LSU and the University of Mississippi have spent more than 50 years damning each other, with both sides chanting for their rival to "Go to hell." On Saturday, the Rebels will come to Baton Rouge intending to condemn the Tigers to a year of Bowl Championship Series purgatory. Despite a losing record, Ole Miss should be fired up when it takes field. The Times-Picayune columnist Peter Finney has covered the LSU-Ole Miss rivalry from its ascension in the 1950s through its peak in the '60s to the present. Finney said the reason the Rebels' struggles in the Southeastern Conference are irrelevant is common roots. "It's still two teams with guys that know each other from playing high school football together," Finney said. "The Ole Miss-LSU game will always mean a little extra, I would say." The game used to be about more than pride. Ole Miss enjoyed its greatest success under coach John Vaught from 1947-1970. Vaught built the program into an annual national title contender. Paul Dietzel arrived in Baton Rouge in 1955, quickly building the LSU football program to compete with Vaught's Rebels. Finney said the origins of the famous "Go to hell" exchanges between Rebel and Tiger fans can be traced to the period. "That cropped up in the '50s really," he said. "Once it took hold in the '50s, it just kept going on to today." Dietzel's fourth year did more than net the Tigers their first National Championship. It spawned more than a decade of national relevance for a regional showdown. Between 1958 and 1964, the Rebels and Tigers met eight times. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 five times. Both teams were in the top five four times, and each team was nationally ranked in every contest. Fittingly, the eight-game series that decided national championship chases for seven years was split 4-4. Finney said the period did not create the rivalry but did make it relevant beyond the South. "The rivalry was there, but when both teams moved up the rankings and were in contention for national championships, that added to it," Finney said. "It became the game of the week nationally. The games in '58, '59 and '61, those games were almost, you could say, the game of the year." LSU went 3-0 in those three games. Finney said the wins garnered more than one national title and one Heisman trophy. The 1959 game spawned a legend. "In the days when Billy Cannon was playing, LSU was No. 1 and I think Ole Miss was No. 2," Finney said. "Like in 1959, that was a real big game. That was Halloween and Billy Cannon's run." Lost in the legend of Cannon's run is the Rebels' subsequent 21-0 throttling of LSU in the 1960 Sugar Bowl. The significance of the game fizzled in the early '70s as Ole Miss struggled to recruit talented players. Even without the national spotlight, at least one game has a claim to fame. Ole Miss fans say the 1972 contest featured a few seconds of free football. Playing in Baton Rouge, the Tigers trailed the Rebels 16-10 with four seconds to play. After a lengthy incompletion by LSU quarterback Bert Jones, the game clock still showed one second remaining. The Tigers used the precious second to win the game on the "last play," 17-16. The home-clock advantage inspired a sign at the Louisiana state line reading, "You are now entering Louisiana. Set your clocks back four seconds." Even without contending for titles recently, the Rebels have held their own against the Tigers, winning four games in Baton Rouge since 1990. Saturday, the Rebels have a chance to get a fifth road win in nine opportunities. LSU coach Les Miles said Ole Miss has proven it knows how to compete. "They tell me that the last three games here, besides last year, were decided by seven points total," Miles said. "They were on a run before that where they had won four or five." Finney said the Rebels have nothing to lose and everything to gain in the contest. "This would make Ole Miss's season if they could win this game," Finney said. "It would be a horrible, horrible defeat for LSU. I think the game could mean more to Ole Miss because if Ole Miss wins, and there's always a chance for an upset, it would make their season. After the Mississippi State game, this is Ole Miss's biggest game." Rebels senior middle linebacker Patrick Willis said an upset would be tremendous, but not because of history. "It would be big," Willis said. "Beating LSU would be big. Beating them in Tiger Stadium would be even bigger. I think for us it's just another SEC game that we need to win. I know it's a big rivalry, but I don't know that it's as big as Mississippi State." Willis said the Rebels have a real chance to end the Tigers BCS dreams. "We can play with anybody in this league if we put our minds to it," Willis said. Willis said playing in Tiger Stadium may actually help the Rebels. "I think some of the older guys will be up for it, but I think some of the young guys might be like, 'Wow,'" Willis said. "I think for the most part they're going to see the leadership on the field and stand strong. We'll be able to use it to our advantage."
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