College football has long been a good ole boys network. It’s faded a bit in modernity, but still, most coaches are apt to hire coaches they either know personally or are known personally by coaches they know personally. In that sense, it’s not all that different than any other industry.
In 1967, Cholly Mac showed he could rebuild the program after a down swing, and delivered a Sugar Bowl victory against upstart Wyoming. Less than a month later, legendary athletic director Jim Corbett suffered a fatal heart attack and passed. Corbett can be credited with laying the foundation for LSU football to become the behemoth it is today. Not only did home attendance improve by around 30,000 fans/game under his watch, he also brought night time football to Tiger Stadium. He took a pay cut to come to LSU in 1955, in order to divert funds to help rebuild the athletic department. He didn’t hire Paul Dietzel, but they two were intertwined by virtue of starting their LSU careers together. When Dietzel would later depart for the Army job, Corbett would hire McClendon to replace him.
When Corbett passed, Harry Rabenhorst, who had been at LSU since 1925, stepped into the role. Rabenhorst, 70, wasn’t long for the job and wound up retiring shortly after LSU claimed that Sugar Bowl victory against Wyoming.
McClendon won at least seven games every season but one in his first 6 seasons in Baton Rouge. He was valued but not prized. To ensure himself a measure of security, McClendon set his eyes on the AD position, and with Governor John McKeithen’s blessing, he believed he would get it. The race to replace Rabenhorst came down to McClendon and director of the Student Union Carl Maddox. When the board met to decided, McKeithen shocked by taking a hands-off stance. The board opted to keep the AD and football coaching jobs separately and chose Maddox, who coached under Gus Tinsley and later Dietzel, until taking the Director of the Student Union job in 1960. Maddox and McClendon shared a friendship, so despite his disappointment, McClendon went right back to his job as the head football coach at LSU.
All this set the stage for the ‘68 season. Nelson Stokley was gone and LSU was ushering in a new QB, Fred Haynes, a garden gnome of a man at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds. To make matters worse, McClendon said he was the only QB he could ever remember being booed in the Spring. Ah, who am I kidding? It’s easier to pick LSU seasons where the fans hated the coach and had an uncertain QB situation than ones with the opposite.
The Greatest Game in 1968: Florida State
In a season where they were replacing their QB, you’d figure the team may start slow and gradually gel, but this team went on the opposite arc. They started the season narrowly beating no. 13 Texas A&M, before felling two more Texas foes in Rice and Baylor. All looked well in Tiger Town until they took an ignominious loss to Miami by 30. The Tigers came completely unraveled against a team that was reeling off a big loss to USC in the previous week. Miami may have looked vulnerable but proved not to be.
LSU turned around and beat Kentucky and TCU, building their record to 5-1, and welcomed rival Ole Miss to town. The Rebels were lead by a talented freshman QB named Archie Manning. Archie, of course, disappeared into relative anonymity after his freshman season. Manning kicked LSU’s ass up and down the field that day, throwing for 345 yards. Worse, QB Fred Haynes was lost to a dislocated wrist, but the LSU offense managed to stay on track under QB Mike Hillman, more of a thrower. LSU got out to a 17-3 lead early into the 2nd quarter, before slowly falling apart. In the end, Archie orchestrated a 76-yard drive in the final 3:00 to seal victory for the Rebels.
LSU, despite being ranked 20th nationally, entered the next week’s contest vs. Alabama as underdogs. Leading into the 3rd quarter, 7-6, LSU had the chance to widen the lead to 10-6 when the kicker missed. Bama managed a FG of their own and tacked on another TD to send LSU to back-to-back losses and McClendon to his fifth straight loss to Alabama.
Sitting at 5-3, LSU’s season was on the brink of melt down. But McClendon righted the ship the next week, beating Mississippi State 20-16 before heading into the annual showdown with Tulane. Outmatched, the Greenies proved to be no trouble for LSU, who were dominant in a 24-point victory. LSU was selected to the Peach Bowl against FSU.
In those days, the lower tier bowl games held even less import than today. Bowl games were exhibitions to draw television ratings and meant little more. Gradually, fans and media have attached more meaning to their existence. But this game brought a unique variable in that FSU’s head coach, Bill Peterson, was the fan-favorite choice to replace Cholly Mac. Peterson was a more aggressive, pass-oriented coach who was actually hired by Paul Dietzel and worked at LSU from ‘55-’59 before heading to Florida State. A unique opportunity presented itself for McClendon: beat Peterson and prove your worth, lose and pave the way for your replacement. At least in the minds of fans that’s how it played out.
FSU had lost only a pair of games that year, once narrowly to Florida and an 18-point loss to VPI, now known as Virginia Tech. QB Bill Cappelman and receiver Ron Sellers were start players. The LSU D had a tall task ahead of them.
