Can you believe it? Southern University and A&M College’s Jaguar football team will be in Athens, Georgia, today to play the big bad University of Georgia Bulldogs of the Southeastern Conference. That’s right, the SEC.
Any prognosticator worth his or her salt, even proud SU fans like myself, would not predict that this will be a close game. This is David versus King Kong.
In athletic circles, SU versus Georgia is called a money game or a body-bag game. You get the idea: A small school gets a lot of money to play a major conference school. The small school risks injuries to its players who may not be as big or as athletic as those of the larger schools.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) such as Southern have to play these games to finance their cash-strapped athletic departments that don’t have wealthy donors, large corporate contributors or big, sold-out stadiums to generate money.
There are reports that SU will get at least $650,000 for the game. That sum may be larger than what SU will get from all of its away games combined.
But there is something else about this game, and this is where you have to forgive me as a Southern graduate.
Those Georgia fans, including high school students and interested observers, will see thousands of members of the Jaguar Nation proudly decked out in their Columbia blue and gold paraphernalia. They will be more than willing to answer questions about this small school in Baton Rouge that Georgians might know nothing about.
The Georgia fans are probably already surprised by the sea of RVs camped around the stadium this morning. It was that sight many years ago that prompted Advocate Sports Editor Joe Schiefelbein, then a reporter covering SU football, to write that it “looked like a Jaguar Nation.”
It will be good that some of those people may read something about Southern history and discover that SU has produced 10 U.S. military generals, including Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the hero of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They may read that Hall of Fame football player Aeneas Williams is an SU grad or that Avery Johnson, the new men’s head basketball coach at the University of Alabama, is a Southern grad.
I know the Georgia fans will take note, like I do, of the old SU graduates, some of whom will be using canes, walkers, wheelchairs and the assistance of family and friends to make it to seat no matter the row.
Maybe the Bulldogs will be impressed by the number of young entrepreneurs from SU who will be mixing and mingling today and tonight, attempting to establish business relationships with their young counterparts in the black and red.
And Lord knows they will be impressed by the “Human Jukebox,” the best college marching band this side of glory. They will be stunned to know, as was a New York Times reporter was a few years ago, about the long hours and dedication it takes for the legendary band to creates so much magic.
Hopefully, they will read the history of this small school and know that it still has the black bell that woke students in 1914. It’s the same bell that, years earlier, told slaves to start their workdays that lasted from “can’t see to can’t see.”
But more than anything, I hope fans of Georgia and those who just happen to see all of those Southern students, alumni and supporters understand the true make up the Jaguar Nation. That group is resilient and always looking toward the future.
I hope with everything that the football team comes out with a victory. Heck, that’s why they play the game.
When today’s game is over, the Georgia fans shouldn’t be surprised by the number of SU followers who will be there to hear the band play the alma mater and to sing this great verse: “O Southern, Dear Southern, We owe our all to Thee, In downfall or vict’ry, We’ll always loyal be.”
Ed Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.