My partner Paul has already introduced the concept. We really are combing through a half century of LSU football history to rate the best games of every singly season since LSU’s first consensus national title in 1958.
While Paul had the pleasure of introducing you to Paul Dietzel, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce a man who is going to feature quite prominently in this feature of the next coming months, one Charles McClendon or as he is more affectionately known, Cholly Mac.
I have written before that Les Miles is the greatest coach in LSU history, but Cholly Mack is probably the most central figure in the program’s history. He was the man who defined the culture, created and preserved traditions, and forged LSU’s reputation as a ferocious defensive team which plays with extreme passion in front of an even more ferocious crowd.
Cholly Mac played football at Kentucky for an obscure college coach named Paul Bryant, who has been fortunately forgotten by history. In 1953, just a few years out of college, Gus Tinsley hired Mac as part of the LSU staff with just one year of assistant coaching experience at Vanderbilt. Dietzel would retain Mac when he took the job and appointed him the head coach as his hand-picked successor when he left for Army in 1961. This would make McClendon one of the first branches of the Bear Bryant coaching tree.
Cholly Mac took over a powerhouse of program in 1962, blessed with such stars as QB Lynn Amedee and RB/DB Jerry Stovall. The latter would be named a consensus All-American in 1962 en route to winning SEC Player of the Year honors.
Cholly Mac demonstrated right away there would be no drop off from the program, as the Tigers spent all year in the top ten, finishing the year 9-1-1, with the only loss to 10-0 Ole Miss (who still didn’t win the national title despite an unbeaten record, thanks to 11-0 USC).
But the real statement game came in the Cotton Bowl, when LSU faced off against 9-0-1 Texas, coached by Darrell Royal. From 1961-64, Texas would lose just three games over those four seasons. They were the absolutely pinnacle of college football at the time, and these were the best teams in Texas’ storied history. And this was Texas’ first regular season undefeated team ever.
The prior year, Texas played Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl, and beat the Rebels 12-7. Texas would go to three more Cotton Bowls in the decade, winning two national titles in Dallas, a virtual home game. LSU being the lone exception, I cannot stress enough, is a big damned deal.
Cholly Mac was a conservative coach by nature, preferring to rely on his defense to win football games. If any coach lived up to the three yards and a cloud of dust ideal, it would be McClendon. Lynn Amedee shared passing duties with Jimmy Field, and the two combined for 719 passing yards on the season with a 37.0% completion rate.
So what did he do? He decided to unleash the passing game, catching the Longhorn defense completely off guard. Now, this was still Cholly Mac, so “unleashed” is a relative term, but LSU threw 21 passes in the game instead of their usual 10.8.
Darrell Royal famously remarked that when you put the ball in the air, only three things can happen, and two of them are bad. Walter Robinson of The Dallas Morning News called the game the Battle of Identical Twins, writing that
“they both believe that the best formula for winning is to possess the football a considerably greater portion of the game than the opponent; that if you must give up the ball, give it up at such a position on the field where the opponent can do little with it except maybe eat it.”
LSU could move the ball but couldn’t score in the first quarter as McClendon rotated his two quarterbacks on each drive. Texas was even more conservative, as Royal opted to punt on third down from deep in his own territory on his first possession. Ernie Koy responded with a 72-yard punt, all the way to the LSU 12, effectively flipping field position for the half.
McClendon opted for risk. Faced with fourth and 1 from his own 35, LSU called the fake, snapping the ball to Field in the punt formation, sneaking the ball for a first down. However, the risk would not pay off, as the drive stalled at midfield.
Texas would mount a drive keyed by a flea flicker for a 15-yard pass paly to Charley Talbert. Ruffin Rodrigue would make a key stop on third down to stop the damage, and Tony Crosby, a barefoot kicker, missed from 32. It would end the best threat of the game by Texas all game.
Finally, LSU managed a drive starting from their own 20 which got down to the Texas 5 yard line on a 14-play drive, but LSU ran out of time outs, proving clock management issues are not a new development in Baton Rouge.
With the clock ticking down, McClendon was forced to send in the field goal team on third down. Jimmy Field rushed into the game with the tee (yes, the tee), and Amedee kicked the 23-yard field goal to put the Tigers up 3-0 at the half.
Texas responded by fumbling the opening kickoff of the second half which was recovered by Amedee. LSU’s offense seemed to stall, but on third and 9 from the 22 yard-line, Jimmy Field escaped the pass rush, found daylight, and ran to daylight for his first touchdown of the year. I swear LSU had more than two players in 1962, it’s just that they so dominated the box score.
Giving Cholly Mac a 10-0 lead is pretty much death, even for a coach as great as Darrel Royal. Texas tried to mount a comeback, but the LSU defense continually stifled the Longhorns any time they got the slightest bit of momentum. LSU would force two fumbles and three interceptions in the game, fully crushing what little will Texas had left.
Rodrique intercepted a Tommy Wade pass near midfield, and LSU had a chance to put the game away. Field would connect with Stovall for a decent gain, and then with Jack Gates to create 1st and goal from the 7-yard line. Stovall would lose yardage and Texas would force an LSU turnover on downs.
Texas’ last gasp comeback die at midfield with yet another fumble, recovered by Buddy Hamic at LSU’s own 30 yard line. LSU would methodically drive down the field, burning clock on a 13-play 50-yard drive which resulted in a 37-yard field goal by Lynn Amedee.
LSU’s star player, Stovall, was held to just 36 yards rushing, but guided by a combined passing line of 13 for 21 for 133 yards, the LSU offense managed to prosper with its primary weapon taken away. Stovall still made an impact on the game by making an interception on Texas’ final offensive snap, sealing the LSU victory.
10-7 @ #5 Georgia Tech
7-15 #6 Ole Miss
By a strange twist of fate, Rice played two teams to a tie in 1962: LSU and Texas. Otherwise, the Owls were a bad football team and that tie was better for them than for the Tigers. Also, Danny LeBlanc fumbled in the final minute on the 10-yard line, costing LSU the win. Georgia Tech was still an SEC member in 1962, and that was a critical win for LSU early in the year to set up a possible title run, eventually doomed by the loss to Ole Miss. Florida finished fourth in the SEC, and LSU absolutely blew their doors off, making a statement about the Tigers’ quality that year.
Georgia Tech has a legit case. Stovall took back the second half kickoff to the end zone, keying the win. It was another of the hang on for dear life variety, but it is the game that woke up the 1962 team after some early season struggles.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1962?
This poll is closed
Edging Georgia Tech
Losing to Ole Miss