Earlier this week, long after most students and professors had gone home, the thunderous sounds of the Human Jukebox echoed across Southern University’s campus, bouncing off trees and across the surface of the Mississippi River.
Like the football team, the band was about its business. About practice. This, after all, is Thanksgiving week, and while almost everyone else dreams of turkey and mid-afternoon naps, Southern and Grambling dream of putting on a show at the Bayou Classic.
It’s the most important week of all, the annual renewal of great and storied rivalry, a uniquely American event.
Judging from lines at the SU ticket office earlier this week, the atmosphere inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome figures to be a little more energetic than last year’s snoozer, a 38-17 Grambling win before 43,494 fans — the smallest crowd in Classic history.
Indeed, this year’s Classic will feel different. But it’s not just because of the crowd.
This year’s game will also be marked by the absence of others — longtime Southern fixtures who, for the first time in a long time, won’t be a part of the traveling party for the Bayou Classic.
The changes started last year — and not just because Stump Mitchell had replaced Pete Richardson.
Early last fall, longtime assistant trainer John Ned — one of the most colorful characters on campus, with a loud laugh and a penchant for off-the-wall jokes — started feeling sick.
Doctors noticed a spot on his kidney, and quickly, his health declined. Ned underwent treatment and wanted to return and work the Bayou Classic, but he couldn’t.
Less than a month later, Ned died of cancer at 53.
His longtime boss, Carl “Doc” Williams, was also a fixture at SU. Although short in stature, Williams may have had the largest, warmest heart on campus.
Known for his ever-present smile and happy-go-lucky nature, Williams — a member of the SWAC Hall of Fame — retired for the second time this spring.
Longtime strength-and-conditioning coach Thomas “Zeus” Hall left for the same job at Alcorn State.
He was looking forward to Alcorn’s game at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Oct. 29 — but two weeks before it happened, Hall suddenly, shockingly died in a car accident on U.S. 61.
Others have moved on.
Former sports information director Kevin Manns left for a similar job at Winston-Salem state.
Also, there’s no Roderick Mosley. An SU graduate who was Grambling’s assistant sports information director, Mosley died after suffering a heart attack in September. He was 38.
Saturday, the Jaguars will face Grambling, looking for their first win in the Bayou Classic since 2007. They’ll do so without some of the men who shaped the athletic department in recent years.
They’ll all be missed.
They’re gone, but not at all forgotten.