The 5 LSU Players Who Best Embody the Fighting Tigers' Spirit: Pre-1975
Characteristically, these players epitomize the true spirit of the LSU Fighting Tigers and are, in this writer’s opinion, some of the truly greatest players that the game has seen!
The players are listed in chronological order based on when they played at LSU. I have sifted through some archived photos to try to obtain an action photo of them in their LSU uniform at the time they were playing.
Enjoy and Geaux Tigers!
Y. A. Tittle
Tittle played at LSU from 1944-47 compiling a record of 23-11-3. In 1946, he passed for 780 yards, leading the Tigers to a 9-1-1 record and a #8 ranking in the final AP poll. LSU then tied Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl with the final score being 0-0. Tittle lettered for the Tigers from 1944-47 and he compiled a record of 23-11-3 during that time span.
In a famous game against Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge on November 1, 1947, Tittle broke through the middle of the Rebel line and appeared to be on his way to a possible winning touchdown for LSU. Ole Miss tacklers, however, broke Tittle's belt on his football pants while he was crashing through the line. As Tittle ran down the field, he continued to grab at his pants because they were falling down. When his pants fell to his knees, the Rebel defense caught up to him and tackled him short of the goal line. Ole Miss won the game 20-18.
Tittle began his pro career with the Baltimore Colts of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1948. The Colts eventually joined the NFL in 1950. In 1961, the 49ers traded Tittle to the New York Giants. He went on to lead the Giants to three straight Eastern Division titles. Tittle threw seven touchdown passes on October 28, 1962, in a game against the Washington Redskins that the Giants won 49-34. In 1963, he set what was then an NFL record by throwing 36 touchdown passes. (Tittle's 36 touchdown passes in the 1963 season would remain an NFL record until Dan Marino threw 48 touchdown passes in 1984.)
In a career lasting 17 years, Tittle passed for 33,070 yards, and 242 touchdowns, and twice received the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. In 1971, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tittle is a member of the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1972.
Steve Van Buren
Van Buren began life in Honduras, but after he was orphaned as a boy, he was sent to live with relatives in New Orleans. He received an athletic scholarship to LSU, where he led the nation in points (110) and touchdowns (16) as a senior.
A first-round draft pick in the 1944 NFL Draft, Van Buren ran for 444 yards in nine games during his first season. He also led the league in returning punts as a rookie. The following season, Van Buren led the NFL in rushing for the first time. He would win three additional rushing crowns during his career.
Van Buren's signature game came on December 26, 1948. Playing in a blizzard for the NFL Championship against the Chicago Cardinals, Van Buren scored the only touchdown of the game to give the Eagles their first league title. They would win their second crown a year later against the Rams. In that game, Van Buren set a league record with 196 yards rushing.
The greatest irony was that Van Buren almost missed the game. Thinking the game wouldn't be played in the blizzard, he remained home until Eagles coach Earle "Greasy" Neale called him and told him the game was still on. He had to catch 3 trolleys and walk 12 blocks in order to make the game on time.
After a knee injury before the 1952 season, Van Buren retired as league record holder for rushing yards (5860) and rushing touchdowns (69). He also scored three times returning kickoffs, three times on receptions, and twice on punt returns for a total of 77 touchdowns.
He was also the first running back to pass 1000 yards in a season twice. A fast, powerful back, he stood 6-1 and weighed 200 pounds, and could run the 100-yard dash in 9.8 seconds.
Steve Van Buren was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the Class of 1965. In 1999, he was ranked number 77 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
Cannon played three seasons for LSU: 1957, 1958, and 1959. In 1958, Cannon led LSU to its first AP national championship. #1 LSU clinched the title in the Sugar Bowl, beating #12 Clemson 7-0. The only score was a pass from Cannon to Mickey Mangham. In 1959, Cannon led #1 LSU to a victory over #3 Ole Miss. The Tigers were trailing 3-0 when Cannon returned a punt 89 yards for a TD, breaking seven tackles. It was the only TD of the game, resulting in a 7-3 victory for LSU in Tiger Stadium. That year, Cannon won the Heisman Trophy. Other big games from Cannon's time at LSU were unranked LSU's 20-13 victory over #17 Georgia Tech in 1957, #1 LSU's 14-0 victory over #6 Ole Miss in 1958, and #1 LSU's 10-0 victory over #9 TCU in 1959. The No. 20 worn by Cannon was retired after the 1959 season.
Cannon had an uncommon combination of brute strength with the speed of a sprinter. Cannon amassed 2,043 all-purpose yards in 1961, and led the league in rushing. He played for the Oilers from 1960 through 1963 and went to the Oakland Raiders in 1964. Because of his ability to block and to also catch passes, Al Davis converted him to tight end during the 1964 season. He finished his career as one of the best players of all time at that position.
