Saturday night, members of the working press will file their stories from Tiger Stadium's venerable old press box for the last time. It will be the 332nd and final time that statistics will be recorded, notes will be taken, stories will be written and radio and TV accounts will emit through the airwaves from the aging metal structure above the bowl of Death Valley.
When the 2005 season opens, the media that covers LSU will be working out of a new press box, part of a renovation of Tiger Stadium's west side that is already underway.
It was on September 19, 1953, that the current press box was first used. Gaynell Tinsley was the Tigers' head coach and it was Charles McClendon's first game as his assistant. LSU had begun enclosing the south end of Tiger Stadium, but only the lower section of the south stands was complete in time for the game. Over 40,000 fans saw the Tigers upset No. 11-ranked Texas, 20-7.
News accounts from that time bragged about the spacious new press facility with an elevator that would "whisk" writers to their workplace. Prior to 1953, writers had to walk through the stands of Tiger Stadium to reach the press box, and would often employ Boy Scouts to lug their typewriters to their seats.
The two-level structure featured seats from 20-yard line to 20-yard line and three "sound-proof" radio booths. Sportswriters filed their stories through Western Union whose representatives sat on the second row of the press box, patiently waiting for stories to be finished in time to meet deadlines.
Over the ensuing years, stories were hammered out on manual, then electric, typewriters and sent by telecopiers in the press box, with each page taking anywhere from four to six minutes to transmit to newspapers all over America. Later, there were "tele-rams" and Radio Shack desktop word processors, and now laptop computers that are plugged into telephones to digitally transmit stories, as the Internet is now the mode of delivery from the press box to newspaper newsrooms.
LSU games have been broadcast on the radio throughout the life of the existing press box, but the first television broadcast from Tiger Stadium didn't take place until the 1959 season opener when NBC carried LSU's 26-3 win over Rice. Back then a televised game from Tiger Stadium was an event, and Baton Rouge would buzz with the arrival of the Goodyear Blimp. Now it's common for five or six nationally televised games to originate from Tiger Stadium in a single season.
And over the years some of the legendary broadcasters in the business, like Keith Jackson, Brent Musberger and Verne Lundquist, have plied their trade from the LSU press box.
Many great moments have been called on the radio from the press box, including J.C. Politz' description of the Billy Cannon Run in 1959, John Ferguson's call of the Bert Jones-to-Brad Davis pass in 1972, and Jim Hawthorne's account of the Tommy Hodson-to-Eddie Fuller pass in the Earthquake Game in 1988.
In 2005, dial-up modems will be replaced by Ethernet or wireless internet connections, expanded broadcast space will be available for the growth of television and radio networks that broadcast LSU games, a lounge area will allow media members to dine in comfort, and the unsightly gray roll-down tarps in front of the press box will be replaced by glass windows that will open for games.
The demand for an open-air press box, which allows the media to experience the Tiger Stadium crowd, is one element that has not changed since 1953. In his account of the first game in the new press box, Morning Advocate sportswriter Bud Montet wrote, "The box isn't air-conditioned as many local fans think ... the press section is wide open, a feature most of the scribes asked for."
Although most of today's media were not even born when the press box opened, there will be a few visitors this Saturday night who were there back in the 1950s, like long-time sportswriters Ted Castillo of the Baton Rouge State-Times/Morning Advocate and Peter Finney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, former sports information director Bud Johnson, long-time press box assistant Ken Kleinpeter and former LSU director of public relations Oscar Richard.
Former announcer J.C. Politz will return to Tiger Stadium Saturday to be recognized on the field for his call of the Billy Cannon Run 45 years ago and long-time Voice of the Tigers John Ferguson, now director-emeritus of the TAF, will be on hand as usual.
One regular LSU writer was born only one year after the press box opened and is now carrying his own Lou Gehrig-type streak. On Saturday, Lake Charles American Press sports editor Scooter Hobbs will be covering his 168th consecutive game in the LSU press box, and when he covers LSU's bowl game this year, it will be his 300th straight game, home and away, since 1979.
Some long-time media fixtures won't be able to attend, including former State-Times editor Sam King who recently underwent hip replacement surgery, and former Times-Picayune editor Bob Roesler who is under the weather in New Orleans.
There are other former press box regulars who have passed away in recent years who will be fondly remembered by their colleagues on Saturday night, including Austin Wilson of the Associated Press, Hap Glaudi of WWL Radio, Bud Montet, Dan Hardesty and Bernell Ballard of the State-Times/Morning Advocate, Mike Cook of the State-Times, Joe Planas of the Advocate, Bill Carter of the Alexandria Town Talk, Connie Kaplan of the Kaplan Herald and former LSU sports information directors Jim Corbett, Ace Higgins and Paul Manasseh.