With conference realignment over the years or one of the two teams of a particular 'rivalry game' perpetually stuck in reverse, many season ending, or other rivalry games have gone by the wayside. Nebraska-Oklahoma, Texas Aggies -Texas, Penn State - Pittsburgh and Miami (Fla) - Florida no longer play one another on a yearly basis nor will hardly play at all anytime soon. And in long standing games that continue like the "Little Brown Jug" between Minnesota and Michigan and "the third Saturday in October" between Tennessee and Alabama, the Gophers and Vols haven't held up their end of the bargain of late somewhat diminishing the game on a national level. LSU and Tulane no longer play each year,either. Now, the Tigers and Wave really only resonated nationally perhaps in the 1930's and 1940's, if that. But for a brief period in the early 1970's, the game was played in front of some of the South's biggest crowds with as much intensity and drama as any rivalry type game. Few games, period, had the drama, big plays and big crowd as the 1972 game as the 40th anniversary of that early December classic takes place.
The Tigers and Green Wave each took different paths to the season ending game in '72. For starters, LSU was two years removed from being SEC Champion while Tulane had resigned from the conference following the 1965-1966 academic year. At the time of the decision for Tulane to leave the SEC, school and athletic officials felt the Wave simply couldn't compete anymore in the league after basically 'de-emphasizing' football after the 1949 season, oddly enough, a year Tulane won the SEC in football. State rival LSU also started dominating the series between the two as well.
Up until 1950, Tulane was a legitimate "top twenty" program even with more universities and colleges fielding what would be considered "major college football" now. Tulane played in the Rose Bowl two years before the formation of the SEC and played in the inaugural Sugar Bowl and the 1940 Sugar Bowl,too.Tulane won SEC titles in 1934 and 1939 and led the SEC in attendance in 1948.Coach Henry Frnka's Wave was considered by many as a football factory and was The Sporting News' pre-season choice for number one in 1949. The 4th ranked Wave went to South Bend to face the number one ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. That era's version of ESPN's College Gameday, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice covered the game for his nationwide syndicated sports column. Even though it was only game four of the season, many felt the winner would be on track for the National Title. Notre Dame went on to crush Tulane, 46-7.While the Wave would go on to win the SEC with a 5-1 conference mark, that one loss was a season ending loss to LSU, 21-0, which propelled the Tigers to the Sugar Bowl over the Wave.Tulane football was never the same.
Tulane president Rufus Harris had long been an advocate of scaling back intercollegiate athletics. Oddly enough, it was Harris who hired Frnka. Frnka's early squads had as many as 100 scholarship athletes and finished 14th in the nation in 1948 including a 46-0 win at LSU. But even as Tulane was succeeding on the field and at the ticket box, Harris basically assumed after the loss to the Irish and being overlooked for the hometown Sugar Bowl that if this squad couldn't produce a national champion, no Tulane team could.In 1951 he began to limit football scholarships down to 75,reducing the coaching staff and coaching salaries. Scouting of opponents and future prospects was limited,too as well as making physical education, a popular major of many athletes, a minor only at the school effectively making academic requirements even more difficult. By the end of the 1950's, the once strong Tulane program had been reduced to mediocrity at best with losing seasons in from 1957-1959. Meanwhile, LSU won the National Title in 1958 and narrowly missed a second title in 1959.LSU's 1958 season included a 62-0 win against Tulane in New Orleans. And, the series record between LSU and Tulane widened at the end of the decade . After the '49 game, LSU led the series 24-18-5. Tulane failed to defeat LSU in the 1950's managing two ties and the series lead by the Tigers increased to 32-18-7.
LSU continued to distance themselves from Tulane winning an SEC title in 1961 and participating in 7 bowl games in the 1960's , including games in the Cotton, Sugar and Orange. Meanwhile, Tulane had more different head coaches in the 1960's than winning seasons. The Wave had three different coaches and only one winning season, a 5-4-1 mark in Jim Pittman's first season in 1966. Only a few of the Tulane-LSU skirmishes went undecided into the fourth quarter, the 1966 game and oddly enough, the 1967 game in which shortly before the game. What was unusual about the '67 game was LSU, which had the nation's toughest schedule, had just secured a Sugar Bowl bid with only a modest 5-3-1 mark.Still, LSU was only 10 points away from a perfect season and all four blemishes were traced to poor placekicking. The Tigers roared out to 28-0 lead before Tulane roared back to narrow the lead to 34-27.In fact, in the fourth Tulane drove into LSU territory for the tie or possible lead before LSU stopped the Wave and scored one more touchdown themselves for a 41-27 win and 6-3-1 mark allowing Sugar Bowl officials to exhale.
Pittman's arrival and subsequent 5-4-1 mark coincided with Tulane's departure from the SEC. The Greenies' decision to limit its football fortunes in the 1950's made competing in the SEC virtually impossible . Tulane, the only private school in the SEC besides Vanderbilt, had more stringent enrollment requirements that the state schools with very limited deviation for potential athletes. Plus the rest of the league could award virtually unlimited scholarships while Tulane was restricted to self-imposed limited athletic scholarships. Tulane continued to win fewer and fewer SEC games and generally failed to compete as the Wave fell to 0-10-0 in 1962 and accumulated two more 62-0 losses to LSU in 1961 and 1965.1966 marked Tulane's first year as an independent swapping SEC juggernauts such as Alabama and Ole Miss for VPI and Cincinnati,among others. 1966 also marked the year the NFL awarded a franchise to the city of New Orleans, on "All Saints' Day" no less for the upstart Saints to begin play in 1967.
