1957 gave the world a lot: Sputnik, plenty of Elvis and even Paul Reiser (hey, he was born in ’57). More importantly, in terms of the Alabama-LSU rivalry, it gave us this: An Alabama shutout loss.
This SEC rivalry dates as far back as 1895, well before the Southeastern Conference’s formation. Since that time, Alabama has lost in a shutout only four times, the most recent of which came in 1997. That year wasn’t a good one for the Crimson Tide, as it was their first under Mike DuBose. But that wasn’t the worst time for Alabama football, either.
That “honor” goes to the Alabama teams of the 1950s, led by then-head coach Jennings B. Whitworth.
Before coaching football in Tuscaloosa, Whitworth spent his time as head coach at Oklahoma A&M, which you may know currently as Oklahoma State. Whitworth played football at Alabama, and also served as the baseball coach for the Tide for a short time. During his tenure, Whitworth was the coach for the infamous Johnny Bright incident.
Despite his 22-27-2 record at Oklahoma A&M, Whitworth became Alabama’s head coach starting in the 1955 season. The first season didn’t go very well and to this day (0-10), it’s the only winless season in Alabama football history.
The 1956 season wasn’t much better. They didn’t get their first win of the season until late October against Mississippi State. They’d get one more win plus a tie before losing the Iron Bowl to Auburn and finishing 2-7-1.
Maybe things would turn around for the Crimson Tide in 1957. It’s possible, right?
Meanwhile, LSU also had a coach who was in his third season on the sidelines with Paul Dietzel, who came to Baton Rouge after offensive line coaching stints at Kentucky, Cincinnati, and Army.
Dietzel had a rough go of it early on, picking up three wins in each of his first two seasons. However, things looked good on the horizon for the Tigers.
Alabama’s first game of the 1957 season came in Baton Rouge against the LSU Tigers. Nowadays they play the game in November. But for a brief time in the ’50s, they faced off on the last weekend in September. Before then, the dates varied.
LSU already started the season a week prior with a loss at home to Rice. Of the last three meetings, Alabama led 2-0-1. This moment marked the first time Alabama and LSU faced off with Whitworth and Dietzel as head coaches.
The Tigers had much to be excited about, thanks to their backfield tandem of Jim Taylor, future Green Bay Packers running back, as well a highly-touted sophomore named Billy Cannon.
Both teams appeared ready to go, but in the end, the running game for LSU was too much for the Tide to handle. LSU defeated Alabama 28-0. It’s the worst loss that LSU has ever given to the Tide. So what happened?
Cannon came alive for the Tigers. He scored two touchdowns in the game, the first on a 53-yard run, assisted by a big block by teammate Taylor. The other came on a fourth down fake punt play in which Cannon ran for 73-yards.
Taylor and J.W. Brodnax each scored touchdowns in the win over Alabama. it was the first win for LSU over the Tide since 1951.
The win for LSU started a nice streak for the Tigers as they won four in a row, including an upset at home over No. 17 Georgia Tech. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the streak stopped as they lost four of their remaining five games. They did close out the season with a win over Tulane to finish 5-5.
Alabama appeared on its way to another bad season. They picked up their first win that season at Georgia on November 2nd. They won once more on November 23rd before losing 40-0 in the Iron Bowl. Once again, the Tide finished 2-7-1.
By that point, enough was enough! The Tide weren’t going anywhere with their current setup. Imagine if Finebaum’s show existed in the ’50s (on second thought, don’t). The University clearly had enough, regardless. They didn’t renew Whitworth’s contract. Of course, the school made the decision in October. And it came after the university’s Faculty Committee on Physical Education and Athletics reportedly pressured Whitworth to resign during the season, which the committee later denied.
Whitworth, according to the Tuscaloosa News, refused. The same report suggested Whitworth offered to resign before the season, but not have it take effect until December 1. Regardless, it became clear Whitworth was in a lame duck situation as Alabama Head Coach. Whitworth finished his tenure at 4-24-2.
Whitworth’s contract as Alabama Head Coach ended December 1. By December 3, they found their new man. It was the head coach at Texas A&M, a former player at Alabama named Paul Bryant, whom you might know better as Bear. Rumors of Bryant possibly coaching the Tide started to swirl during the ’56 season. It all wound up working out for Alabama.
Bryant signed a 10-year agreement to not just coach the Crimson Tide, but also become their new athletic director. He’d immediately take over Alabama after completing his duties at A&M, which included coaching the Aggies in the Gator Bowl versus Tennessee.
Bryant would get his opportunity to coach against his former assistant in Dietzel in ’58. In the end, it was the running attack led by Cannon as they won 13-3. LSU had an incredible season in ’58. LSU went undefeated, winning the National Championship. Cannon would go on to win the Heisman in 1959.
When the two teams finally met again in 1964, Bryant and the Tide won and would win the next five meetings. They’d dominate the rivalry. From ’64 thru ’81, LSU won just twice and that was in back-to-back years (’69-70).
No matter what happens this weekend, Alabama probably won’t get shutout.