Even in the superheated environment that is Southeastern Conference football, it would be out of place to call LSU and Vanderbilt rivals.
Estranged cousins, maybe. Acquaintances, perhaps, with a vague whisper of dislike for each other from so far back neither can really remember.
LSU has met Vandy only 30 times in football since 1902, fewer than any other original 1933 SEC member (LSU and Georgia have played 31 times). The Tigers and Commodores have only played 12 times since 1957 and not at all since a 27-3 LSU win in 2010 in Nashville, yet another delightful byproduct of the SEC’s gerrymandered football scheduling format.
But the few times they have met in Nashville, where LSU holds an 11-5 series advantage, well, they have produced some of the most memorable games and colorful moments of any LSU football, ahem, rivalry.
Let’s start by setting the wayback machine to …
1934: It wasn’t the game so much that was memorable, a 29-0 LSU rout in Nashville that was a precursor to LSU’s first great era from 1935-37 (a 27-5-1 record, two SEC titles, three Sugar Bowl appearances and a No. 2 finish in 1936 in the first Associated Press poll).
No, what was special about it was the force of nature that was Huey Long.
Then a U.S. senator at the height of his political powers, Long poured heart and soul into elevating LSU, its football program and its marching band (he co-wrote “Touchdown for LSU,” the Tigers’ iconic pregame fight song).
That year, Long decided that no LSU student should not attend the Oct. 27 game at Vanderbilt for “lack of funds.” Unfortunately, it was the height of the Great Depression. Few students could afford the $19 round trip train fare.
So Long coerced the Illinois Central railroad into dropping fares from $19 to $6 after he threatened to raise the tax assessment of its railroad bridges in Louisiana from $100,000 to the $4 million that they were worth. Thousands of students made the trip, many of them borrowing $7 from Huey (the extra dollar for meals), All they had to do was provide their name, or any name really, on a list that simply read “I.O. Huey.”
Once in Nashville, Long led the LSU band from the train station through downtown. A local newspaper headline read: “Nashville Surrenders to Huey Long.”
Former Advocate sports editor Bud Montet was one of those students who borrowed money from Long to make the trip. He never paid the Kingfish back the loan. “I don’t recall anyone who did,” Montet said. “It wasn’t like Huey was standing on the street corner.”
Long would only see six more LSU football games after that Vanderbilt trip. He was shot the following September in the lobby of the state capitol, weeks before the Tigers’ began the 1935 season.
1937: Three years later the Tigers headed back to Nashville for one of just two meetings in the series between ranked teams. Coach Bernie Moore of No. 6 LSU said he was expecting the unexpected from No. 20 Vandy and coach Ray Morrison. But even Moore, who coached LSU from 1935-47 then became the SEC’s first commissioner, can’t imagine how unexpected.
Three minutes into the game, Vandy pulled its famous hidden ball trick. Quarterback Dutch Reinschmidt took the snap and moved to his left, putting the ball between guard Bill Hays’ legs while he continued left pursued by LSU defenders. The right guard, Greer Ricketson, pretended to fall down behind Hays, had enough time to count to three then popped up and ran 50 yards for a touchdown.
The following week, Moore, his coaching staff and local sportswriters hustled down to the old Paramount theater in downtown Baton Rouge to watch newsreel footage of the play. The film appeared to show Ricketson’s knee was down as he picked up the ball, which should have ruled the play dead, but the referees were too busy also chasing Reinschmidt’s fake to catch it. The loss, decades before instant replay, would stand, ending LSU’s 23-game regular-season unbeaten streak.
1990: LSU trailed Vandy 24-21 in the closing moments, confounded all day by the Commodores wishbone attack that rolled up 342 yards rushing. But the Tigers still looked like they would pull out a miracle victory when on fourth-and-10 from the Vandy 42, Chad Loup heaved up a touchdown pass to Todd Kinchen with :03 to go. Kinchen, however, was flagged for pass interference and Vandy held on for the 24-21 win.
“I had my arms out to the side,” Kinchen said afterward, “which every receiver and defensive back does when they’re running together to feel where they are.
“I don’t think I pushed off. If I did something illegal, I gained no advantage from it.”
The loss proved costly to LSU coach Mike Archer. After going 10-1-1 and 8-4 in his first two seasons with an SEC title, he resigned after going 4-7 and 5-6 in 1989 and 1990 following a report on WBRZ he would be fired. Might Archer have been given a reprieve with a win at Vandy remains an open-ended question.
1997: A return to Nashville for LSU and former Vandy coach Gerry DiNardo left the Tigers with a win that was both shaky and costly.
Cecil Collins, the nation’s leading rusher, suffered season-ending leg and ankle injuries in what turns out to be his final game for the Tigers (he would later be dismissed after a 1998 arrest). A 13-yard Herb Tyler to Larry Foster touchdown pass broke a scoreless third-quarter tie, but the Commodores mounted a late drive.
With 12 seconds left, Tavarus Hogans caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Damian Allen. Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer (who would later serve as defensive coordinator at Southeastern) decided to go for two and the win. Inexplicably, two straight delay of game penalties pushed the ball back to the 13, forcing Widenhofer to switch strategies and kick an extra point to force overtime.
That overtime never came, as LSU’s Kenny Mixon poured through the line to block the extra-point try.