Note: In recognition of LSU’s great undefeated football team of 1908, this is the first in a series of three stories to appear on LSUsports.net this week documenting that team. Today’s story is an excerpt from the book “The LSU Football Vault” about the 1907 season that set the stage for the ’08 squad’s legendary season. Tomorrow’s story is about the 1908 season and Thursday’s story is about the great Doc Fenton.
Excerpt from “The LSU Football Vault” by Herb Vincent
Edgar Wingard, who took over as LSU’s head coach in 1907, was a dynamic figure with a flair for the dramatic. A stylish dresser with charm and wit, as an undergrad at Susquehanna only five years earlier he was considered a “notorious hell raiser” and was a tenor in the glee club. As a coach he preferred a wide open offense and could be characterized as the first great recruiter in LSU history. He recognized talent and, perhaps more importantly, knew how to put it to good use.
His first big victory came long before his first game as Tiger coach when he recruited George Ellwood “Doc” Fenton to LSU. Fenton, a native of Scranton, Pa., earned his nickname because his father traveled with an Indian medicine show. The most famous quote about Fenton came from former LSU president Troy Middleton who said, “I saw Jim Thorpe, but Doc Fenton was better.”
A perfect fit for a free-wheeling offensive attack, for the next two years Wingard would build his team around Doc Fenton.
The fleet-footed Fenton came to LSU from Mansfield Normal, though he was on the brink of going to Mississippi State when Wingard convinced him that Baton Rouge would be a better destination. It’s been said that Fenton was swayed when he found that Baton Rouge nightlife included nickel beer, and Wingard closed the door on State by reminding him that Starkville was a dry town.
Wingard operated a different program than his predecessors. He ran light practices to keep his players fresh and used soccer to improve his players’ speed and agility. His was a crowd-pleasing offense, often featuring double and triple laterals. Fenton thrived in this attack.
A revival of LSU football had begun, but Wingard needed more than Fenton. He took advantage of Dan Killian’s recruiting when he inherited – or lured back to LSU – at least six players who eventually had a big impact on the 1907 and 1908 seasons. One of them was John J. “Bill” Seip, a stellar end from Susquehanna, Wingard’s alma mater.
The Tigers opened the Edgar Wingard Era in fine fashion by routing Louisiana Tech 28-0, keyed by a 90-yard touchdown run by Fenton. After road losses to Texas and Texas A&M – played in a three-day period -- LSU recovered to win four straight games, including its first win over Arkansas that touched off a downtown celebration that lasted late into the night. The win streak was broken in a heart-breaker at Alabama. LSU led most of the game on a pair of safeties that gave the Tigers a fragile 4-0 advantage, but Alabama scored on a late 85-yard punt return for a 6-4 victory.
After a win over Baylor, the season finale was played far from the friendly parade grounds of the LSU campus. In fact, on Christmas Day 1907, LSU became the first American collegiate team to play a game on foreign soil. The Tigers traveled to Cuba to face the University of Havana in a game arranged by an independent promoter. After the Tigers arrived, though, the promoter suddenly backed out of the game and locals picked up on the excitement of the game to make sure it was played.
It became a social event in Havana as tickets went for $10 each, an unheard of price at the time. Almendares Park was filled with Cuban government officials, Havana high society and plenty of very enthusiastic American servicemen. The city was electric in anticipation of this game, but LSU left no doubt which country played superior football. The Tigers reeled off 10 touchdowns, including a 67-yard punt return by Seip en route to a 56-0 win.
LSU finished the 1907 season with a record of 7-3 overall and 2-1 in SIAA play in Wingard’s first year, and set the stage for the greatest season in the short history of Tiger football.