The game started inauspiciously when LSU fumbled the opening kickoff and FSU punched it in, taking a 7-0 just :15 into the game. Not to be outdone the offense decided to join in on the fun. Here’s how they ended their first three possessions:
The 4th drive was a punt and that would be the most successful of the first quarter which ended with the Noles up 7-0. They grew their lead in the early second, capping off a drive that had started in the 1st, but missed the XP to make the lead just 13-0.
The LSU offense didn’t improve. They punted away their next two drives after running only six total plays. The offense looked completely outmatched, but the defense hung tough, despite allowing the pair of TDs. After pinning the Noles deep on a 3 and out, the LSU punt team took the field. LSU fielded the punt at the FSU 39, which would have been their best starting field position on the day. Instead, Craig Burns returned the kick to put the Tigers on the board cutting the lead to 13-7.
When FSU took the ball back, they were able to move a bit, but wound up punting. The LSU offense took over at the 50. Hillman found RB Ken Newfield on the first play for 22 yards. McClendon went conservative and LSU gained only 14 more yards before opting to kick a FG to cut the lead 13-10.
On FSU’s next possession Cappelman would throw an INT to a player whose name I can’t make out on the hand-written box score. Taking over at the FSU 43, LSU came out throwing, navigating down to the FSU 11. On 4th and 1, the ever conservative McClendon opted to try for the game-tying FG. LSU, of course, suffered a delay of game, pushing them back five yards. Mark Lumpkin would then miss the FG. FSU ran a keeper to end the half up 13-10. Despite four turnovers and offensive sluggishness, LSU hung tough.
FSU took the ball to start the half and LSU immediately forced a three and out. The Tigers apparently left the sluggish offense in the locker room, starting the 2nd half on absolute fire. Starting from their own 49, LSU quickly drove down the field before Hillman found End Bob Hamlett for an 11-yard TD, giving LSU their first lead of the game 17-13.
LSU again forced a three and out, but this time took over much deeper in their own territory, on the 19. They successfully flipped the field, driving to the FSU 43 before punting the ball away. The sputtering offense and troublesome turnovers were gone. A seemingly entirely different team took the field in the 2nd half.
FSU took over but again didn’t manage much before punting away, giving LSU the ball on the FSU 45. LSU offense capitalized and Hillman found Tommy Morel for 26-yard gain, before connecting with lightly used TE Bill Stober for another TD. LSU opened their lead 24-13.
FSU wouldn’t go down easy, though. On the next drive, starting the 4th quarter, they covered the length of the field in 4:30 and scored. However, the 2-pt try was intercepted leaving LSU’s lead at 24-19. On the next kickoff, 1st half LSU returned when the same returner who fumbled the opening kickoff, fumbled again. This time he at least had the dignity to return the ball 24 yards before doing so, but FSU took over in prime territory.
Eight plays later, facing a 4th and 2 from the 4, the Noles went for it and Cappelman threw another TD. This time FSU converted the 2-point try, making it 27-24 Noles.
LSU took over with 6:05 remaining. After a 19-yard return, LSU held excellent starting field position from their own 39. McClendon turned to receiver Maurice LeBlanc, who had moved over from RB to start the season. When McClendon asked LeBlanc if he could handle the pressure of a position change, LeBlanc coyly replied, “Coach, I never worry about pressure. If I do anything wrong, they won’t blame me. They’ll blame you.”
LeBlanc answered the call, running left for four and right for 13. Hillman completed a pass to Stober before going back to LeBlanc again, right, left and left again. This time, the Tigers got hit with a holding penalty, putting them in a disastrous 3rd and 19 from the FSU 37. Never to fear, Hillman found the ever-dependable Tommy Morel for a 20-yard gain and conversion. LSU went right back to LeBlanc again, for a short gain. On 2nd down, Hillman, not a great runner, scrambled for 11 yards, to give LSU a 1st and Goal from the 3. On the next play, Coach rewarded LeBlanc with the first carry and LeBlanc rewarded Coach with the TD. Lumpkin nailed the XP and LSU lead 31-27.
FSU would get one final drive at 2:33. After completing passes for 12 and 16 yards, the Noles were at the LSU 45 and looking dangerous. Cappelman dropped and completed another pass, this time for only a yard. It would be his final completion of the night, as LSU forced three straight incomplete passes to take over on downs.
The running QB, Fred Haynes, came back in to ice the final 1:15, using 1st down to scramble around and waste time before taking a 7-yard loss. LSU was able to kneel out the rest and end the game.
W 13-12 vs. #13 Texas A&M
L 24-27 vs. Ole Miss
Not a ton of great choices in ‘68. The A&M game was a big win at the time, but the Aggies wound up only winning three games that season. The Ole Miss game was a thriller, but hard to rate that above a bowl victory against FSU, which was similarly thrilling and LSU came out on the right end of. We also lost to Alabama close, because, you know, that’s what Charlie McClendon did.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1968?
This poll is closed
Beating FSU in the Peach
Beating A&M to start the season
Heartbreaking loss to Archie and the Rebels
Stomping Greenies, duh