Back when freshmen were ineligible and you could count teams’ offensive plays on one hand, the annual clash between Ole Miss and LSU was one of college football’s premier games.
Respect mixed with vitriol, along with heart-stopping plays and gut-wrenching defeats.
"Go to hell, LSU!" is still screamed during the national anthem at Ole Miss -- no matter the game.
Iconic coaches, such as Ole Miss’ Johnny Vaught and LSU’s Paul Dietzel, roamed the sidelines and national championships were sometimes on the line.
What’s now called the Magnolia Bowl still has deep meaning for Rebels and Tigers, as these two have played 102 times, including every year since 1945.
Saturday’s nighttime showdown in rebuilt Tiger Stadium has this rivalry buzzing again. ESPN’s "College GameDay" will be in the house for No. 3 Ole Miss (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and No. 24 LSU (6-2, 2-2).
This marks the first time since 2003 that the teams will meet as ranked opponents, and it’s the first time since 1961 that Ole Miss is ranked higher than LSU when both have been ranked.
“It’s not just gonna be another game,” legendary LSU player and coach Jerry Stovall said. “It’s going to add to the lore of playing on Saturday night live in Tiger Stadium.
“Part of [the stadium] is brand new; I’m not sure it won’t come down. It’s gonna be one of the most exciting games and hard-fought games in Tiger Stadium in a long, long time. No matter who wins it, they’re gonna get bloodied.”
The meat of this rivalry came in the late 1950s and early 1960s. From 1958-63, five games were played in which both teams were ranked in the top six. Ole Miss was undefeated entering four of those games, LSU twice. Only once during that time did a team enter the game with more than one loss -- 1960, when 1-4 LSU tied No. 2 Ole Miss 6-6 in Oxford.
“There was a time when the Ole Miss game meant more than any other to the LSU people,” said Bud Johnson, former LSU sports information director and current director of the Jack & Priscilla Andonie Museum at LSU. “You could get more of the LSU-Ole Miss ticket than any other if you were in that business.”
It was also special because of proximity and the fact that LSU really didn’t a true in-state rival. It was nothing for Ole Miss fans to hop over the border into Louisiana. Getting folks from Jackson -- which is halfway between Oxford and Baton Rouge -- Brookhaven, Natchez and McComb to Louisiana was easy.
Games were colossal, and tickets were hot. You could get a Cadillac in the classifieds for four tickets, and eight tickets on the 50-yard line got you a camp on the False River.
People knew each other – players and fans. Families are split and relationships tested, making this game last 365 days.
“Two rabid fan bases with so much on the line for both teams,” said Langston Rogers, who worked in Ole Miss’ athletic department for 29 years before retiring in 2010. “That’s what made it so special.”
With Ole Miss dominating the series with Mississippi State and LSU not playing Alabama or Auburn on an annual basis, it became a heated, evenly contested rivalry game.
There was the nail-biting 14-12 Ole Miss victory in 1957, and No. 1 LSU slipping by sixth-ranked Ole Miss 14-0 in 1958 -- a game in which LSU’s Billy Cannon used his summer-job paycheck to buy an entire section inside Tiger Stadium to take tickets away from Ole Miss fans.
You had LSU’s 7-3 win in 1959, thanks to Cannon's famous/infamous 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and a goal-line stand (triggered by another Cannon play) on a hot, muggy Halloween night.
The play, which runs on loop in Baton Rouge this time of year, still haunts Jake Gibbs, Ole Miss’ quarterback from 1958-60 and who punted to Cannon, because he was trying to punt the ball out of bounds. Instead, Cannon corralled it at the 11 and made his way through just about every Ole Miss player before scooting past Gibbs toward the end zone and the Heisman Trophy.
“God, you know, he went through about five or six tackles really kinda on his own,” said Gibbs, who was actually heckled by LSU fans about the play when he later became Ole Miss’ baseball coach. “By the time he got to me … I couldn’t do anything but hit him up high. Of course, you can’t bring him down hitting him up high.”
But did it feel good to have sweet Sugar Bowl redemption over LSU a couple months later with a 21-0 win?
“Damn right,” Gibbs said.
Dietzel called the Tigers’ 10-7 comeback win in 1961 arguably his greatest game. A year later, Vaught led sixth-ranked Ole Miss to a 15-7 win over No. 4 LSU in Baton Rouge.
There was Doug Moreau's two-point conversion catch for an LSU win in 1964 and Archie Manning directing back-to-back comeback wins for the Rebels in 1968 and 1969. Of course, there was “The Night the Clock Stopped” in Baton Rouge in 1972 when Brad Davis’ one-handed catch came with one second left gave LSU a fabled 17-16 win and prompted people to leave signs at the Louisiana state line that read, “You are now entering Louisiana. Set your clocks back four seconds.”
“There was not a year when you had one or two good players on each team,” said Stovall, who went 1-1-1 as a player against Ole Miss. “This was a group of years – an era – where the coaching could not have been any better, the players could not have been more in number at that high of a level, and the fans responded to the excellence that they saw.”
Eli Manning tripped in 2003 with the SEC West on the line, and Les Miles didn’t see the clock in 2009. You had Zach Mettenberger’s mercy kneel with five minutes left in 2011 and Ole Miss fans storming the field in 2013.
You have ranked foes and top-named coaches in Miles and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze standing in the shadows of Dietzel and Vaught. The hype and bite are back.
“It’s a lot of fun now,” Gibbs said, “and I think you’re going to see a many more good, heated games between Ole Miss and LSU.”