With a tie-breaking game Saturday, there is a lot of excitement among Grambling State University and Southern University fans: This year’s Bayou Classic football game promises to be a big deal with a lot of the line.
The Bayou Classic is considered by many to be the grandfather of historically Black college and university football bowl games, especially by those in the Southwestern Athletic Conference that includes Southern and GSU. The record for Bayou Classic wins is tied at 24-24, so this year’s game is a tiebreaker. It will be televised nationally on NBC at 1 pm That means thousands will enjoy the game in person and millions more will enjoy a Thanksgiving football tradition.
At a Monday news conference at the Caesars Superdome, speaker after speaker talked about the weekend in the context of their individual experiences. GSU President Rick Gallot has been going to Bayou Classics long before he became president. He attended the game as a Grambling-born child when the game was played at Tulane Stadium. SU president-chancellor Dennis Shields is experiencing his first Bayou Classic, an event he’s heard about as he progressed with his career — and he heard a lot more as he started his new job a few months ago.
Like Shields, GSU football coach Hue Jackson is experiencing his first Bayou Classic. He’s been on the national stage as an NFL coach, but he said there’s nothing like the Bayou Classic. Southern University football coach Eric Dooley has been to plenty Bayou Classics, including his time as a GSU football player, later as GSU’s offensive coordinator and now with Southern.
Whether it’s a first-time experience or a close-to-lifetime experience, the Bayou Classic is a heck of a weekend of activities and events — and it takes a lot of coordination.
There’s the big game, and more. There’s the annual battle of the bands with Southern’s Human Jukebox and Grambling State’s World-Famed Tiger Marching Band. Beyond their musical excellence, they are band celebrities. SU’s band performed with Lizzo. GSU performed with Beyoncé. Both have been a part of televised documentaries. Both have produced successful band directors and musicians.
Each university has a Bayou Classic coordinator. They ensure that NOCCI, the Bayou Classic event management company, has on-the-ground partners who coordinate some of everything, including sponsorships, student engagement and more. Southern’s Classic coordinator is Alfred Harrell, CEO of the Southern University System Foundation. Grambling State’s coordinator is Melanie E. Jones, vice president for university advancement and innovation.
Southern has 85 football players. GSU has 125. Southern has 17 coaches and graduate assistants. GSU has 35 coaches and support staff. Southern has 32 cheerleaders. GSU has 42. The student-athletes aren’t the only students who help bring fans and supporters. Both schools have scores of other students and representatives because it’s a wonderful experience for them, and it’s a key recruiting opportunity.
Both schools use this week’s activities to add to Southern’s 7,170 student enrollment and GSU’s 5,073 student enrollment. In addition to recruitment staff, each institution has student ambassadors helping tell high school students and parents why they love their respective schools. Miss Grambling State University and her royal court will be there. Miss Southern University and her royal court will, too. Both schools have Student Government Association representatives, ROTC teams and other students participating.
As this weekend’s Classic ends, they’ll start working on a milestone event, the 50th Bayou Classic. That’s certain to be a special weekend next year. As the Bayou Classic continues to grow and change with the times, this year’s on-field activities will break a tie, but we hope both schools will emerge victorious from their other objectives this week.