Greatest Games

Tiger Stadium asleep.
Tiger Stadium asleep.
Cover of Chet Hilburn’s new book.
Cover of Chet Hilburn’s new book.

By Andrea Gallo | LSU Student

Death Valley. The Cathedral of College Football. Tiger Stadium.

No matter what people call it, analysts and athletes agree that LSU's stadium is one of the nation's loudest, most menacing places in which to conduct a football game.

Chet Hilburn, a 50-year LSU fan from Houston, attributes that to "mystique," which is what led him to write "The Mystique of Tiger Stadium's 25 Greatest Games: The Ascension of LSU Football."

"The crowd, noise and the energy, I've never seen anything like it," Hilburn said, a journalist from Texas. "It gets in your blood, Tiger football, and you can't get it out."

Hilburn got his degree from Louisiana Tech. He worked for the Houston Chronicle for 19 years as a news editor and a writer after starting out as a combat reporter for the 173rd Airbone Brigade in Vietnam where he won a bronze star. He also was an editor for The Daily Iberian in New Iberia.

His new book breaks down Hilburn's favorite games and describes the electricity unique to each one.

Coming in at No.1 is LSU's 1959 win against Ole Miss, featuring the legendary Billy Cannon Halloween night run. He chose the games and their order based on the crowd's volume and the way the news media has hyped them.

Hilburn went to his first LSU game when he was 16 years old living in Ruston, La., when his brother, who was working on his master's degree at LSU, invited him to come to Baton Rouge to watch the 1962 season game.

Not all of Hilburn's "greatest games" have been wins for the Tigers. No. 2 is the 1979 "heartbreak game" when LSU lost to USC 17-12 and ranked No. 14 is "the stalemate game" when LSU tied Nebraska 6-6 in 1976.

LSU's Senior Associate Athletic Director and Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations Herb Vincent, who himself has published a memorabilia book on LSU football, called the 1979 Tiger Stadium game against USC "the loudest game I've ever been to."

The USC team, featuring 12 All-Americans, was considered one of the best of all time, Hilburn said.

Dan Borne, longtime Tiger Stadium's announcer, agrees that some of the best moments and games played in Tiger Stadium have been losses for LSU. "The greatest games, sometimes, are not the games you win on the field".

Borne pointed to LSU's 30-27 loss against Tennessee in 2005 in the days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It was Les Miles' first year as head coach, and the PMAC had been transitioned into a medical unit and the practice gym was a morgue, he said. All of that emotion was present on the field that night.

"But you know what?" Borne mused. "We won that game because Louisiana won that game. We had people in that stadium who lost everything…they got to escape from everything and root for the Tigers."

The game also made Hilburn's list, ranking No. 24.

The most recent games with spots on the list are 2011's "Hogtied" game with LSU beating Arkansas 41- 17; 2010's "Most Bizarre Game" when LSU beat Tennessee 16- 10; and 2010's "Roll Over the Tide" game when LSU beat Alabama 24-21.

Hilburn, who said Paul Dietzel is his favorite LSU coach, maintains the Les Miles era has brought much excitement to the game.

"He's got all these trick plays," Hilburn said. "He's like a riverboat gambler. Not so much last year, but before that. It's like he knows when to gamble and when not to and 9 times out of 10 he wins the gamble."

Borne called the time from 2000 to present-day the "golden age of LSU football." But even though the team wasn't always as renowned as it now is, Borne said Tiger Stadium has had a magical quality for him since he was six years old and he would watch the games in the stadium as fog crept over the lights.

"It always had an ephemeral effect," he said. "It had a dreamlike quality. And to a young kid, it was heaven. It was heaven."

Hilburn will hold a book signing on Saturday before the LSU-Alabama matchup in the LSU Bookstore. He predicted that the noise and magnetism of Death Valley could make up to a 10-point difference in the game.

Vincent said he anticipates Saturday's Alabama game to be one of the loudest "in a while."

"It's the darkness and the energy, the intimidation and the overwhelming home-field advantage LSU has at home," Hilburn said. "It's something no other college stadium has in the U.S. It's got a reputation. People don't like visiting Tiger Stadium."