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LSU Sports History Classes: Enrolling Now

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We try to make sense of 125+ years of not making sense

NCAA Football: Rice at Louisiana State
Technically, this is now a historical event
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Every football offseason, Paul and I try and give ourselves a research project. It’s fun for us to look back in the past of LSU football, but over the years, you can see that sort of institutional knowledge slowly eroding.

Simply put, we are all forgetting our history, and it seems that the rate of decay is quickening in the internet era. If something happened prior to the world wide web, it might as well not exist. LSU does a fantastic job of preserving team statistics and old box scores back to 1963. Then there’s the yeoman’s work being done at all of the sports-reference sites.

But this goes to the old Bill James adage that the further we get from a player in his playing days, the more he is reduced to simple numbers on a page. There’s nothing we can do about some of this. We’ll never see footage of Doc Fenton or Ken Kavanaugh, LSU greats who played prior to the invention of television.

Hell, regular TV coverage of LSU football is a fairly recent development. I used to listen to games in Maryland on the radio, thanks to the WWL clear channel. During the 1980’s, ABC would only cover a handful of national games, and ESPN slowly filled in the gaps. The first time the entire LSU SEC campaign was televised was in 2000. LSU’s entire slate of games was not available until 2004, and even that required pay-per-view. The first LSU season entirely on cable and network television didn’t occur until 2014.

So instead of one research project, we are devoting this offseason to creating a framework to preserving the history of LSU sports. Part of this means digging through our own archives and making our earlier history work more easily accessible, while also making a home for future research projects.

What we are most interested in preserving is not the numbers and the results. We already have people recording those numbers on a page, and they do fantastic work. Our goal will be to try to tell the stories that used to be told from fathers to sons. Nowadays, if it’s not on the internet, it doesn’t exist, so our goal is to make sure these stories get recorded on the internet.

Our daunting task is to get Tiger fans to care about Doc Fenton and Ken Kavanaugh, even if we can’t show them the video. You think your heroes won’t be forgotten, but they will. This is about trying to preserve the legacies of not just faded pictures on the page, but today’s players. It’s trying to find a place for everyone in this giant narrative of LSU Tiger sports.

We also intend to include not just the football program, but every LSU team. Ever wondered about the 1935 basketball national championship banner? Yeah, me too. Or what about our boxing program? And who the hell are all of these people with their names on the athletics buildings? The Bernie Moore Track Stadium? The Carl Maddox Fieldhouse? And why isn’t it the WT “Dub” Robinson Tennis Complex anymore? I don’t know the answers to all of the questions yet, but we’re going to find it together.

It seems though that the place to start is with the guys who built the LSU sports program into what it is today. This didn’t happen entirely by accident. There was a plan or the very least a vision, and the LSU Athletic Directors have tried to bring that vision into focus and make it a reality.

We’re going to break down LSU’s athletic history into eras, roughly divided into the term of each Athletic Director. AD’s are first and foremost judged on football, so we’ll always look on their impact on the football program, but then we’ll try to tell the stories of the facilities they built, the coaches they hired, the onfield successes of their tenure, and the off the field controversies.

While I take the ATVS time machine back to the origins of LSU sports and slowly travel home, Paul will drop in and start profiling the most important coaches in LSU history who made their marks on their respective programs. I’ll probably start chipping in after I finish my journey through every Athletic Director’s tenure.

If there’s anything you want us to research, we are more than willing to take it under advisement. Drop a line in the comments, or just share your favorite LSU legends. Maybe we’ll try and figure out if they are actually true, though this is the sort of project that will encourage the myths and legends rather than crush them.

So later this week, join me as I start LSU Sports History, starting at the very beginnings of LSU athletics, when a chemistry professor decides he wants to play an exhibition football match against some school from New Orleans in 1893. And how right off the bat, he screwed up the school colors…