It was a party 40 years in the making.
With a brass band blaring in the background, a village of tents filled the grounds at the heart of Tulane’s campus, anticipating the first Green Wave football game on campus since 1974.
“There’s nothing like being at home,” said longtime Tulane fan Howie Farrell as he partied on the Lavin-Bernick Center quad. “This is not even close to anything we’ve had in so long. To be on campus and to have this party is what college football is really about in New Orleans. I love it.”
Although the Green Wave’s 38-21 loss to Georgia Tech in the stadium’s inaugural game left much to be desired by Tulane supporters, the pregame festivities were a clear victory.
Students, alumni, fans and even casual onlookers milled around the campus to take in the scene as green filled every nook and cranny of the areas between Freret and Willow streets, celebrating the return of football to the neighborhood.
Everyone from lifelong season ticket holders who spent Saturdays in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to those who haven’t been to a game since Tulane Stadium closed and others who said they’ve never attended a Tulane football game — all were congregated together under a blistering sun.
It was the vision Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson and then-President Scott Cowen had when they embarked on the Yulman Stadium project in 2009 and introduced it to the public in 2011.
“I think this is even more than what we expected,” former Tulane marketing director and Saturday tailgater Jason Potuto said. “We talked for years about the feel we are trying to bring into the stadium and make it like Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest and really engage with New Orleans. But the way people showed up to this today is really even beyond my imagination.
“Tulane has wanted to connect with the community for a long time, and this feels like the first time in a long time we have been able to do that. It’s a big moment for everyone.”
After months of tense discussions with neighbors in the university area — which led to the New Orleans City Council voting to temporarily block the stadium’s construction — many were seen walking from their homes toward the tailgating area.
“I’m a neighbor, and I think this is just great,” said Alan Borne, who lives just blocks from the university. “All is forgiven from my eyes.”
Still, heavy traffic greeted the typically quiet neighborhood in the afternoon and evening, leading to backups on many side streets, shrunken parking options and several curious people wondering why tow trucks took their cars.
Beyond the tailgating, Tulane worked on creating a series of traditions, starting with a TU-branded Mardi Gras float parked on McAlister Drive. After Cowen banged Tulane’s victory bell three times, it signaled the Green Wave Marching Band to begin a second-line which traveled through the campus to the plaza of Yulman Stadium.
For those fans who spent the past four decades watching crowds dwindle in the Superdome, Saturday was a jolt back into relevancy. Generations of families walked the campus grounds together, as Tulane’s aging fan base was greeted by an obvious youth movement.
“I brought my son because I want to remember him being with Mommy when he was at the first game — because one day, people are going to be talking about it, and he can tell them his mom took him to the game,” said Carey Schaffler-Parett, who traveled in from Memphis, Tennessee. “If you love the school and this city, it’s a huge moment.”
The youth also came in the form of 5,000 students who bore down on Yulman Stadium. Their packed end-zone section marked the largest turnout of students on record and produced most of the noise as club-section dwellers quickly fled for the air conditioning and shade once inside Yulman.
“We may have lost the game, but we won something pretty special today,” said Ron Roberts, a nearby resident. “This place has the potential to be really special, and it felt pretty special to be there today. There’s a lot of fun left ahead.”