Cannon was All-League in 1961 and played in the AFL All-Star Game as a halfback in 1961. He was an AFL All-League selection at tight end in 1967, when he scored 10 receiving touchdowns. He played tight end in the in 1969 AFL All-Star Game. He accounted for a total of 64 touchdowns in his career, 47 of them receiving. For his career, he amassed 3,656 yards receiving, 2,455 yards rushing, and 1,882 return yards for a combined total of 8,003 yards and 63 touchdowns. He also passed for 46 yards and one touchdown. He played in a total of six AFL Championship games, winning twice with the Oilers and once with the Raiders.
Billy Cannon is one of twenty players who played the entire ten years of the American Football League's existence. In 2008, Cannon was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Born in 1941, Stovall is a former All-American running back and head football coach at LSU. He attended LSU from 1959-62. He coached the Tigers in the 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1983 football seasons.
After graduating West Monroe High School, Stovall went to LSU, succeeding Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon as the Tigers' running back. Stovall was named an All-American at that position in 1962, and was the runner-up for the 1962 Heisman Trophy. He finished 89 votes behind Oregon State's Terry Baker.
Stovall was the 2nd overall pick in the 1963 NFL Draft, selected by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals converted him to full-time defensive back. During his 9 seasons with the Cardinals, Stovall had 18 interceptions in 97 games, and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 1966, 1967 and 1969 seasons.
After his NFL career, Stovall became a college football assistant coach. He eventually returned to LSU, as an assistant for head coach Charlie McClendon. Stovall became LSU's head coach as an emergency hire, after new head coach Bo Rein died when his plane depressurized and disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean.
In Stovall's four years coaching with the Tigers (1980-1983), LSU finished 7-4, 3-7-1, 8-3-1, and 4-7 respectively. Only one of Stovall's teams appeared in the final AP poll: the 1982 team. That team finished the season ranked No. 11 after it beat No. 4 Florida, No. 8 Alabama (Bear Bryant), and No. 7 Florida State (Bobby Bowden) and earned a spot in the Orange Bowl (where LSU lost 21-20 to a No. 3 Nebraska team led by Tom Osborne).
As a result of his performance in 1982, Stovall was named the National Coach of the Year by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
While at LSU, Jones only started two games prior to the end of his junior year, but he started every game after that, leading LSU to a 12-2-1 record.
During his senior year (1972), LSU went 9-2-1. Except for one week, LSU spent that entire season ranked in the AP Top 10. That year, Jones became the first quarterback in LSU history to be awarded consensus All-American honors. Jones also finished 4th in the vote for the Heisman Trophy and was voted the National Collegiate Player of the Year by the Cleveland Touchdown Club.
One of Bert Jones' most famous moments came in the 1972 LSU-Ole Miss game, when he led LSU to a 17-16 last-second victory by hitting RB Brad Davis in the end zone for a touchdown as time expired. Jones's other major victories included No. 14 LSU's 28-8 victory over No. 7 Notre Dame in 1971 and No. 8 LSU's 35-7 victory over No. 9 Auburn in 1972.
During his 17 games at LSU, Bert Jones completed 52.6 percent of his passes for 3,225 yards and 28 touchdowns, which at the time was the most career passing yards and touchdowns of any quarterback in LSU history.
In 1973, Jones was chosen in the first round (2nd overall) of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts. During his eight year tenure as the Colts' starting QB, Jones and his teammates enjoyed three consecutive AFC East division titles (1975–77). The 1976 regular season was Bert Jones's finest as a professional as he threw for 3,104 yards and a career high 24 touchdowns compiling a passer rating of 102.5.
Jones was one of only three quarterbacks to achieve a 100+ passer rating during the entire decade of the 1970s, joining Dallas' Roger Staubach (1971) and Oakland's Ken Stabler (1976). Jones was thus honored by the Associated Press as 1976's NFL Most Valuable Player and NFL Offensive Player of the Year, selected All-Pro and named to the Pro Bowl team.
Bert Jones possessed skills that very few QBs can claim. He called all his own plays and was a true field general unlike most QBs of today. He also possessed one of the strongest arms ever to play in the NFL. Many observers believe that only John Elway and Brett Favre have had similar arm strength.
It was reported that he was able to throw the ball over 80 yards in the air in his prime. On the eve of Super Bowl XLII New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, in discussing his choices for the greatest quarterbacks of all time, described Jones as the best "pure passer" he ever saw.