LSU announced yesterday that the school will retire Jerry Stovall’s jersey during the 2018 season. Stovall’s #21 will join Billy Cannon’s #20 and Tommy Casanova’s #37 as the officially retired jersey numbers in LSU football history.
Stovall, known as Mr. Everything back in his playing days, was a unanimous All-American selection in 1962 for his outstanding play at halfback, defensive back, punter, and as a kick returner. He won the SEC’s 1962 MVP Award, and came a few hundred votes shy of the Heisman, finishing second behind Oregon St.’s Terry Baker.
Of course, Stovall was humbled by the announcement and mouthed the appropriate platitudes about team and his teammates and the support staff at LSU.
“This is the most humbling honor that you can ever imagine,” Stovall said, “because it’s an honor that you never, ever consider to be within your grasp. I was fortunate to play at LSU at a very special time when we had an extremely talented group of players, coaches and trainers. Any player from that time that has won an award has always said, ‘There is only one name on this trophy, but there should be 100 names on this trophy.’ This honor is for all of the young men that were my teammates and the coaches that pushed us to strive for greatness.”
That is nice of Stovall, but let’s take a moment to appreciate that he was an utter bad ass.
He is one of the last true 60-minute players in college football, and a guy who didn’t just play on both sides of the ball, he excelled at it. And hell, his greatest contributions might have been on special teams. He averaged 42.1 yards per punt, an LSU record when he graduated. He still ranks top 10 all-time in the LSU record book.
His numbers don’t wow modern eyes, mainly because the game has changed so radically. But he ranked first in the SEC in rushing yards per attempt (6.1) and third in yards from scrimmage (581). And that’s before we get into the fact he was an excellent defensive player, recording seven career interceptions in an era in which most teams only passed the ball about 150 times all season.
But I think its also time to re-evaluate what Jerry Stovall did for this program as a head coach. No, he didn’t have a gaudy record (22-21-2), but he stepped in to the job during a time of great tumult and after an unspeakable tragedy. He handled himself with dignity and class, retaining Bo Rein’s staff as well. He built the foundation for some great teams with some sparkling recruiting classes, and opened up the offense to usher in the modern era of LSU football.
He was unceremoniously pushed out the door, and he has unfortunately always carried a bit of a black mark on his record at LSU for the Dark Ages which would soon follow. But Stovall left the program in better shape than he found it, and he gave us some exciting years and left behind a cupboard full of spectacular players for his successor. The bill has long come due for the LSU Dark Ages, and almost none of it lands on Stovall’s ledger.
It has taken time, but it is great that this program can finally fully embrace one of its true football legends. Stovall was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010, one of nine Tigers so honored and just one of five who played after World War II.
There will never be another player like Jerry Stovall again. The modern game does not allow for a guy who excels in all three phases of the game like he did, which is a bit of a shame. But Mr. Everything finally steps out from the shadow of other Tiger greats and gets his permanent moment in the sun. It could not have happened to a more worthy honoree.