Friday, December 29, 2006

Swamp Stories | by Jay

The Baton Rouge Advocate is doing a bang-up job on their Sugar Bowl coverage. They've got a great series on the ND-LSU matchups of yore, with capsules on all nine games between the Irish and the Bayou Bengals (ND leads the series, 5-4).

They also put up a couple of nice in-depth articles on two of the most memorable tilts, in 1970 and 1971. Both are great reads. Here are some excerpts from the piece on the 3-0 Irish victory at South Bend in 1970:

Joe Theismann was a senior quarterback in 1970 when he led Notre Dame to a 3-0 victory over LSU in South Bend, Ind. The Irish (9-0) beat the Tigers (7-2) on Scott Hempel’s 27-yard field goal with 2:54 left in the game...

LSU had not allowed a rushing touchdown in 1970 and kept Notre Dame out of the end zone. Still, Theismann said he thought eventually someone would score. “I’ve never thought a game would end in a tie,” Theismann said. “You’re always thinking about winning the game.”

Theismann thought he’d done just that late in the fourth quarter when he threw into the end zone, where LSU defensive back Tommy Casanova had the play covered perfectly. “I remember hitting Tommy in the chest with the pass, and he dropped it,” Theismann said. “Playing at Notre Dame, it never hurts to have the luck of the Irish on your side.”

Hempel kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play.

“That was the kind of game where we knew that one score could make a difference,” Theismann said. “It turned out to be a field goal instead of a touchdown.”

Notre Dame lost its No. 1 ranking a week before playing LSU despite defeating Georgia Tech 10-7. Another close call, this one against the Tigers, dropped the Irish two spots to No. 4...

Until last week, Theismann didn’t know much about LSU’s motivation in 1970. He found out the Tigers held a grudge against the Irish because Notre Dame’s decision to end its self-imposed 45-year ban on playing in bowl games cost LSU a chance to play in the Cotton Bowl after the 1969 season.

Those Tigers, 9-1, had no fall-back plan and stayed home in the postseason. Theismann sounded surprised to learn LSU players from that team still have the trophies they designed — with a large screw as the centerpiece — to commemorate their circumstance.

He also still has hard feelings about the way the 1970 season ended. Notre Dame lost to USC 38-28 a week after defeating LSU, upset No. 1-ranked Texas 24-11 in the Cotton Bowl and finished 10-1, ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, behind an 11-0-1 Nebraska team.

After Nebraska defeated LSU 17-12 in the Orange Bowl, Huskers coach Bob Devaney said, “Even the pope would vote for us.”

Enough AP voters did to give Nebraska the championship over Notre Dame. Coaches voted Texas a second consecutive title in UPI’s poll and ranked the Fighting Irish No. 5.

LSU fans and players who remember 1969 and the special trophy crafted as a reminder of Notre Dame’s impact upon LSU’s bowl fate might chuckle at how Theismann summed up how the next season, 1970, ended for the Irish.

“We beat the No. 1 team in the country and wound up being second,” Theismann said. “We got screwed.”
There's another nice retrospective at Classic Ground, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune posted some good stuff on the '70, '71, and '84 games as well.

Other random, fun facts about the ND-LSU series...
  • Notre Dame has played LSU more than any other SEC team (ten games). We've played Tennessee eight times, and Alabama six.
  • LSU has been ranked eight out of the ten times ND has faced them (including the upcoming Sugar Bowl).
  • Notre Dame has beaten a higher-ranked LSU team twice ('84, ND-unranked over LSU #6; and '97, ND-unranked over LSU #11).
  • The only time ND has met LSU in a bowl game was in the 1997 Independence Bowl, a 27-9 Tiger win.