WOL Listen Live
WOL Featured Video
CLOSE

By MARK F. GRAY

NEW ORLEANS – Of the 37 times that Grambling and Southern have played in their annual Thanksgiving weekend tradition known as the Bayou Classic I have covered at least 10 of them. Not that it makes me an expert but this game is special to me because it was one of the games in the formative years of my college fandom that made me appreciate the African American national pastime that is Black College Football.

The Bayou Classic is to Black College Football what the Rose Bowl is to major college football. With all due respect to those in Birmingham with the Magic City and in Orlando who stage the Florida Classic, the Bayou is the mother of all HBCU football classics. It was the first of the bitter rivalry games that garnered mainstream attention and cross over appeal from the masses.

You may not know that Prairie View A&M is defending SWAC Champion or that Alabama State and Texas Southern are meeting in Birmingham in couple of weeks for this year’s championship. You may not realize that pro football Hall of Famer Mel Blount is a Southern grad or that Grambling alumnus Tank Younger was the first HBCU player to play in the NFL. You may not realize that this Louisiana rivalry contest is the only one of consequence in the state. Who does LSU look to play every year from their home state Louisiana Tech?

Maybe not.

Grambling may be the signature brand of Black College Football because of the legend that was coach Eddie Robinson. Robinson understood of marketing and took his team all over the country and around the world which did as much for the African American national pastime because they were such a draw. The G-Men in New Orleans on Thanksgiving weekend was a no brainer and thus an event was born.

While the Tigers are substance the flavor of the event comes from Jaguar nation. Southern has one of the biggest traveling fan bases in Black College Football and they roll en masse to all parts of the country to follow them. There are as many fans around the country of the Human Jukebox marching band as there are of the football team even with its history.

However, when Southern is struggling things are not the same. Such was the case this year where the energy in The Superdome wasn’t the same. Jaguar nation was worked into a frenzy when first year coach Stump Mitchell promised a 12-0 record and a championship. He delivered the first 9 loss season in the history of the program and the Jaguar nation didn’t make the trip down I-10.

Mitchell appears to have made the cardinal mistake of grouping all Black College Football programs into the same category. You can bow out gracefully and fade into oblivion when coaching at Morgan and you lose nine games. At Southern, fans not only call for your head, they don’t buy tickets and make their way to New Orleans for the Bayou Classic.

The recipe for the Bayou Classic has always been Grambling’s style working with Southern to create the perfect mix. Mitchell has to find a way to stir the pot and restore the flavor or the classic may lose it.