Toward the end of his splendid career at Southern University, then-coach Pete Richardson made an admission that, truth be told, wasn’t all that surprising.
When he moved from Winston-Salem State to Baton Rouge in 1993, Richardson knew about the Bayou Classic. But he couldn’t fully appreciate what it meant to so many people. Not until later.
“I really didn’t understand it when I first came,” Richardson said in 2008. “But as the years went on, you appreciated what the game really meant. It’s at a special time of the year. Most individuals ... will have some turkey, (and) they want to watch some football. And the Bayou Classic is sitting right there. I don’t think there’s anything greater than that.”
Eddie Robinson once said that when Grambling and Southern meet, records don’t matter. Rod Broadway learned the hard way in 2007, when, in his first season as Grambling’s coach, when his Tigers were stunned 22-13 and a former player all but berated Broadway toward the end of the game.
Broadway won the next three meetings - including last year’s game, which happened to be Stump Mitchell’s first taste of the Classic as Southern’s new coach.
“We had some things that went wrong for us,” said Mitchell, whose team got thumped 38-17. “We dropped a touchdown pass on our first drive. We were not able to hold a lead when we got one. There were a lot of things. But this is a different team, a different coaching staff (and) hopefully more fans. So the players know what it means.”
At 1 p.m. Saturday, the resurgent Tigers (6-4, 5-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) - winners of five straight games under Doug Williams, who’s back to coach his alma mater for a second time - face archrival Southern (4-6, 4-4), which is coming off its biggest win of the year, a 26-23 comeback win over Alabama State.
In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the most memorable games that made the Bayou Classic what it is today:
THE GAME THAT STARTED IT ALL: A tradition is born. Redshirt freshman Doug Williams throws a touchdown pass to Dwight Scales, and the Tigers later make a goal-line stand to preserve a shutout victory. Grambling wins 21-0 at old Tulane Stadium before a crowd of 76,753.
QUITE A SURPRISE: Taking a 2-8 record into the Superdome under first-year coach Otis Washington, the Jaguars stun a Superdome crowd of 67,500 by rolling up 400 yards of offense and thrashing the Tigers, 50-20. It is only the second victory for Southern since the Classic began in ‘74.
A FOND FAREWELL.: Hardly anyone remembers the final score of the ‘97 game (Southern, led by Pete Richardson, won its fifth of eight straight Classics, 30-7). Instead, almost everyone remembers it as a grand send-off for Eddie Robinson, who coaches his last game. President Clinton calls. Robinson weeps. The crowd of 64,531 chants Robinson’s name.
WHAT A COMEBACK: All alone in the end zone, Grambling wide receiver Scotty Anderson drops a sure touchdown in the third quarter, opening the door for Southern’s monumental rally. The Jaguars erased a 21-point deficit, tied the score and added two late field goals for a 37-31 win with 67,641 watching along.
END OF AN ERA: As a listless Superdome crowd of 53,618 watches on, the Southern offense sputters in the face of a stout Grambling pass rush, and the Tigers cruise to an easy 31-13 win. It is the final trip to the Superdome for Pete Richardson, who’d cemented his reputation as a big-game coach with a 12-5 record in the Classic, including wins in 10 of his first 11 games.