There are a lot of legends about Louisiana State University. There's one
about how former Governor Huey P. Long helped expand Tiger Stadium by
convincing the legislature to add dorm rooms complete with bleacher seating.
There are the underground tunnels that connect many of the buildings on campus
and there's the story about the ghost who haunts Pleasant Hall. But what about how
the Tigers got to wear purple and gold? For starters, a lot of LSU's history is
tied to the Civil War. Originally established as the Louisiana State
Seminary of Learning and Military Academy in 1860, it was quite some time
before the old war school was worried about making school cheer a priority.
Still, Col. David F. Boyd, after whom a campus building is named, served as
president of the University from 1865 to 1880 and again between 1884 and 1885.
In his time there, he chose the colors blue and white to represent LSU.
But the school didn't allow team sports until 1893, and it wasn't until the teams were
in their fourth season that anyone became known as the Tigers. In a piece
from the New York Times, University of Louisiana at Monroe professor Terry
Jones explained that that nickname was chosen because the school's first
football coach, Dr. Charles E. Coates, was told about an especially tough group of
Civil War fighters: The Louisiana Tigers. By 1896, the name stuck.
Now if the colors were originally blue and white, how did they make the jump to
purple and gold? One story notes that Charles Coates III -- the football
coach's grandson, can remember his grandmother telling stories about how
she'd sew uniforms for the Louisiana soldiers fighting in the Civil War.
Decorative colors on them were purple and gold. Also curious: a flag presented
to the Seventh Louisiana regiment in 1883 -- a full decade before LSU played football --
was described as being made of purple silk and fringed in gold. But still,
there's another big source to consider: Dr. Coates himself. In a piece written by
Coates and sent in 1937 by his grandson to the LSU alumni newsletter, Coates
described getting the team and fans ready for a November 25th, 1893, game they'd
play against a team comprised of players from Tulane and the Southern Athletic Club.
Coates wrote that he and future Louisiana Governor Ruffin Pleasant went
to Reymond's store on the corner of Third and Main in downtown
Baton Rouge to stock up on ribbons. Trouble was, nobody knew what the
school's colors were. Happily, Raymond's was getting ready for Mardi Gras in a
few months. The traditional carnival colors are purple, green and gold. But as
Coates wrote, "the green and not yet come in" so they bought all the purple and
gold ribbon they could find. LSU had some festive fans for that tradition-setting
game, but the team? Eh, not so good. LSU got creamed. But don't take my word
for it: In Coates' essay, he wrote this: "Our team didn't compare with present-day
teams in skill, ability, or power. But we had a pretty good time and if there was
any professionalism involved I never heard of it."
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Twitter at Latitude by NOLA.com. I'm Chelsea Brasted and thanks for watching.