By Charles “The Rooster” Barbre
This coming Saturday is Halloween, and most people will be thinking of children dressing up in fearful costumes of ghosts and goblins.
The older goblins may be anticipating a Halloween party, especially since LSU has an open date and there is no football in Tiger Stadium this Halloween. Over the years LSU has played many games on October 31. However, if you ask any “old timer” like myself what Halloween brings to mind, he will say (as LSU football public address announcer Dan Borne’ so appropriately wrote) “a Cannon Blast”.
All LSU fans, even the young ones, know that the most memorable game in Tiger football history was played in 1959 on Halloween night. The Tigers’ only points came on running back Billy Cannon’s 89-yard touchdown run of a Jake Gibbs’ punt. Ole Miss’ only loss that year was a 7-3 defeat at the hands of LSU.
Growing up in Baton Rouge, I have been blessed to witness a lot of great moments in LSU sports. This is my 61st year of watching Tiger football. However, being in the stadium as a twelve-year-old boy on that fateful Halloween night is still one of my fondest memories of watching Tiger football.
During this current “Golden Age” of LSU football, most Tiger fans look to Alabama and Auburn as LSU’s biggest rivals. Most don’t think of Ole Miss as being an elite program. You have to go back in time and look at where Ole Miss was at the time of that game in 1959.
LSU was an upstart program back then, coming from nowhere in 1958 to win the national championship. Ole Miss’ only loss that year was 14-0 to LSU.
From 1954 to 1963 Ole Miss was a shining star in college football, with five SEC championships, three “claimed” national titles and only one season with three losses during this ten-year period. During the middle of the Rebels’ run LSU was their nemesis.
In 1958 Ole Miss was 9-2, in 1959 the Rebels were 10-1, in 1960 they were 10-0-1 and in 1961 they were 9-2. In each one of these years, LSU beat them or tied them. Needless to say, the LSU-Ole Miss rivalry was one of the most intense in college football over those years.
With that as a backdrop, No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Ole Miss were set to tee it up that fateful Halloween night. Both teams came into the game undefeated.
LSU was riding an 18-game winning streak, and Ole Miss’ only loss in two years came from LSU the previous year. Back then, kickoffs were at 8:00 PM and the games were played in about two hours.
It was a steamy, humid night. The air was thick with tension. In the first quarter, Billy Cannon fumbled the ball at LSU’s 20-yard line and Ole Miss recovered. LSU’s defense held, and the Rebels kicked a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Back then defense was the name of the game. Both coaches, Paul Dietzel of LSU and Johnny Vaught of Ole Miss, were very conservative. Both punted on third down, played field position and trusted their defenses to win the game.
If you listen to the recording of Billy Cannon’s run, you will hear J.C. Politz say that it is third down and Jake Gibbs is standing on his own 38-yard line. This means that the ball was in LSU territory when Ole Miss punted on that third down. What I remember most about Cannon’s run is the noise that was made by the fans in Tiger Stadium, and that I almost hyperventilated from yelling so much and being so excited.
However, there were still ten minutes left to play in the game.
Ole Miss had not moved the ball the entire game with their All-American quarterback Jake Gibbs, and Coach Vaught put in sophomore Doug Elmore at quarterback. Elmore had not taken a snap all year.
The sophomore led Ole Miss down the field to a first and goal. The LSU defense stiffened, and on fourth and goal from the two-yard line, Elmore kept the ball and was stopped at the goal line to preserve history for LSU. I remember being very nervous when Ole Miss ran that play and being very elated when LSU held.
My family’s seats were in the upper southwest corner of the south end zone. We had parked across from the east side of the stadium.
After the game we walked around to the east side where the Ole Miss fans were to leave the stadium. Standing in the midst of the Ole Miss fans I let out a yell of “We’re No. 1!”
An older Ole Miss fan turned to me and in a gruff voice said, “Y’all were lucky.”
Whether luck or not, LSU had held on to win the most memorable game in Tiger Stadium history. LSU continued to be a thorn in the side of Ole Miss for years to come, spoiling the Rebels’ seasons for the next three years.
As I said, this is my 61st year of watching Tiger football. LSU has had some great rivalries over those years: Auburn in the 1990s and Alabama currently. But I don’t think anything topped what we had with Ole Miss in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s because of the intensity and passion on the side of the fan base.
And that “Cannon Blast” on Halloween night some 56 years ago is the icing on the very tasty cake for Tiger fans.
I am very thankful that I have been one of those fans for all of these years.
Check out Sports Talk TV, hosted by Charles “The Rooster” Barbre every Sunday night at 9:00 pm and Monday at 8:00 pm on Pelican Broadcasting (Cox channel 1013).