Essen Lane was a two-lane gravel road; Our Lady of the Lake Hospital was on a lake; and a box of shotgun shells at Steinberg’s was selling for $1.86.
Tiger Stadium had barely more than 60,000 seats, which is why a “2 LSU-Ole Miss tickets for sale” classified ad in the Morning Advocate stayed in the listing for only a day, and explains why there was an increasing number of classifieds asking - begging, pleading - for tickets.
Somebody invested in a three-line classified telling the world he was willing to swap his Cadillac for two tickets to what was then the biggest regular-season matchup in the history of LSU and Ole Miss and Southeastern Conference football.
No. 1 LSU versus No. 3 Ole Miss. Oct. 31, 1959. Did football get any bigger?
“The fevered pitch was unbelievable,” LSU quarterback Warren Rabb said. “There was great enthusiasm for our team just like there is today.”
Rabb’s “today” is the long-awaited, much media-hyped No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama, a collision that replaces that legendary 1959 contest for the best-ever, regular-season SEC matchup.
LSU’s 1959 captain Lynn LeBlanc said he hoped somebody was treating this one the same way long-departed trainer Herman Lang did the long-awaited 1959 game: “Herman Lang would scatter pennies around the players’ gate and in the locker room thinking that if we found them, that it was going to bring us good luck.”
Another little-known fact is that the Ole Miss Rebels traveled to Baton Rouge for back-to-back games in ‘58 and ‘59, and the Rebs and their fans were smarting from a 14-0 whipping in ‘58.
There was more: “Our (1956) freshman team beat them for the first time,” LSU’s only Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Cannon, said with a sting remaining in his words. “We lost 14-12 in my sophomore year. The next year (1958) we were putting in a new offense (the Wing-T) and beat them 14-0 - shut them out - and they were upset.”
Salt in the Rebs’ wounds was that they were a part of LSU’s unbeaten 1958 national championship season. Even worse was that both sides of the Cannon family were, he said, “from outside Philadelphia (Miss.) My dad was one of 11 (children), and mom had 12 in her family, so we had lots of relatives in that area. They took a lot of friendly heat and, I’m sure, they dished out just as much as they took.”
Just as much as Ole Miss disliked LSU stealing national headlines, LSU didn’t take too much to the Rebs’ “how dare they do that to their beloved living legend” coach Johnny Vaught. Besides, Ole Miss fans considered LSU’s young coach Paul Dietzel an upstart and distained his Midwest accent and dazzling smile.
LSU, well, just didn’t like anything about Ole Miss.
“It wasn’t too hard to get up for this game,” said LeBlanc, a team captain. “Ole Miss fans came on campus and hung Billy Cannon in effigy - right on the campus! We had to pass that going to and from practice.”
The favor was returned: “Ole Miss stayed at the Capital House (hotel) the night before the game, and the LSU students went down there to keep them awake,” former LSU Sports Information Director Bud Johnson recalled. “(Students) were yelling ￔGo to hell, Ole Miss’ well into the night, and one of the (Ole Miss) players throwing hot towels at them was quarterback Doug Elmore.”
By now, everyone familiar with college football knows Cannon cemented his 1959 Heisman run with an 89-yard, fourth-quarter punt return that gave LSU the 7-3 win.
“Elmore later told me that if he’d known he would play in a game that big, he’d have been in bed,” Johnson added.
Rabb, Cannon, Elmore and LeBlanc were involved in a last-seconds play that allowed Cannon’s punt return to keep its stature among college football’s most memorable plays.
Elmore was Ole Miss’ listed No. 3 quarterback. Even 52 years later, LSU players like tackle Dave McCarty said his bench was surprised that a third-stringer would be on the field for the Rebels’ final possession.
It was at the LSU 2 with seconds left, LeBlanc remembered: “We were in a Gap 8 defense, and I was lined up between the guard and the tackle. It was my job to submarine the line. Rabb was at corner, and Cannon the safety, and they made the play.
“I tease Warren to this day that that was the only tackle he made in his life, and (LSU radio broadcaster) J.C. Politz gave me credit for it,” Leblanc said. “Anyway, we stopped it, but nobody jumped up and down like they do today. We were too tired.”
The goal-line stand came on a rain-soaked field shrouded in a light fog and extended LSU’s winning streak to 18 games, a streak that would end the next week in a 14-13 loss at Tennessee.
After 52 years to digest all of what happened that storied week, McCarty later an LSU offensive line coach, said his teammates knew from the start of the season what the Ole Miss game would mean.
“They were very good; and as we watched films, we could see they were dominating people,” McCarty said. “We knew it was the biggest game of the year and knew we have to beat them if we want to do what did before (the 1958 championship).”
McCarty said “hype” wasn’t a word in 1959, but, “We were undefeated. They were, too, and that was enough for everyone.”
Rabb said he couldn’t eat the day of the game: “Not breakfast, not lunch, and for the pregame meal about 4 o’clock, they gave me a milkshake with eggs beat up in it. Right before (pregame) warm up, I threw everything up.”
LeBlanc’s memories are as fresh as just-picked strawberries: “We were on pins and needles the whole game. We couldn’t move the ball. The field was soggy and Ole Miss was ahead most of the game.
“And still today, I feel so blessed to have been at LSU and been on the football field and threw the first block for Billy Cannon for the greatest play in LSU history to be one of only 11 on the field for LSU for that play. I love Billy. He’s a helluva guy and a great football player. To have played with a Heisman Trophy winner makes me feel good and blessed.”
How dominant were these two teams? How do they compare with today’s two teams?
“When I went into pro ball in 1960, we had 13 players from LSU go to the NFL or and AFL,” Cannon said. “And 17 players went to pro ball off the Old Miss club. Heck, if I’d known that, I might not have gone our there that (1959) night.”
For Rabb, the game and the LSU experience left him marked for life:
“We were a very close team, and we’re still close today,” Rabb said. “One of the big things is we lived in the same dorm. We’re not spread all over town like they are today. That’s a horrible concept, and I don’t know why NCAA ever did that (ban athletic dormitories). One of the greatest experiences in my life is to have those kinds of relationships.”
McCarty from Rayville and LeBlanc from Crowley said they believe home-grown players were a major reason for their success and for the response they got from their alumni and fans.
McCarty: “Because we had so many Louisiana boys, so many guys from within 100 miles of Baton Rouge, the people of Louisiana bought into our team.”
LeBlanc: “From north Louisiana to New Orleans, to Houma to Bogalusa and to Lake Charles the players came from those areas. I was lucky to be there at that time.”
For Cannon, the Heisman Trophy and All America were secondary rewards.
“It was a great time to be alive and young,” he said. “Yes, that was the game of the decade. Every decade has had some great, great ballgames. I hope the young men in this game remember this day because, for a football player, it does not get any better than this.”