Football under the Lights

Deepened colors, exuberant cheerleaders, the gala look of a floodlit stadium are prime ingredients in the South's favorite after-dark festivity
September 20, 1959

The intrusion of night football into what was once strictly a sunlit sport is most noticeable among the small colleges all over the country. A good many big football schools, however, have also embraced the night game, especially in the South and West, where autumnal afternoons are more often baseball-hot than football-crisp. Louisiana State, for example, whose passion for night football is documented on the following pages, plays under the lights five times this year. People used to take in the afternoon Tulane game in New Orleans and then the LSU night game at Baton Rouge—until Tulane installed lights at home.

At first blush, night football seems simply to be football played at night. It is not quite that simple. Oh, acrobatic cheerleaders gambol and yell (as the comely miss at the right is doing for national champion LSU in Tiger Stadium), players play, coaches pace, spectators watch. But consider the coach. Saturday is his day to fidget. The week's preparatory work is finished. Nothing to do now but play the game. Forgetting the private hell of the insomniac, we imagine the day of a reasonably steady coach. With a 2 p.m. kickoff he can kill the waiting hours without undue torment—a late rising, a leisurely breakfast, a romp with the kids, a walk, a drive to the stadium. The coach whose lads will not get into action until nighttime has six additional hours to kill—time and to spare to play and replay the game in the mind, with horrifying results. Calm, even optimistic at 2, he may be making desperate goal-line stands at 3, losing his all-conference halfback through a particularly gruesome injury at 5, praying silently along toward 6:30 that the opposing coach will hold down the score.

Spectators, happily, are not prey to this kind of gloomy imagining. They celebrate with all the gusto of the afternoon people, and perhaps a little bit more. The night hours, after all, are associated with festivity. Casual tweeds give way to party clothes; the tail-gate picnic yields to cocktails and perhaps an elaborate buffet at the jumping-off home of this group or that. There may be supper and dancing afterward, and the husband with the two left feet may now be using one of them to demonstrate—cha-cha-cha—how old Toe Hepplewhite booted that field goal in the last minute of the game—boy oh boy, right between the uprights!

PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANAway up into the air on a soft Louisiana night goes an LSU cheerleader
PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANBlazing with light like a gay ocean liner, Louisiana State's Tiger Stadium is festive for a visit from archrival Ole Miss PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANWhooping it up for the home team, arm-waving LSU cheerleaders ride into the stadium on the school mascot's cage