Jindal frequently mentioned John McKeithen as his favorite
John Julian McKeithen was born 90 years ago this May in Caldwell Parish and took the oath of office as governor when he was 45. By the time he outpolled popular New Orleans Mayor "Chep" Morrison to win the 1963 election, McKeithen had survived the Great Depression and had been a decorated soldier in the Pacific Theatre in WWII. But he always retained his youthful exuberance when the subject of LSU football was broached in
During his eight years in the mansion between 1964 and 1971, the Tigers were annually contending for SEC and national honors. Despite two Sugar Bowl victories and one Cotton Bowl triumph, LSU never captured the glory the Ole War Skule has savored the past five years.
The McKeithen years were highlighted by spectacular postseason fortunes for LSU. The Tigers whipped
The best years in the reigns of McClendon and McKeithen were in 1969 and 1970. The '69 team was as good as any in the land, but it fell victim to a stellar performance from Archie Manning as Ole Miss rallied from a 23-12 deficit and edged the Bengals 26-23 at
The Tigers reportedly spent the 10th anniversary of Billy Cannon's heroic 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss at a showing of "Easy Rider" on the big screen in
McClendon said the provocative film took the edge off his players and made them think more about Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson than Archie Manning and Johnny Vaught. Mac concluded his players would have been better motivated by watching reruns of Cannon's run.
A year later, LSU was primed to be even better with the nation's top defense led by All-America standouts Tommy Casanova and Mike Anderson and an offense featuring hard-running Art Cantrelle and a trio of talented quarterbacks in Butch Duhe', Buddy Lee and Bert Jones.
Days before the Sept. 19 opener vs. Texas A&M, Duhe' died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the LSU infirmary. A demoralized Tiger team was upset in the closing seconds in a 20-18 setback to the Aggies. Gov. McKeithen was so overcome with grief over the death of Duhe' and the defeat to A&M that he punched out a window in his limousine after the game. "There goes the national championship," Big John bellowed as he realized his beloved LSU would not win it all in his eighth and last season in office.
Bobby Jindal inherits a national title LSU team just as Gov. Blanco did from Gov. Foster four years ago. Jindal will be expected to continue the tradition of BCS glory established by Nick Saban, Les Miles, Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco.
McKeithen's analysis was correct in 1970 when LSU dropped its opener to A&M. After that loss, there was little or no chance of the Tigers winning the NCAA crown. Times have changed, as the 2003 and 2007 LSU units proved.
Who would have thought that LSU could lose at home by 12 points to
McKeithen was adamant that an LSU graduate should be the head coach of the Tigers, and Big John fought vigorously, but unsuccessfully, to keep Jerry Stovall in command of the program in 1983. Twenty-five years have passed since Stovall was fired, and McKeithen died in 1999 just before the hiring of Nick Saban. McKeithen would have been livid over Saban's defection and ecstatic over Les Miles' rejection of overtures to return to
It's unfortunate that Big John didn't live to see his alma mater savor the ultimate glory in the arena that he envisioned and made a reality. Without the investment of enormous political capital and state funding accompanied by the vision of McKeithen, the Louisiana Superdome would still be an architect's dream. For that matter, the PMAC would also not have been constructed without the iron will of John McKeithen.
The Louisiana Legislature once decided to name the Superdome in McKeithen's honor. New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson waged an effective battle to keep Big John's name off the building, contending the Saints would lose millions in revenues. Nearly a decade has passed, and no corporate sponsor has been secured to pay top dollar for its association with one of the best-known sports facilities in the world.
In one of Gov. Jindal's first actions in the house that Huey Long built, he should press for the palace on
Jim Engster is the general manager of