He was physically spent, covered in sweat and dirt, and emotionally devastated. Jabbar Juluke stood on the west sideline at A.W. Mumford Stadium, waiting for the agony to end.
It was Oct. 17, 1992, a cool night for a hot rivalry. Jackson State rallied from a 12-point deficit to drop Southern, 25-24, and for Juluke, the closing minutes were rough.
A junior safety on that ‘92 team, he wanted one of two things: to hit the rewind button and play better, or hit fast-forward and get the shame over with.
Juluke later said that those closing moments were nightmarish. In truth, the nightmare had only just begun.
JSU’s thunderous marching band, The Sonic Boom of the South, was into it. And the JSU fans were definitely into it.
For them, it doesn’t get much better than beating Southern in Baton Rouge. Victories like that one ranked up there with job promotions, wedding receptions and winning lottery tickets.
And in ‘92, they made sure to get their money’s worth.
“They were really giving it to us,” Juluke said of the JSU crowd. “They were taking every opportunity to let us know that they came into Mumford Stadium, and they had the better team. ... It was right then and there that we decided we were going to do whatever we had to so we could beat J-State the next year up in Jackson.”
Which, incidentally, is exactly what they did.
In 1993, at spacious Veterans Memorial Stadium, the Jaguars returned the favor, thumping the Tigers 16-3.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, Southern (1-1, 1-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference) and Jackson State (2-0, 0-0) return to Mumford, eager to add another chapter to one of black college football’s best rivalries.
The coaches, players, fans and even the home sites change. The series still runs hot. It always has.
“When we played at Southern, I never had to give an emotional pregame speech,” said W.C. Gordon, who coached the Tigers from 1976-91. “The kids would already be fired up.”
Yes, everyone knows that Grambling and Southern are true archrivals, that the Bayou Classic can make or break their seasons. But after that game, cousins and colleagues from both sides can get together for a steak and a laugh.
Southern and Jackson State? That doesn’t really happen. The two sides don’t mix very well.
“With Jackson, it’s way more heated,” said senior receiver LaQuinton Evans, a Mansfield native who said he has friends at Grambling, but none at JSU.
“I don’t really want to say it’s a hate with Jackson. But yeah, it’s a hate. The Grambling game is more advertised, and it’s on national TV and it’s our sister school. So it’s going to be a rivalry. But with Jackson ... it’s personal.”
This year, the game also a little different feel to it. Proving that everything old can be new again, the series returns to Mumford - a place Jackson State hasn’t visited since 2007. In fact, the Tigers have only played in the 25,500-seat stadium twice since 1998.
Since then, SU played three home games at the Superdome from 2000-04, and one “home” game at Jackson in 2009.
The ‘09 home game was an experiment, and although SU made a profit of about $450,000, the move upset fans who didn’t understand why their Jaguars would willingly play on enemy ground.
Now, those home fans are getting what they wanted.
“We’re coming to their hometown. We’ve been there before, in 2007, and we came out with it,” JSU coach Rock Comegy recalled. “I’m sure it’ll be a big game for them - a super-big game, as it is for us. It starts our conference (schedule) off, and it’s a big game. It’s a game you want to chalk up on your side. So I think it’s going to be a game to see.”
It usually is.
It’s the Human Jukebox and the Sonic Boom. A virtual sea of tailgaters. Walter Payton, Armond Brown and goal-line stands. Eric Perri and game-winning field goals. Pete Richardson and SU dominance. Gordon and JSU dominance.
It’s also an atmosphere unmatched in black college football, let alone the Football Championship Subdivision.
Let’s put it this way: Twice in the 1990s, when the teams ruled the SWAC, games in Jackson drew more than 60,000 fans. Last year’s meeting drew an announced crowd of 42,053.
Appalachian State, last year’s FCS attendance leader, averaged 25,715 per home game.
“You just have two fan bases that are very adamant about their football,” Juluke said, “and they’re both very knowledgeable about football. ... We always felt that if you wanted to win the SWAC, you had to come through Southern and Jackson State. So you knew that if you won that game, you were in good position to win the championship yourself.”
Stump Mitchell got his first taste of the atmosphere last season.
Having spent nine years as a pro running back and 11 more as an NFL assistant coach, Mitchell was used to big-game atmospheres. So as the Southern team taxied toward the parking lots at Veterans Memorial Stadium, the Jaguars coach immediately fell in love.
On one side, SU fans lined the street. They clapped, waved pompoms and held their index fingers in the air.
On the other side, Mitchell said, JSU fans slapped the side of the bus. They held fingers in the air, all right. But they weren’t index fingers.
Some of the JSU faithful even suggested places for Mitchell to go. Two popular destinations: 1) back to the NFL, and 2) someplace much, much hotter.
And kickoff was still hours away.
“That was an awesome experience,” Mitchell said. “I think if there was a lot of experience like that, you wouldn’t have as many guys deciding to go off to the major institutions - because (players) can get to the NFL from the SWAC. That’s been proven. But that atmosphere was awesome.”
But it hasn’t always been clean.
At Jackson in 2009, before pregame warmups, four of SU’s game jerseys went missing from the visitors’ locker room.
According to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper, after JSU’s 32-26 win at Mumford in 2007, a tire on one of the team buses was slashed.
In 1996, a Southern University police officer fired a shot into the air to break up a brawl outside Mumford, between the stadium and the tennis courts. The game was halted in the third quarter, with players, coaches and officials hitting the ground.
Gordon, 81, said he believes the atmosphere surrounding the game has changed.
“Not totally, but to some extent,” he said. “I think a lot of times, that comes when you have people who didn’t grow up with SWAC football. ... It was always a family atmosphere, and (now) it doesn’t seem to have as much of that family appeal. That’s from both schools, Jackson State and Southern.”
Still, this week, Gordon made plans to stay with some longtime friends in Baton Rouge - SU alumni, in fact.
Saturday night, he’ll find a spot in the stadium and watch the game as a fan. He can’t pass up the chance.
“If you lose to Southern while you’re in Jackson, people will say, ?Fire the coach!’ Now I get to sit in the stands on the 50-yard line and do the same thing,” Gordon said with a laugh.
It’s tough to miss Southern and Jackson State. It’s an event. And it runs hot.
“It’s more than just a game, at this point, with Jackson,” Evans said. “Since I’ve been playing football, this is the biggest rivalry I’ve been a part of.”