Forty years ago, Walter and Lillian Browder decided to introduce their 2-year-old twins to their passion for Southern University football. As it turned out, that wasn’t the only introduction that took place that day.
Choosing the visitors’ side of the field because the home side was full, the Browders sat on the opposite sideline near Jackson State fans Jesse and Mary Spriggins.
“As we were cheering our teams on and on, we would say different things about our team, and they would say different things about their team,” Lillian Browder recalled.
By the time Southern escaped with a 21-19 win, the two couples enjoyed their conversation enough that they traded addresses and phone numbers.
“By the next year, I forgot all about it,” Walter Browder said.
But the Sprigginses hadn’t.
They invited the Browders to come to the 1975 game and stay at their home in Jackson, and the Browders took them up on the offer. Thus began an annual tradition that celebrates its 40th birthday on Saturday.
Once again, one family will host the other when Southern plays Jackson State at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. Every time the game has been played in Baton Rouge — and in 2005, when it was played in New Orleans — the Browders have been the hosts. And, when the two teams have met in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game in 1999 in Birmingham, Alabama, and last year in Houston, the families have booked adjacent hotel rooms.
They barbecue, catch up about family, talk about their teams. They also find creative ways to enjoy the rivalry and how it created a lasting bond.
Some years, they create T-shirts. They have given plaques to each other celebrating their friendship. About four or five years into the tradition, Walter Browder bought a trophy, and they decided that the family whose team won that year’s game got to keep it until the next game.
Mostly, that has made it the Spriggins’ possession.
After Southern won from 1974-76, JSU won seven consecutive times and 10 of the next 11. Since then, the rivalry has been fairly balanced, with Southern winning 14 games — including both SWAC championship contests – and Jackson State winning 13.
They visit even when football games aren’t involved, occasionally dropping by when traveling through the other’s town. Mary Spriggins said the Browders looked after their son, Roderick, when he attended Southern.
“When Walter had a heart attack, we came down there,” Mary Spriggins said. “It’s gotten to be a family thing instead of a friend thing. … It’s an ongoing relationship, not only that particular game.”
But the game is a tradition that continues, giving them a chance to catch up on how children that met each other in the grandstands have now grown up. Football is just the excuse to get together.
“I’m calling it a family reunion this year,” Mary Spriggins said.