BOWL PREVIEW: Ben Love column
Rivalry so natural, it had to be renewed
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By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
Wanna know the most confusing question you can ask an LSU fan?
Who’s your biggest rival?
The answer is typically an amalgamation of “Well, that depends,” “What period of time are we talking about?” and “Who wants to know?”
Honestly, there is no one answer. And, yes, it does sort of depend.
In a cyclical fashion, it could be Ole Miss at times (Archie Who?) and Auburn at others (cue a certain Coach Tuberville and his cigar), Arkansas when the Hogs are strutting at their Pig-Sooie best and Alabama pretty much anytime some Houndstoother starts shaking that pompom. Heck, Tulane even counts as a valid answer, again depending on the place in time in question.
But in Texas A&M, LSU can claim a rival unlike the rest of the applicants, one that although it’s seldom ever been in the same conference as the Tigers, makes sense on a whole lot of levels.
Geographically, the pair shares a number of commonalities. LSU rests in college-crazy Baton Rouge, less than 80 miles from state hub New Orleans, while A&M resides in the aptly named town of College Station, which is within 90 miles of Houston.
Philosophically, the two see eye-to-eye as well. Both were originally founded as land-grant agricultural schools, and to this day each remains known for its academic programs to that end. The force is also strong with ROTC at both locales, although it’s possible no school - outside the service academies - in the country waves its militaristic flag more overtly than the Aggies.
Historically, the two have crossed paths enough (49 times going on a clean 50) for some legitimate venom to flow between fan bases, too. Which is important, given the fact that rivals traditionally don’t fawn over one another. In fact, on the topic of familiarity, Texas A&M has played LSU more than any non-conference opponent in program history. (Starting to see why the Aggies were such a hot name this summer when it came to possible SEC expansion?)
Throw all those ingredients in a pot, and you’ve got a rivalry roux which starts to bubble.
It all started back on Dec. 2, 1899, when the maroon and white walloped the visiting Tigers 52-0 in College Station.
Then, from 1903-1908 and again from 1912-1914, the pair actually did coexist in the same conference, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. For reference sake, fellow members of the SIAA included Alabama, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Sewanee, Texas and Tulane (essentially, the SIAA planted seeds for the eventual SEC and also carried a number of teams which chartered the ACC and Southwest Conference, later the Big 12).
What’s also interesting is that, at the onset, LSU and A&M frequently played what would be considered neutral-site games. Through 1917, the Tigers and the Aggies laced ‘em up in places like Dallas, Galveston, Houston, New Orleans and even San Antonio.
And in the beginning, the College Station crew held the advantage on the field. In games played through 1923, the Aggies held a 7-3-2 advantage, a record which includes a 0-0 tie in the 1920 edition.
Time would change and one World War would give way to another before the rivalry renewed itself.
LSU and A&M played each season from 1942-49, and the Tigers clawed back into the overall record race by virtue of a 6-2 run through the 40s. Well, technically, LSU went 7-2, as the Bayou Bengals triumphed in the only prior bowl meeting between the two (the 1944 Orange Bowl, a 19-14 LSU victory).
In that New Year’s Day showdown in Miami, LSU avenged a regular-season loss as the Aggies quite simply couldn’t stop Steve Van Buren, who ran and passed for a touchdown in the first quarter before icing the game in the third frame with a 63-yard romp to pay dirt. For the game, the Tigers outrushed Texas A&M by the count of 207 yards to four and out gained them in total offense, 299 yards to 175 (information courtesy of OrangeBowl.org).
Following two games in the mid-fifties - both of which went to Texas A&M - the two programs embarked on the longest consecutive streak playing one another, meeting each season between 1960-75. It was at this juncture that LSU put its boot to the Aggies’ collective throat, going 12-3-1, and taking a stranglehold of the all-time series in the process.
Fast-forward a decade, when another lengthy home-and-home kicked off, and A&M would tilt the balance of power closer to level.
Between 1986-95, the teams played each season (often in the season opener and in Baton Rouge and College Station only) and the Aggies went 6-4, including a 5-0 run in the final five contests. To give an idea of Texas A&M’s prowess at the time, consider the maroon and white’s national rankings at the time it played LSU: 11th in ‘90, 20th in ‘91, seventh in ‘92, fifth in ‘93 and third in ‘95.
The final match-up, a 33-17 A&M home win, brought the overall series record to its current tally: LSU 26, Texas A&M 20, Ties 3.
The story of why the series ended can really be summed up in one word: money.
“I inherited a 10-year contract with LSU and Texas A&M, which is unusual. You don’t see that a lot,” explained Joe Dean Sr., LSU athletic director from 1987-2001, in a recent interview.
“What happened, and I was responsible for it to be honest, was we went from seven league games to eight league games,” Dean continued. “And it put a strain on us when we had to go there (to College Station). We needed that extra home game for financial reasons.”
Dean went on to explain that LSU, which cut the contract off with two years remaining, had to pay $100,000 to do so. He also lamented the death of the A&M rivalry, but added that his was a common predicament in the early-nineties with conferences changing and taking shape.
Another example, Dean explained, was with Texas. According to the LSU basketball All-Century team member, he had the Longhorns on the hook for a home-and-home, but UT backed out, citing financial reasons, when it picked up an extra league game.
Any way you slice it, the wait is over and natural rivals will do battle again in Dallas.
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.