During the long weekend in Las Vegas a myriad of sports topics came up and one of my favorite groups was discussed, the 1958 LSU National Championship team featuring the Chinese Bandits. Our son, Andy, asked me to write a post about this interesting footnote to college football history so here goes.
The Louisiana State University Tigers
National Champions 1958, 2003 and 2007
Paul Dietzel's squad started the season unranked but would go on to storm to an 11-0 record including a 7-0 victory over Clemson in the 1959 New Year's Day Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
The team featured Billy Cannon (talk about a GREAT football name) at halfback. Cannon's crazy 89 yard punt return for a TD vs. Ole Miss on Halloween night in 1959 led to a 7-3 LSU win and was key to his winning the Heisman Trophy that year. That punt return is the stuff of which legends are made.
Again, 1958 was the first season that football became interesting to me so I read and heard a lot about LSU's magical season as a 6th grader.
In 1958 Coach Dietzel had to deal with the NCAA's very limited substitution rules. The rule was that if a player was in the game at the start of a quarter, he could be replaced and then return ONLY ONCE in that period.
His starters were ALL TWO WAY starters, the "White" team.
His next "team" were offensive specialists known as the "Go" team. The "Go" team was made up of third string linemen and second string backs.
The last batch of players were the team's second best linemen and third string backs. They would practice mainly defense (they did have a very limited set of offensive plays in case they got caught in a substitution rules dilemma) and to try to inspire them he told them about the very popular comic strip "Terry and the Pirates" a military adventure set in the Orient. In the cartoon, Chinese bandits were according to Dietzel "the most vicious people on earth!" So to honor them, the third group became known as the "Chinese Bandits"!
The idea was to fire up that so that when they got to play, they would have a mental edge that would overcome any of their possible physical shortcomings.
Well, finally the mind game came to fruition when Alabama's offense was in a first and goal situation at the 5 yard line. The LSU decided that the way the Crimson Tide was running over the Tiger's "White" team they were going to score anyway so what the hell, let them score on the Chinese Bandits while the starters got a rest before the start of the next quarter.
The result was that the Chinese Bandits went crazy and played just like their moniker. They stopped Alabama on their first three downs, allowing only 1 yard and forced them to kick a field goal. LSU went on to win 13-3 and the Chinese Bandits were now officially a force!
They kept getting into games and playing inspired, crazed football. Their fame grew in the media and they even had a great picture in LIFE magazine in their game uniforms sporting rubber Chinese masks.
As the season progressed, an injury caused Coach Dietzel to have to adjust his lineup by moving Nose Guard Tommy Lott up from the Chinese Bandits to the "Go" team. Lott was NOT happy about the "promotion" and asked to be put back on the Chinese Bandits as soon as possible!
The 1958 LSU Chinese Bandits
The Chinese Bandits Line-Up:
Left End: Mel Branch (6-1, 210, Jr.)
Left Tackle: Emile Fournet (5-11, 195, Jr.)
Nose Guard: Tommy Lott (5-9, 188, Jr.)
Right Tackle: Duane Leopard (6-3, 196, Soph.)
Right End: Gaynell Kinchen (6-3, 196, Soph.)
Left Linebacker: John Langan (6-3, 183, Jr.)
Right Linebacker: Merle Schexnaildre (5-9, 183, Jr.)
Left Corner: Andy Bourgeois (5-10, 174, Soph.)
Left Safety: Darryl Jenkins (6-1, 163, Soph.)
Right Safety: Henry Lee Roberts (6-0, 172, Soph.)
Right Corner: Hart Bourque (5-8, 172, Soph.)
I remember that at the end of the '58 season, I wrote a letter to the attention of the LSU Bookstore trying to buy some Chinese Bandit memorabilia. No luck, I never heard back from them.
A quarter of a century later in 1983, the Washington Huskies traveled to Baton Rouge only to get man-handled by the Tigers 40-14. Our good friend Mark Johnson went to the game and brought me back a Chinese Bandit souvenir T-shirt... LEGENDS DIE HARD!! The shirt doesn't fit anymore but I still have it, THANKS Mark.
On a final side note, Mark and I flew to Alabama for the 2003 'Bama-LSU game (LSU 27-3) and then to New Orleans for the 2004 Sugar Bowl/2003 BCS National Championship game where the 13-1 Tigers beat Oklahoma 21-14. They would share the title with Southern California's 12-0 team that hammered Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl. An LSU National Championship celebrated IN New Orleans after a Sugar Bowl victory will always be one of my GREAT college football memories! THANKS yet again Mark!