The unforgettable “Earthquake Game” in 1988 helped cement that. When Tommy Hodson hit Eddie Fuller to give LSU a 7-6 win over the Auburn Tigers, you could feel the reverberations in New Orleans. Or so we’d like to believe.
The Tigers play the most night games in the SEC and dominate while playing after the sun goes down. As of the 2020 LSU football media guide, the Tigers have played 459 night games at home and are 338-108-13 (.751) in those contests. Compare that with their 93?43?5 (.677) mark during the day, and you see why the Tigers play so many night games.
But how did this all get started? What is the reasoning behind one of the best traditions in NCAA sports?
LSU Night Game History
In 1931, the Tigers had scheduling conflicts with Tulane, one of the country’s best programs out of New Orleans and a regular rival. To try and find a way to work out a game between the best programs in the state of Louisiana, Thomas Pickney “Skipper” Heard came up with the idea. Heard was the graduate manager of athletics and a former LSU student.
The idea not only paved the way for the Tulane Green Wave football game but an opportunity for more fans to attend home games. The first time the school hosted a team with their lights came on October 3, 1931, when the Spring Hill Badgers visited Baton Rouge. LSU beat the Badgers down, 35-0.
The hope was that a night game would attract the people of Louisiana who would be finished with their work on their plantations. It would also not take place in the late-summer heat of the Bayou. The first night game did not precisely draw tons of fans, though, only being played in front of 7,500 people.
How the SEC Saved Night Games
And though we were a long way off from hearing “It’s Saturday Night in Death Valley,” it would only take a few more years for the tradition to take hold. Heard led the way on extensive stadium renovations that significantly increased the capacity of the stadium. In 1932, the Southeastern Conference‘s formation gave LSU like-minded opponents who were close in proximity.
Instead of playing in the Southern Conference, which was made up of teams from as far away as Maryland and Virginia, LSU would be part of a conference with many of the current SEC teams. The group included Alabama, the Florida Gators, Tennessee Volunteers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, South Carolina Gamecocks and Ole Miss Rebels. The conference began with 13 teams.
This was important because each school was much closer geographically and saw football as their most important sport.
But the most important thing was that the Tigers began to build an outstanding program. In 1935, Bernie Moore took over as head coach and led LSU to two SEC Championships and three Sugar Bowl appearances in his first three seasons.
Even though it wasn’t a successful tradition initially, it didn’t take long to become one of the most famous places to play college football when the sun goes down.
During the Les Miles era, the LSU Tigers held home game kickoff at night regularly. If the television schedules made by networks like CBS and ESPN had been letting Miles decide, each home game probably would have been played at 7 p.m. at the earliest.
Current head coach Ed Orgeron, who led the team to a national championship with the help of Joe Burrow and Joe Brady, has continued that tradition. So expect plenty of games under the lights in the future.
The possibilities make us bristle with excitement. The Arkansas Razorbacks and Missouri Tigers seem like they are on the rise. Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M Aggies and the Georgia Bulldogs are always a strong choice for a primetime night game in SEC Country. Then, of course, there’s any visit from former LSU coach Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide.
Although, if we’re honest, there’s one thing we want to see. A home-and-home series with the Clemson Tigers to see which team’s stadium truly earns the nickname “Death Valley.”
LSU fans already know that answer.
This post was originally published on July 25, 2019, but football season is upon us, which means Saturday nights in Death Valley are returning.