Louisiana state university is one of the South's great colleges, and it has been around for a long time. Its first president was a young Army officer named William Tecumseh Sherman, and it once had a cheerleader named Huey Long. At one time LSU also had an undefeated and untied football team, but that was in 1908, and nothing quite so exciting has happened in all the years since. Or at least not until now. Maybe the reason is that LSU, in the past 50 years, has had nothing like Billy Abb Cannon and 11 other young men known as the Chinese Bandits.
Saturday night in Baton Rouge, LSU overwhelmed Duke 50-18, thereby winning its eighth ball game of 1958. It was the first time since 1929 that anyone had scored 50 points against a Duke team. Cannon caught a 63-yard touchdown pass, raced 25 yards for another score and kicked two extra points. Coach Paul Dietzel's quick and lean and hungry young men took advantage of every break—most of which they made for themselves, which is always the mark of a good football team—and swarmed all over the hapless Blue Devils from Durham like a cloud of angry bees. And the Chinese Bandits blocked a punt, recovering the ball on the Duke two to set up a touchdown, which they subsequently scored themselves to the great delight of the vast crowd. Despite their other talents, the Bandits do not score many touchdowns.
When it was all over, no one in the wildly ecstatic crowd which jammed Tiger Stadium to the light standards, no one in the vicinity of football-crazed Baton Rouge, no one in the entire state of Louisiana doubted that this was the No. 1 college football team in the land. And Iowa, Army and Auburn to the contrary, they were almost certainly right.
Picked to finish far down in the 12-team Southeastern Conference before the season began, the Tigers have been chewing up everything that has come their way, including good ball clubs like Rice and Florida and Mississippi and Duke.
The problems which faced Dietzel this year were simple enough. He had all the ingredients for a ferocious backfield, with Cannon, two speedsters named Johnny Robinson and Scooter Purvis, a tough fullback who likes to knock people down in Red Brodnax, and a good quarterback in Warren Rabb. He also had some fine linemen, led by an exceptional center, Max Fugler, who is not only large and aggressive but can outrun the backs on most football teams. But most of the linemen were not very big, and there just didn't seem to be enough of them. Somewhere along the way it was almost certain that they would wear out. So Dietzel, a tall, handsome blond-haired fellow, decided he would have to let everyone get into the act.
Dietzel picked his 11 best football players and called them the White team, which is the color all LSU football players wear these days despite the purple and gold school colors. Then he took his next 22 players and divided them according to offensive and defensive abilities. The offensive 11, which has a lot of speed and can move the ball almost as well as the starters, he named the Go team. The defensive crew he named the Chinese Bandits. Never, at LSU, are the Bandits called the third string—which they really are—or the third unit or the third team or the third anything else. They are simply the Bandits.
"They are," says Dietzel, "the darndest bunch of kids you ever saw."
Made up primarily of sophomores and 1957 red shirts and reserves, with last year's student manager, Gus Kinchen, playing one end, the Bandits have logged almost a quarter of LSU's total playing time. In crucial moments they have afforded the starters some much-needed rest. Under the more relaxed substitution rule in effect this year, Dietzel has been able to keep his regulars from wearing out by the simple process of pulling them out before they even have a chance to get tired. The Go team has filled in capably on offense—it has played almost a quarter of the time, too—and the Bandits have done a remarkable job on defense.
"They're not really that good," they will tell you at LSU, "but they think they are, which seems to be what counts."
Dietzel's touch of psychological inspiration did not suddenly blossom forth this year. Rather, it began back in 1950, when he was defensive coach under Gilman at Cincinnati. Feeling that some boost in morale was needed by the relatively unsung defensive platoon in those days of free substitution, he came up with a quote from the comic strip, Terry and the Pirates. "Chinese Bandits," said a sinister-looking Oriental gentleman one day, "are the most vicious people on earth." So Dietzel told his Cincinnati crew that since it was pretty mean and ornery, henceforth it would be known as the Chinese Bandits.