Remembering the LSU-Tulane rivalry — and the first Battle for the Rag
The storied football rivalry between LSU and Tulane dates all the way back to 1893 and the first season in either program’s existence — which also marked the first intercollegiate game to be played in the state. That inaugural match kicked off an intense and often contentious annual rivalry that saw the two teams play 98 times in the 115 years that followed. In 1939, a trophy of sorts was introduced so the winner could take home more than bragging rights. The “Rag” — known at LSU as the “Tiger Rag” and at Tulane as the “Victory Rag” — is a flag divided diagonally, with LSU school colors and emblem on one side and Tulane’s colors and emblem on the other. In the center, separating the two, is the state seal of Louisiana. The banner lent its name to the game, which became known as “The Battle for the Rag,” marking one of the oldest rivalries in college football.
Money issues and scheduling problems saw LSU and Tulane meet on the gridiron only twice in the 10 years between 1995 and 2005. The two schools temporarily renewed the rivalry in 2006, agreeing to alternate home fields every year for 10 years. Unfortunately, the money issue reared its head again after just four of those planned games, as LSU pushed to shift all remaining matches to Baton Rouge’s Tiger Stadium. (“It makes no financial sense for us to ever play Tulane in New Orleans,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said at the time.) The contract was cancelled after the 2009 game, with the two sides promising to play one game, at an unspecified future date, in New Orleans. That game has yet to happen — and the once-heated rivalry has grown decidedly cooler every year since.
- Tulane drew first blood, winning the inaugural 1893 matchup by a score of 34-0 — but the Tigers lead the overall series 69-22-7.
- Tickets to that first game cost 50 cents and drew 1,500 people to the long-gone Sportsman Park in New Orleans. The 1973 matchup, by contrast, drew 86,598 people to Tulane Stadium, at the time the largest crowd ever to attend a football game in the South.
- Between 1911 (the 10th matchup between the two teams) and 1994 (the 92nd), the teams played every year but one. That off-year was in 1918, when, with World War I winding down, LSU didn’t field a team.
- The rivalry took a hit when Tulane left the SEC in 1966. It further lost its luster with a period of LSU dominance that has seen Tulane win only four times in the teams’ last 52 contests.
- The rivalry has spawned its share of shenanigans. After Tulane won the 1948 matchup, unnamed Green Wave fans raised the Tulane flag on the LSU campus, accompanied by green footprints painted on the ground leading away from the flagpole. Also painted (and also in green) on a number of campus buildings was the final score: 46-0.
- In retaliation, a group of former LSU players in 1949 planted fast-growing rye seed on the Tulane field in the weeks leading up to game day. By kickoff time, it had sprouted, spelling out the letters L-S-U. They also planted their prediction of the final score: LSU 21, T.U. 0 — which, incredibly turned out to be correct.
- A year after that, a group of Tulane supporters reportedly tiger-napped LSU’s live Bengal tiger mascot, Mike, when they found him unattended in his cage in a New Orleans restaurant parking lot.
- In a friendlier tradition that started in 1973, fans of both LSU and Tulane would meet Uptown at Norby’s Bar on game day, with fans of the losing team getting the dubious honor of pushing the winning team’s fans in a wheelbarrow parade.
- With squabbling over payouts from the annual game threatening the series, the state House and Senate in 1988 both adopted resolutions encouraging both schools to do whatever possible “so that future generations of Louisianians may experience this great gridiron tradition.” It worked temporarily, with the schools playing annually through 1994. Since then, they’ve played only six times, most recently in 2009.
- At the 2017 Senior Bowl in January, local fans got a whiff of the old rivalry when LSU center Ethan Pocic and Tulane defensive tackle Tanzel Smart tangled briefly during a pre-game workout. “That was fun,” Pocic said afterward. “I shook hands with him after practice. It’s all good. We were just competing. I knew who he was. He’s a good player.”
For local football fans with a sense of history, any discussion of the storied LSU-Tulane rivalry brings mixed emotions. For starters, there’s a rush of nostalgia for one of the college game’s great rivalries, one that reaches all the way back to the introduction of football to Louisiana. That’s offset with a certain melancholy over the fact that it has gone dormant — and over money, no less. Then there’s the hope that maybe, somehow, the two schools can figure out a way to restore it, and its luster — and that the Battle for the Rag will one day be worth waging again.