dietzel proclaimed his third team the Chinese Bandits after a popular comic book character at the time and LSU took off, finally beating Ole Miss for the first time under Dietzel in 1958 14-0, making the LSU-Ole Miss series a heavy-weight knock-out fight every year.
From 1958 to 1962, the SEC title was on the line every time Ole Miss and LSU faced each other. Ole Miss was undefeated in four of those five years, and LSU was undefeated twice. Only once in this period did a team have more than one loss (1960 LSU).
Four national championships were won during this five-year stretch with LSU in 1958 and Ole Miss in 1959, 1960 and 1962.
Archie Manning helped continue the series through the late 60’s with two great come from behind games and contributed to the high rankings of both teams for the fall classic in Baton Rouge or Jackson.
From 1958 to 1973, 10 of those games featured at least one team ranked in the top 10 and conference titles were always within reach.
There has not been a greater series before or since in College Football with higher stakes on the line.
The Ole Miss – LSU rivalry lost a little of its luster during the 1980’s and 1990’s, but the addition of the Magnolia Bowl trophy has rekindled the fervor between the teams to a championship level.
With both teams back in the hunt for SEC and national titles, Ole Miss’ fans should consider LSU as its biggest rival.
If you need further proof, LSU stormed the field in Tiger Stadium after upsetting Ole Miss 10-7 in 2014. If that is not a rivalry, I don’t know what one is! – RN
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