The Central Michigan Chippewas, LSU’s opponent Saturday in Tiger Stadium, has no doubt prompted a few questions of “Who’s that?” from Tiger fans. It’s not the first time LSU has played a non-conference foe who flew under the radar coming into the contest. Here’s a look at five obscure yet memorable non-conference games in LSU football history:
Dec. 25, 1907 — LSU 56, Havana 0: Was this the Tigers’ first bowl game? Some references to this game have referred to it as the Bacardi Bowl, the first in a series of games played in Havana from 1907-46. Whether it was a bowl or just an unusual game, it did mark the first time an American college team played a game on foreign soil. Thirteen LSU players, coach Edgar Wingard, the team manager and a smattering of fans traveled by ship for three days in advance of the Christmas day contest. “The (LSU) men are all in good trim,” the Dec. 23, 1907 edition of the New Orleans Times-Democrat said, “and expect to return with the scalps of the Cubans.” LSU great Doc Fenton indeed ran circles around the bigger, slower Cuban players. Despite their team’s rout, Havana fans hailed the slippery Fenton as “El Rubio Vaselino” … “The Vaselined Redhead.”
Nov. 18, 1909 — LSU 52, Transylvania 0: When trying to schedule this game, LSU officials thought they were negotiating by correspondence with the University of Kentucky. Instead, they were negotiating with the State University of Kentucky, or Transylvania, now a private liberal arts school also located in Lexington, Kentucky. LSU, coming off its 10-0 season in 1908 when the Tigers were recognized as national champions by the National Championship Foundation, romped to the win, with Fenton again leading the way. It was LSU’s second-biggest rout of the season, behind a 70-0 win over a team from Jackson Barracks in New Orleans.
Oct. 7, 1939 — LSU 26, Holy Cross 7: The Tigers became the first college football team from the South to travel by airplane for a game, flying to Worcester, Massachusetts, to take on the Crusaders in two DC-3s. The trip didn’t sit well with nervous LSU coach Bernie Moore one bit. Moore became even more nervous because of guard Dave Bartram sitting next to him. An engineering student, Bartram started working a slide rule midflight. When Moore asked what he was doing, Bartram told him brightly, “Coach, I’ve just figured out that if the engines quit, it will take us 32 seconds to hit the ground.” Once the team safely reached Worcester, LSU All-American Ken Kavanaugh was the game’s biggest star, catching three touchdown passes from Leo Bird and scoring a fourth touchdown on an interception return.
Oct. 16, 1943 — LSU 28, Louisiana Army STU 7: In the midst of World War II, only four SEC schools fielded football teams in 1943: LSU, Tulane (which would leave the SEC in 1965), Georgia and Georgia Tech. Tulane and Georgia Tech had Navy V-12 training program players on their teams, while LSU mostly had freshmen and players rejected for military service. Louisiana Army STU (Specialized Training Unit) was one of the teams that sprung up around the country from military training programs as well (the Tigers beat Georgia Navy 34-0 in 1942). LSU great Steven Van Buren, a Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Philadelphia Eagles, rushed for 138 yards to lead LSU to the unusual wartime win.
Oct. 4, 1958 — LSU 20, Hardin-Simmons 6: No one still quite knew what to make of the 1958 Tigers when they took on Hardin-Simmons in Week 3. The game was LSU’s home opener after a 26-6 win at Rice and a 13-3 win over Alabama in Mobile. Only 45,000 fans turned out in then 68,000-seat Tiger Stadium to watch the Tigers fend off an upset bid by the pass-oriented Cowboys, who were coached by TCU great “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh. Hardin-Simmons outgained LSU 328-292, completing 19 of 35 passes for 201 yards, unheard of in that day, to the Tigers’ 88 (LSU only threw for 822 yards in 10 games that season). “This is a good one to get behind you,” LSU coach Paul Dietzel said. “It’s always tough trying to convince anyone Hardin-Simmons has a good team.”