ENGSTER: Time for LSU to Go Retro

LSU basketball guru Will Wade is advocating a plan suggested here a few years ago. The Tigers should return for at least one date per season to the historic John M. Parker Coliseum to play again in the arena which retains vintage seats, floors and locker rooms from the legendary eras of Pete Maravich and Bob Pettit.

LSU last played in the Cow Palace 48 years ago, more than eleven years before the birth of the current coach, but Wade appreciates the ghosts of the past. LSU fielded one of its greatest teams in 1953 with Pettit, the pride of Baton Rouge High, wowing his hometown fans by leading LSU to the SEC title and Final Four. Seventeen years later on the same court, Maravich, the Pistol from Pennsylvania, broke the NCAA scoring mark held for a decade by University of Cincinnati great Oscar Robertson.

The ideal date for a return to the Cow Palace would be Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, the 50th anniversary of Pistol Pete surpassing Robertson as the scoring king for major college hoops. The record set by the LSU superstar stands 49 years later as the NCAA standard.

When Maravich scored his iconic basket against Ole Miss, the NCAA record for points was 2,973. Robertson produced that number in 88 games, averaging 33.8 points per contest. Pete completed his Tiger tenure in 83 games, averaging 44.2 points per game and amassing 3,667 points in a series of unforgettable barnstorming performances from the Parker Coliseum to Pauley Pavilion.

The contemporary game has fewer obstacles to scoring than Maravich faced a half century ago. Players have four years of eligibility if they choose with a shot clock and three-point play, advantages not enjoyed when the Pistol was firing his way into immortality.

Doug McDermott of Creighton played 145 games (62 more than Pete) from 2010 to 2014 and scored 3,150 points to rank fifth all-time on the NCAA list. McDermott is 517 points behind Maravich, who has 418 points more than the No. 2 career scorer. That would be Freeman Williams, who tallied 3,249 points from 1974 to 1978 with Portland State.

The Cow Palace, which enjoyed a capacity of 12,000 at its peak, is now about half the size of the PMAC where Pete only played only once in an NBA pre-season game. A boost in ticket prices for the return to Parker would more than offset the loss in revenue from reduced attendance. There is little doubt that 6,000 patrons would pay $100 per ticket for the historic return to an arena that opened in 1937, two years after Sparky Wade led LSU to the national title at the Gym Armory in the same year that Huey Long was assassinated.

The $600,000 gate at the Cow Palace would surpass all revenue records for any games across campus. It would also be an appropriate moment to at long last induct Maravich into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame, a distinction denied Pete for all these years despite the splendid irony that the LSU Hall Is located in a building named in honor of the Pistol. If Frank Brian can be admitted to the shrine without a degree, so should Pete.

It is laudable that Coach Wade, only 36 years old, holds his predecessors in reverence. When the Parker Coliseum was constructed as part of the Works Progress Administration, it exceeded Madison Square Garden as the largest coliseum in the United States. The facility was the site where the 1949 LSU Boxing team won the national title by defeating South Carolina before 11,000 fans. When Paul Dietzel arrived at LSU in late 1954, he noted that his first night in Baton Rouge was at an LSU boxing event and that pugilism was then more popular than pigskins on campus.

There is big money in throw-back athletic events, so LSU would recoup any investment needed to spruce up the Cow Palace in a game or two at the arena. A few blocks away, the university through student fees invested $85 million to construct a state of the art recreational center on Sorority Row. The Parker Coliseum renovation would cost a pittance in comparison to the UREC.

While we are salivating at the prospect of a Cow Palace return, an LSU vs. Southern University football game at Memorial Stadium would also provide a financial boon to both schools and create unprecedented excitement in a city in need of a booster shot. Memorial Stadium is still in use and seats 21,500 with a modern press box.

Fans would pay $1,000 a ticket to see LSU and Southern tangle at 1702 Foss St. The gate would reach $21.5 million, doubling the amount LSU derives when playing at home against Alabama.

The 67-year-old stadium would be a true neutral location. It was the home of the Grantland Rice Bowl from 1969 to 1973 and is the place where Terry Bradshaw closed his career at Louisiana Tech. A football clash in the city between Southern and LSU would unite Baton Rouge like no event in history.

LSU and Southern are the only land grant universities in the same city in America. The Tigers have scheduled every college football team in the state other than Southern and Grambling. It is time to celebrate two great schools in the Capital City and stage a spectacle that would place Baton Rouge in the national spotlight.

The Governor’s Mansion grounds, walking distance from Memorial Stadium, could be used for tailgating, and Gov. John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston-Broome could lock arms and lead a parade into Memorial for this groundbreaking occasion.

It is time for a basketball renewal at Parker to pay homage to two of the Top 50 players the sport has witnessed in Pettit, now 86 years old, and Maravich, who died 31 years ago this past Saturday. And a date between LSU and Southern in football is overdue.

It is curious that LSU is host to a rowdy beer laden country music blowout while its closest neighbor has not been invited to campus. Louisiana Tech, U.L. Monroe, U.L. Lafayette, Southeastern, McNeese, Northwestern State, Nicholls and Southeastern have been featured on home football schedules, but a contest with Southern is for some reason considered off limits in TigerTown.

If Death Valley is not the place to unify LSU and Southern fans, Memorial Stadium is waiting with open seats.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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