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The Story Behind Tiger Stadium’s ‘Death Valley’ Nickname

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When discussing the history of “Death Valley,” the nickname for the college football homes of both LSU and Clemson, here’s what we know: Both are extremely tough places to play.

But just how did LSU’s Tiger Stadium become known as “Death Valley” just like Memorial Stadium at Clemson? Well, that’s a bit more unclear.

Here’s some background: Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA, opened in 1924 and, according to the Associated Press, was situated near a gas station named “Deaf Valley.” It’s clear that, even back then, LSU fans were a boisterous bunch, and it’s possible that the stadium was given that nickname as a result - but it’s still unclear.

For its part, Clemson’s stadium was dubbed “Death Valley” by Presbyterian College coach Lonnie McMillan in 1948 because it was where teams went to die. Clemson coach Frank Howard - who was the school’s head man from 1940-69 - reportedly adopted the moniker from McMillan.

The school also had its connection to the real Death Valley - the California desert - since the 1960s. The Orlando Sentinel reported that a Clemson alumnus was driving through the desert when he found a large flint rock and gave it to Howard.

From then on, the “Death Valley” nickname was virtually set in stone (no pun intended). Currently, Clemson players run down the hill in the stadium’s East end zone and rub Howard’s Rock before heading onto the field - a tradition that Howard started.

“If you’re going to give me 110 percent, you can rub that rock. If you’re not, keep your filthy hands off of it,” Howard once told his players, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

But what about LSU?

Well, some people think that Tiger Stadium was also originally called “Deaf Valley” after Clemson’s “Death Valley” as a way to differentiate themselves from the other Tigers in South Carolina. And others think that LSU has always been called “Death Valley” as well - although it certainly can’t be confirmed if this happened before Clemson, since LSU fans can’t even figure out the correct name.

Reading through old articles, the stadium was known in the 1980s as “Deaf Valley” at least to some.

“Since then, they’ve traded off with the Gators not being intimidated by so-called Deaf Valley and LSU unimpressed with the opposition’s home crowd in Gainesville,” wrote an AP sportswriter in 1985.

Penned a Miami Herald sports writer in 1987: “Dreamy, so dreamy. For three quarters, the University of Florida was performing the improbable, if not impossible, by turning the concrete boom box called Deaf Valley silent.”

And yet most articles in the 1980s referred to Tiger Stadium as “Death Valley.” And by the early 1990s, it was almost unanimously referred to as “Death Valley” in the press.

There are two theories about Tiger Stadium’s nickname evolution:

#1: The “Deaf Valley” became “Death Valley” because the two sound so much alike and so many people already knew of Clemson’s “Death Valley,” thus transferring the nickname to the stadium in Baton Rouge. It seems hard to fathom that a school’s fan base would forget the nickname of its own stadium just because it sounded so similar to the nickname of another stadium, but that could have happened.

#2: As pointed out by a reader of the Baton Rouge Advocate in 1999, the name difference could just be “a matter of south Louisiana speech.” Reader Dave Lewis hypothesized: “People in Baton Rouge cannot pronounce ‘breath’ or ‘death. They say, ‘I lost my breaf’ or ‘I was scared to deaf.’ So Death Valley, the proper name, became Deaf Valley.”

“.... No one is sure about it,” former LSU sports information director Herb Vincent said in 1996, referring to the “Deaf” to “Death” switch.

We’ll say this: Both nicknames fit LSU’s wild home, especially since Tiger Stadium is both deafeningly loud and a graveyard for opponents.

“It’s one thing that I recommend everyone before they pass on in this lifetime to check out Tiger Stadium at night,” LSU defensive end Charles Alexander told the Sentinel in 2009. “It’s incredible, loud, everything.”

Here’s one thing that can be confirmed: On Saturday, when Clemson hosts Boston College and LSU welcomes SEC rival Florida, both stadiums will be full of fans who think that their Tigers are best and their stadium is the real “Death Valley.”

 
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