Why Does LSU Football Paint 5-yard Numerals?

by Todd Politz
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Why Does LSU Football Paint 5-yard Numerals?

Based on a first-hand account by former LSU Sports Information Director and longtime Andonie Sports Museum Director Bud Johnson, then-SID Jim Corbett decided to have numerals painted on the field in Tiger Stadium every 5 yards at the request of radio play-by-play announcer John Ferguson in 1946. As most LSU Football home games were played at night, this made it easier to spot the advancement of runs (“he’s at the 35, 30, 25, 20…”) and call the action.

The first photo evidence of such painting was the Nov. 2, 1946, game against Ole Miss. However, wide-view images of the field from the first three home games of the 1946 season have not yet been located. In 1945, the field’s yard lines were identified with small “A-frame” signs outside of the boundary every 5 yards.

Though others have mimicked this through the years, LSU appears to be the only major college which currently (2021 season) paints numerals in increments of 5 yards on its field for football games. It should be noted that those who currently maintain the field – and thus have twice the numerals to paint as a result of this decision 75 years ago – have long surmised that this was a “happy accident” perpetuated by the force of “tradition.” Maybe they’re correct … but history tells us otherwise.

Background:
Johnson’s recollection is both plausible and reasonable. The explanation includes both a first-hand source and reference resources in the form of newspaper images and articles, and info from the Gumbo yearbook and Alumni News magazine.

In 1946, Jim Corbett – who was later the LSU Athletics Director – was the department’s publicist/sports information director. He was known to be a big thinker and an agent of change, especially when it came to promoting LSU Athletics through broadcast media. He was on the NCAA’s Television Committee and later left LSU for NBC Sports in its efforts to televise college football.

Avid Tigers fans will recall that Corbett created a letter-number jersey system at LSU, which sought to revolutionize the industry. Each position was indicated by a single letter – for example, ends, guards and tackles wore letters E, G, and T – followed by a number from 0 to 9. It didn’t catch on …. But, it sets the stage for the type of thinker Corbett was.

On Sept. 10, 1946, the creation of the “Louisiana Network” was announced with the intention of broadcasting all LSU Football games across the state on a 7-station radio network presented by Guaranty Income Life Insurance Co. (parent company of what’s now Guaranty Media, which owns the Flagship station of today’s LSU Sports Radio Network: Eagle 98.1 in Baton Rouge). The network consisted of WJBO-AM & WBRL-FM Baton Rouge; KRMD Shreveport; KMR Monroe; KALB Alexandria; KPLC Lake Charles; and “a new station” which I believe was KCIL Houma.

Just before the 1946 season – on Sept. 23 – it was announced that Ferguson would be the play-by-play announcer, with Bob Scearce (and sometimes WJBO program manager Ralph Sims) as color analyst. Ferguson would call LSU games for the better part of the next four decades until moving to TigerVision – the LSU Athletics Department’s in-house television broadcast. Jim Hawthorne then took over radio play-by-play duties for LSU football from 1984 until 2015, a chair now held by Chris Blair .