By Joshua Benton
There is no Sabine River Shootout. No Battle for the Old Crawfish Tail, no Toledo Bend Tussle.
Texas and Louisiana may share a 250-mile border, but their flagship universities haven’t shared much of a football rivalry.
On Wednesday, Louisiana State and Texas will battle in the SBC Cotton Bowl – 40 years to the day after their last meeting, in the bowl’s 1963 edition.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Jimmy Field, LSU’s starting quarterback for that 1963 game and scorer of the game’s only touchdown. “Austin’s a great place to play, and Baton Rouge’s a great place to play. It shouldn’t have taken 40 years.”
Dallas was a different place back then. “It was pre-assassination, pre-Vietnam, pre-everything,” said Tom Sullivan, a Dallas retiree who played the euphonium in the LSU marching band that year.
For the LSU students who traveled to Dallas that year, the biggest difference might have been the drinking age: 21 in Texas, 18 in Louisiana. “We were used to being able to drink if you could reach the bar,” he said.
Mr. Sullivan remembers his band director, a Chicago native, had gotten his squad a new set of heavy wool band uniforms.
“We complained – in south Louisiana, even in the dead of winter, you’d never wear wool,” he said. “We sweat like hogs all season.” Until the bitter cold of the Cotton Bowl: “For once, we appreciated having those uniforms.”
The Tigers used a smash-mouth running offense like most teams of their era. The team had completed only 40 passes in 10 games that season.
“But we realized after watching film that it’d be very hard to run on the Longhorns,” said Mr. Field, now a Louisiana public service commissioner.
Going to the air
The Tigers unleashed what, for the time, was a high-powered aerial attack. Quarterbacks Lynn Amedee and Mr. Field were 13-of-21 for 133 yards.
The tide turned against the Longhorns just after halftime, when Texas fumbled the opening kickoff. Mr. Amedee recovered, and a few plays later, Mr. Field ran in from 22 yards for the game’s only touchdown. The final score: 13-0. Mr. Amedee, who also kicked two field goals, was named MVP.
Texas recovered nicely from the loss: The Longhorns won the national championship the next year.
But that was the last time the two teams played. Theories differ on why.
Texas already had strong rivalries with Oklahoma and Texas A&M. LSU’s top rivals have traditionally been Tulane and Ole Miss.
When LSU has played a Texas school, it’s usually been Texas A&M (49 games) or Rice (55 games).
“I think Louisiana has more ties to A&M than to Texas,” said Mr. Amedee, who would later be an assistant coach at Texas, Texas A&M and LSU. “With all the oil fields, there’s a bunch of Aggies in Louisiana. People would get fired up about A&M.” As for Rice, “the closeness to Houston was big for our fans.”
Tight schedules and other issues make negotiating out-of-conference road games between the two teams difficult.
So Texas-LSU border battles will continue to be played out where they most often are today: in the living rooms of high school kids. The two can compete fiercely for recruits, particularly at schools close to the border. Shreveport’s Evangel Christian Academy, a perennial power, will have five players represented in Wednesday’s Cotton Bowl: three Longhorns and two Tigers.
The Tigers returned to the Cotton Bowl once more after 1963. In 1966, an unranked LSU squad shocked No. 2 Arkansas, 14-7.
LSU thought it was headed for another invite in 1969, when the team ran out to a 9-1 record. Louisiana mythology maintains that the Tigers were promised a spot in that year’s Cotton Bowl against the undefeated Longhorns.
But 1969 was the year that Notre Dame decided to end its 45-year absence from postseason play. The Irish, 8-1-1 and led by future pro Joe Theismann, proved a powerful lure for Cotton officials, who brought them to Dallas instead.
Texas ended up beating Notre Dame, 21-17, to claim its second national championship. There weren’t as many bowl games back then, and LSU ended up staying home without a postseason game.
“They left LSU out in the cold,” said New Orleans investment manager Francis Cazayoux, one of several Tiger fans who e-mailed Cotton Bowl officials encouraging them to pick LSU this year. (His e-mail was blunt: “We have not forgotten 1969.”)
Cotton officials insist there was no ill will.
“I would certainly take exception to anyone implying there was anything improper,” said John Scovell, past chairman of the bowl’s board of directors. “If there was one defining game for the Cotton Bowl, it was that one. If there was a Baton Rouge Bowl and it had the chance to have Texas and Notre Dame playing, they would have done the same thing.”
Mr. Scovell said Cotton Bowl officials were “all flabbergasted” when they realized it had been 37 years since LSU’s last visit.
“We think of LSU in the same category as we do the University of Texas – as a premier athletic program,” he said.
It certainly hasn’t hurt ticket sales to have the Tigers in the game. LSU’s batch of 7,700 tickets sold out in less than 12 hours, and an earlier set of 12,000 tickets were quickly snapped up by season ticket holders.
“There’s a real sense of excitement about LSU being here,” Mr. Scovell said. “There’s a buzz around town. I think the hotel’s going to be hopping when the alumni start showing up.”