ENGSTER: Jerry’s LSU journey is complete

Jerry Stovall is 76, exactly twice the age he was when he became LSU football coach. On Jan. 12 of the fateful year in which Ronald Reagan was elected president, Stovall got the job he long coveted less than 48 hours after a plane crash took the life of 34-year-old Bo Rein.

Stovall inherited a grief stricken staff and a young team and managed a respectable debut at 7-4. A year later, the Tigers cratered with a 3-7-1 record, and Athletic Director Paul Dietzel was finished. Bob Brodhead was installed as A.D. and figured to fire Stovall a few months later. But LSU was damn good in 1982. The Tigers beat Florida, Florida State and Alabama on the way to a 21-20 Orange Bowl defeat to No. 2 Nebraska.

In 1983, Stovall was pushed out by Bottom Line Bob after a disastrous 4-7 campaign. At 42, his coaching career was over just eleven months after being named National Coach of the Year. The sacking occurred more than two decades after Stovall narrowly lost the Heisman Trophy derby. LSU’s elusive runner and punishing defender was second to Oregon State’s Terry Baker in the closest Heisman balloting to date.

Stovall’s career is one of near misses. He almost won the national title in 1961, the Heisman Trophy in 1962 and with a more understanding athletic director, he may have enjoyed a long and storied career as the maestro of Death Valley. The late LSU Board member Jerry McKernan captured the Stovall story this way to Dave Kindred of Inside Sports Magazine in November of 1980:

People dying, a plane flying in the ocean, Dietzel vanishes and reappears…The only thing in life Jerry Stovall ever wanted was to be the LSU football coach. Poof! He doesn’t get it. Then poof! He gets the job when Bo Rein’s plane goes down. Eerie. LSU is the twilight zone in the bayou.”

On Friday, the 13th day of this month, Stovall will be inducted in the LSU Alumni Hall of Distinction. The event at the Lod Cook Center will take place a football field down Lakeshore Drive from the LSU System Building, the location of Stovall’s hiring in 1980 and unceremonious firing on Dec. 2, 1983.

At the site of the greatest heights and lowest depths of his career, Stovall consistently returned to the school that made him famous. In a few days, LSU will toast the kid from West Monroe who arrived on campus in 1959 and was saluted as a true LSU hero by Gov. John McKeithen as Big John fought valiantly for Stovall’s job 35 years ago. McKeithen is dead as are most of the LSU Board members who fired Stovall on a cold Friday so many seasons ago.

When Brodhead died in 1996 at 59, his services were devoid of any LSU luminaries with one exception — Jerry Stovall. Those who know No. 21 appreciate an intensity that is raw enough that it rekindles his playing days, but Stovall has shown time and again he is a man of immense class and dignity.

This writer is elated to also be a member of the LSU Alumni Hall of Distinction Class of 2018. Each of us is honored to be in the company of Jerry Lane Stovall.

LSU’s greatest baseball player is now Fat Albert

Albert Belle is LSU’s greatest baseball player to date with 381 Major League home runs to show for it. He is also one of the least celebrated athletes of his caliber by any of the teams he carried on his powerful back and with his explosive bat.

On the field, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound outfielder was a monster at Alex Box Stadium, leading LSU to its first College World Series in 1986. A year later, the slugger from Shreveport was suspended for the 1987 post-season, and LSU lost to Stanford in the CWS. With Belle on the roster, Skip Bertman possibly would have won the first of six CWS titles. Instead, Bertman waited four more years before savoring his first championship in Omaha and retired with five CWS rings.

Belle was kicked off the LSU team for pursuing a heckler in the SEC Tournament, a fan who reportedly called the moody muscle man, “Buckwheat.” Because of the controversy surrounding the incident, Belle was not taken until round two of the 1987 Major League Free Agent Draft. In retrospect, Bertman should have allowed his star to stand his ground. The LSU coach certainly would have responded vigorously if some punk had hurled an anti-Semitic remark at him. It is easy to envision Bertman ripping the throat out of some gutless wonder, spewing venom while cowering in the bleachers.

Belle has a history of bullying. Ask Hannah Storm, the elegant reporter who was shouted out of the Cleveland dugout in the 1997 World Series by a raging Belle, an indiscretion that resulted in a $50,000 fine. Despite a history of tearing up clubhouses and using corked bats, Belle was an amazing slugger in the ’90s and should have won the 1995 American League MVP Award.

Belle paced the AL in homers, doubles, runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage on his way to becoming the only player in MLB history to slam 50 doubles and 50 homers in the same season. He lost the AL MVP Award to Mo Vaughn because sportswriters despised him about as much as Bertman did.

Belle has been ostracized from the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame even though he has a degree in accounting. Only a handful of great MLB sluggers have received college degrees, most notably Mike Schmidt, who led the National League in homers eight times for the Phillies.

Last week, Albert was arrested at a Spring Training game in Scottsdale, Ariz. on charges of indecent exposure and driving under the influence. A photograph appears to show a bloated Belle exposing his backside while taking a leak. It is obvious that Belle has packed on the pounds since retiring in 2000.

Booking records list him at 270 pounds, putting Belle somewhere between Donald Trump and Verne Lundquist on the Body Mass Index chart. It is unbecoming for a great athlete to permit himself to become a gob of goo waiting for cardiac arrest. And it is dangerous to himself and to others for Belle to drive while loaded.

If we are to make America great again, it is essential for able bodied U.S males under 75 to be sober and to bench press their weight. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for Albert at 51 to show some grit and get in playing shape. I liked the image of a sculpted Belle slurping coffee and snarling at fleshy scribes, who wouldn’t recognize a barbell if it hit them in their expansive hind quarters.

Belle appears to have tamed his infamous temper. Now the mercurial man who reportedly spent most of his dozen years in the majors in a caffeinated frenzy must restrict his use of alcohol.

When it comes to vices, Belle is as weak as he was feared at the plate. He reportedly lost $300,000 gambling while playing for the Chicago White Sox as the highest paid player in the game at the time.

If a reunion ever happens with Bertman and Belle, it will probably occur in a casino, by chance.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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