While they have produced all-time basketball greats such as Shaquille O’Neal and Pete Maravich, the LSU Tigers are a football institution through and through. In fact, their exploits on the gridiron border on the level of mythical proportions. From Mike, the live tiger who terrifies visitors, to the time in 1988 when fans caused a literal earthquake, the university in Baton Rouge has earned its spot as one of the most storied programs in the country.
To fully understand the scope of the Tigers’ excellence, one must start at the top of the hill -- Victory Hill, to be exact. On Saturdays in the fall, the entire LSU football family, along with the school’s spirit squad and The Golden Band from Tigerland, descend from on high and strut proudly toward the hallowed Tiger Stadium. Fans take a break from their celebrated tailgating tradition and line the streets to catch a glimpse of their mighty warriors, while the marching band plays the “Pregame Salute.” The sea of purple and yellow not only represents unbridled enthusiasm, but it also signals to opponents that a match with the Tigers is going to be a battle to the bitter end.
LSU first entered the competitive field in 1893, but it wasn’t until 1924 that they became firmly entrenched in school lore. That year, they moved into Tiger Stadium, which in addition to being the team’s coliseum, also served as the on-campus home for 1,500 students. While the school would scratch and claw for decades, sweet championship success would finally come to Baton Rouge in 1958. All-American Billy Cannon was the motor of that squad, but it was his 1959 campaign that cemented his legendary status in the state. The eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Cannon is most fondly remembered for his electrifying 89-yard punt-return score against Ole Miss on Halloween night. The game’s lone touchdown was enough to give the top-ranked Tigers the decisive victory against the #3 Rebels.
National championships in 2003 and ‘07 would make LSU a household name in the modern era, and for good reason. As the first school to capture two BCS titles, the Tigers had emerged as a hotbed for elite football talent. Since 2000, more than 60 players from the program have been drafted into the NFL, including #1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell in 2007 and top-five selection Patrick Peterson in 2011.
The pigskin may reign supreme in Baton Rouge, but that isn’t to suggest that LSU doesn’t compete mightily in its other athletic endeavors. The baseball team and both the indoor and outdoor track squads have taken numerous NCAA titles, while men’s and women’s basketball have hoisted several conference championship banners. It’s this sort of overall success that makes the Purple and Yellow synonymous with greatness. While the phrase “Saturday night in Death Valley” brings the state to a standstill, SEC foes can attest to the fact that the Tigers are a formidable opponent in every arena, all year long.