The Saints would begin play in 1967 and play in Tulane Stadium until the new Louisiana Superdome would be completed,( a project that wound up taking about four years longer than expected). Tulane while having the ability to schedule opponents more formidable, also began losing local support to the Saints' franchise as only LSU would remain on Tulane's schedule year in and year out from the SEC's upper echelon. Meanwhile up Airline Highway and the few parts of new Interstate 10 that were completed, the Saints' emergence in New Orleans was basically a non-event. Along with the Sugar following the '67 season, LSU played in the inaugral Peach Bowl in 1968 and stayed home in 1969 with an outstanding 9-1 mark and #8 ranking. To this day many LSU fans feel misled by the Cotton Bowl during negotiations for the 1970 game and the Tigers chose to stay home than participate in seemingly lesser bowls as the Bluebonnet and Sun Bowls.
Charlie McClendon holds the first Peach Bowl trophy after a 31-27 win over Florida State in '68
Tulane and Jim Pittman were committed to make the Green Wave a competitive football team. Pittman was a valued assistant on Darrell Royal's Texas staff having followed Royal from Starkville and Pittman's alma mater, Mississippi State to Washington and then the Longhorns where he was on the staff of the 1963 National champions. While he did indeed want to be a head coach, he wanted assurance he'd be given a chance to win. Athletic director Rix Yard assured him he would. Tulane had relented somewhat on Dr. Harris' purge in the 1950's. And while Yard and other Tulane administrators didn't nor have any intention of making Green Wave athletics a model like Georgetown and Miami (Fla) did in the 1980's for athletes at a private school, Tulane did show more of a commitment to football. Pittman, a former Marine who fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa was sold and hit the ground running recruiting and generating interest in the football program. Still, others were surprised he would take the job. Pittman, only 41 at the time of his hiring had already had two heart attacks. Many, including Royal, didn't think he'd want to take on the added stress of being a head coach.
Pittman, like LSU's McClendon was 'defense first' coach. After the successful '66 season, the Green Wave went back to its old ways with losing seasons in 1967, 1968 and 1969.In year five of the Jim Pittman era in 1970, he felt the Wave was a good, rugged football team ready to win. That was good in more ways than one as even with the luxury of scheduling teams more to their ability and not an SEC schedule, Tulane's 1970 schedule was brutal playing 5 teams that would play in bowl games in the newly expanded NCAA approved 11 game regular season. After a close loss to Texas Tech on the road, Tulane stunned the football world, at least in the South, with a 17-14 win over SEC foe Georgia. The Green Wave would take a 7-3 record into the season finale with LSU.
The Tigers were in the midst of a tremendous season themselves. After a last minute upset loss at home to the Texas Aggies following the shocking,unexpected death of teammate Butch Duhe' earlier in the week, LSU regrouped and entered the game 7-2 and was ranked 5th in the nation with the only blemish two weeks earlier in South Bend to then #1 Notre Dame, 3-0. After the game a sportswriter covering the game declared, "if Notre Dame is Number 1, LSU is number 1-A." For only the second time since 1950, the Tulane game wouldn't be the last regular season game for the Tigers as the Ole Miss game , originally scheduled for Halloween night, was moved back to December 5th for National television, the SEC title and an Orange Bowl berth.
While LSU started moving the ball some in the second half, the Tigers' defense kept Tulane at bay. Lyons meanwhile continued to move the Tigers.He had perhaps the biggest play of the game midway in the fourth quarter on a 44 yard run. The drive stalled at the Wave 26 but Juan Roca, who made LSU's lone field goal out of eight tries a week earlier in Gainesville, connected on a 43 yard field goal to break the tie and give LSU a 6-3 lead.After stopping Tulane again, Lyons led LSU on one more tried that ended at the Tulane 19. Rusty Jackson booted a 36 yard field goal to give LSU a 9-3 lead with only one minute left in the game, seemingly salting the game away.
Racine only weighed 185 pounds, giving up 50 to Huber. But as the two collided as Huber headed to the corner of the endzone on the LSU 2, Racine corralled Huber and was able to wrestle him down just inside the LSU 1 yardline. It was close, Huber himself later saying only six inches separated him from the goal,but LSU had held on for dear life. LSU won 9-3 to finish the regular season 9-1-1 while Tulane fell to 6-5. The largest crowd to watch a game in the Deep South as well as witness a night kickoff anywhere got its money's worth.
The Tigers and Tulane have met only five times since 1996 and while "talk" of other games continue, nothing is on the horizon. Tulane did finally break the streak the following year in '73 and won three out of four from 1979 to 1982.After a fight to finish in 1987 with LSU winning 41-36 before 70,000, the attendance in New Orleans dwindled more and more and Tulane became an automatic win again for LSU, the game lost its luster all the way around. But for one night in 1972 it was as good and big as any game going.