Included in Wells’ stadium seat collection are seats from Death Valley, the original Alex Box baseball stadium, and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Shane Wells collects LSU sports memorabilia - from signed photos to stadium seats.
When Shane Wells and his wife Kenya built their house five years ago, Shane worked closely with the builders on the design and execution of a second story devoted to his collection of LSU sports memorabilia.
Many fans have what is commonly called a Man Cave, but Shane’s is definitely more upscale. The 1300-square-foot space includes built-in lighted display cases, wraparound shelves near the ceiling for more display, a projection TV with a 106-inch pull-down screen, and six chair-back seats from Tiger Stadium, circa 1980.
The rows of seats, complete with numbers, sit atop purple carpet imprinted with the LSU logo. The space also boasts six seats from the original Alex Box baseball stadium, removed during the recent renovation. Shane hasn’t gotten around to setting out six seats from the Assembly Center basketball arena, which date to the 1990s.
“For bowl games, I’ve had as many as twenty-five guys up here,” said Shane, a football coach and physical education teacher at Live Oak Middle School in Denham Springs. “Each one has his own seat. You always have to sit in that seat, because we’re superstitious.”
Shane himself watches the games in comfort in a purple and gold leather swivel chair with the LSU logo on it. In the center of the wooden floor is an “Eye of the Tiger” logo, similar to the one on the football field, and nearby is a “tiger” rug.
When not entertaining guests, Shane is assembling a collection that must be one of the most comprehensive anywhere—possibly including the Andonie Museum at LSU, which houses sports memorabilia donated by Jack and Priscilla Andonie, also collectors of many years.
He estimates that only one thousandth of the items he owns are on display. A large closet holds bins of jerseys, pants, helmets, and game balls. He has programs, tickets, index cards with player autographs, photographs, letters, and documents—some dating back to the early 1900s.
Pulling out a pair of gold football pants, Shane notes, “I haven’t dated these yet, but they’re probably from the late 1940s or early 1950s. The players wore this style for several years. I’d bet money that LSU doesn’t have a pair of these.”
The fact that the pants were actually worn by an LSU player is important to Shane. A few years ago, he found catcher Micah Gibbs’s uniform—pants, belt, undershirt, batting glove, chest protector, and shin guards—on eBay. Gibbs had worn the uniform in the final game of the 2009 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. After the Tigers beat Texas 11 to 4 to win the national championship, Gibbs left the uniform in a locker at Rosenblatt Stadium, where it was found by somebody who decided to sell it online.
Before bidding, Shane did his homework and “photo matched” the items, checking game photos, and photos of Gibbs after the game, to be sure his uniform matched the items on eBay. Satisfied that they were genuine, Shane bid and won. “I had a few people fighting me for it, but I’m really big into getting authentic game stuff,” he said.
A year later, Shane took the uniform to the man who had worn it. “I had Micah Gibbs sign everything but the belt,” said Shane. “He told me it was a hot day, and the clothes were all soiled and wet and nasty. He had worn them all season long. So he just left it all in his locker.”
After getting the items signed, said Shane, “I gave him a little lesson in life. I told him, ‘One day you’re gonna wish you had this.’ He told me, ‘That’s what my mom said.’”
The older the item, the more Shane treasures it. It’s been 120 years since LSU fielded its first football team in 1893; and he has focused on finding older items, especially autographs, photographs, and programs. He treasures the signature of Edwin Gayle, who played all sixty minutes of LSU’s very first game, a 34-0 loss to Tulane in New Orleans on November 25, 1893.
He also values a photograph of quarterback Young Bussey, who lettered at LSU from 1937 to 1939 and was later a casualty of World War II.
One of his rarest items is a photograph of Malcolm “Sparky” Wade, a basketball star in the 1930s, signed, “To Coach Harry [Rabenhorst]—a great coach and dear friend.”
LSU’s first basketball All-America, Wade averaged 9.7 points per game in 1933 and 12.4 points per game in 1934 to lead the scoring category for the first two years of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). He was named an All-America in 1935, averaging 12.7 points per game while leading LSU to the mythical national championship. (Prior to the advent of national post-season college basketball tournaments in 1937, various third-party organizations selected basketball’s national champions.) A native of Jena, Wade is considered the greatest dribbler and backcourt star of his era.
“It’s pretty tough to find a Sparky Wade autograph,” said Shane. “Nobody was seeking them out back then.”
Rabenhorst began his long career at LSU in 1925 as head coach of the basketball team. In 1927, he also became head baseball coach. In basketball he won the 1935 mythical national championship and made the 1953 Final Four. In baseball, he won two SEC titles, in 1939 and 1946, and was named SEC Coach of the Year both years. In 1942, Rabenhorst left LSU to serve in World War II. Upon his return, he resumed coaching the baseball team from 1946 until 1956 and the basketball team from 1946 to 1957. He became athletic director in 1967, serving until 1968.
“A lot of those guys back then coached more than one sport,” said Shane. “Bernie Moore was the track coach, but he was also the football coach.”
Sparky Wade’s basketball prowess was later eclipsed by that of “Pistol Pete” Maravich. In his three years at LSU from 1968 to 1970, Maravich scored 3,667 points, still an NCAA record. The 6’ 5” guard averaged 44.2 points per game and led the NCAA in scoring in each of his three seasons. Considered one of the greatest players in basketball history, Maravich died of an undetected congenital heart defect while playing a pickup game in 1988.
Owing to its scarcity, Shane prizes a miniature basketball handed out as a souvenir at Maravich’s last home game. The ball is signed “Pistol Pete.” Even more rare, it is also signed by Pete’s father and coach, Press Maravich. The ball was found at an estate sale for $2.
In football, Shane is concentrating on ephemera, paper items intended for temporary use. “I like the old photos and programs because they put you right there,” he said. “You can’t find this stuff any day of the week. It may take you years to find it.”
A unique item is a 1935 photo of the football team in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The date was October 10, 1935, and the Tigers were on their way to New York to play Manhattan College at Ebbets Field. “Huey Long had been assassinated a month earlier,” said Shane of the U.S. senator and former governor who was obsessed with LSU football. “This [game] was part of his plan to showcase LSU.”
Shane is currently focusing on 1958, when coach Paul Dietzel led his team to an undefeated season capped by a win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. LSU was named national champion in both the AP and the Coaches’ polls, the first recognized national championship for LSU in the poll era. The team was led by running back Billy Cannon, whose greatest exploit came the following season. On Halloween night 1959, Cannon fielded a punt in the Ole Miss game and returned it eighty-nine yards for a touchdown. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1959.
One of Shane’s favorite pieces is a Heisman Trophy ballot for Cannon, signed by sportswriter Bob McCarty of The Sacramento Union. Shane has collected nearly all of the 1958 programs, several game tickets, a football with the autographs of thirty-two players, and a program from the Halloween 1959 game with Ole Miss. “I opted not to get that program signed,” he said. “I feel like it’s special enough as it is.”
Every collector has his “want list.” High on Shane’s list is an autograph of Ellwood “Doc” Fenton, quarterback of the unbeaten 1908 team that finished its season 10-0. Fenton was LSU’s first football superstar; and until Billy Cannon came along fifty years later, the 1908 team was considered LSU’s best ever. “I would really love to have anything signed by Doc Fenton,” said Shane.
Ruth Laney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.