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LSU head coach Ed Orgeron hoists the trophy with his players after LSU's Semifinal Championship Game against Oklahoma at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday Dec. 28, 2019, in Atlanta, Ga. LSU won 63-28.

There is a room in Tiger Stadium where the walls virtually speak of the greatness, the lore, the legends of LSU football.

Few ever see it, tucked away behind the Bill Lawton Room amphitheater under the old north stands that owe their very existence to a depression-era WPA project. But if you are one those fortunate to be invited in, you will find a room filled with 75 portraits of LSU’s All-Americans dating back to 1935.

There’s the first two, Gaynell Tinsley who later became LSU’s coach, and the colorfully nicknamed Marvin “Moose” Stewart. There’s movie star handsome Ken Kavanaugh, tough as nails Jimmy Taylor who looks like he could step out of his frame and scrap with you right now, Charles Alexander “The Great” and the gregarious Marcus Spears. There’s the Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu and Kevin Faulk, who still looks like he’s ready to juke another defender off his feet, and Leonard Fournette, who preferred to just run people over on his way to the end zone.

Over there is, of course, Billy Cannon. And soon there will be the one he long waited for, LSU’s second Heisman Trophy winner, Joe Burrow, along with 2019 teammates Ja’Marr Chase, Grant Delpit and Derek Stingley.

You don’t make it into that room by just being good. Just being good is the minimum criteria to play for a program like LSU. To be worthy of a portrait, to literally have your likeness painted into the immense mural of LSU football, you have to be great.

Some of those All-Americans, very few, played on LSU’s greatest teams. Again here, the standard is high. It’s win a national championship or enjoy the view from the second row, fellas. To date, there are seats on the front row for only three. The teams from 1958, 2003 and 2007. LSU football’s holy trinity.

This 2019 team is trying to add a chair. Make it a foursome. Round out the rota of faces on LSU football’s Mount Rushmore. Aiming Monday night to defeat reigning CFP national champion Clemson and become just the fourth LSU team ever in the modern era (since the Associated Press poll began in 1936) to be crowned national champion.

If it does, well, there may be a new standard for the best of the best at LSU.

That 1958 championship happened so long ago, so many voices stilled since then who either took part or watched the Tigers play, that it long passed from the tangible to the mythic. Those ’58 Tigers, who had to be witnessed in person or in their one televised game when they beat Clemson 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl, are like Arthur’s knights or the Fountain of Youth. Most of us have only heard the tales and were left amazed. They might as well be from a time when dragons existed.

More amazing still, it is LSU’s last undefeated team to take the field. They went 11-0, with another zero thrown in because ties were a real and frequent outcome back then. The 2003 team went 13-1 while the 2007 champions went 12-2 and won the BCS crown despite a pair of triple-overtime losses thrown in.

This LSU team reached 11-0 when it swamped Arkansas 56-20 on Nov. 23, and surpassed it with that vengeful 50-7 thrashing of Texas A&M a week later. Two more wins followed, mounting in importance like waypoints on the path to the top of Mount Everest: 37-10 over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and 63-28 over Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl.

One more win remains on the Tigers’ wish list. It is, from a historical perspective, the biggest game in LSU football history.

Win, and LSU is the national champion.

Win, and LSU joins last year’s Clemson team as the only teams to win 15 games since the University of Chicago won 16 games in 1899 (Chicago doesn’t play football anymore, perhaps figuring that 1899 season can’t be topped).

Win, and LSU becomes just the 10th school with four national titles in the AP poll era (Clemson could reach that milestone as well).

Win, and you have to be regarded as the greatest LSU football team. Ever.

It may seem like sacrilege to some veteran LSU fans, for whom 1958’s White Team, Go Team and Chinese Bandits are as revered as the three wise men. But sometimes the old should be written over by the new.

If LSU wins Monday, it sets a new standard. For its program, and arguably in the history of college football.

Not too long ago, another LSU team was in this very spot. It was said LSU’s 2011 team would be regarded as the best ever if the Tigers could beat Alabama in a BCS championship game rematch.

It didn’t happen. Not even close. And that 2011 team joined the chorus in the second row.

There’s been a void in LSU football ever since. This team has a chance to set things right.

It is a weighty and awesome responsibility. Not for everyone, surely.

The British historian Thomas Carlyle said, “The great man always act like a thunder. He storms the skies, while others are waiting to be stormed.”

Will this LSU team storm or be stormed Monday night?

The phrase “The Best Ever” awaits an answer.


Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com