LAFAYETTE - The moment longtime University of Louisiana at Lafayette football fan Bryan Lovas and others like him thought might never arrive finally became a reality Monday night when it became official that the Ragin’ Cajuns program he has followed for 30 years was going to a postseason bowl game.
Lovas and his family were among about an estimated 2,000 who watched inside the Leon Moncla indoor practice facility, as ULL accepted an invitation to play in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Dec. 17 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Not since the 1970 Grantland Rice Bowl had the Cajuns played in a postseason football game, an event Lovas felt was overdue. This will be the third bowl appearance in school history.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it would ever happen, almost like the Saints and having them winning the Super Bowl,” said Lovas, who attended the event with his wife, Shelly, and children, Olivia and Adam, who was dressed in a youth size ULL football jersey.
Merchandise vendors were especially busy at one end of the facility, selling ULL football apparel. Lines were especially long for New Orleans Bowl baseball caps with the Cajuns’ name etched on one side.
Those in attendance also witnessed two highlight films of the Cajuns’ season, presentations of selected players and a short speech from ULL coach Mark Hudspeth.
Afterward, acting bowl chairman Paul Valteaux presented Hudspeth with the bowl invitation attached to the end of a rope painted in ULL’s red and white school colors, symbolizing Hudspeth’s season-long mantra of his players grabbing onto an imaginary rope to demonstrate team unity.
Lovas’ feelings were matched by many at the event.
“It’s just something I’m very excited about. In our generation, we’ve never experienced this and it’s the same way for those older who have waited even longer. It’s history,” said Thomas David, 27, of Lafayette.
Kent Gerdsen and his wife, Greer, said they’ve attended games at Cajun Field and on the road since the mid-1970s.
They, too, wanted to be part of the program’s dream.
“It’s just an awesome time for UL’s football history,” Kent Gerdsen said.
Gerdsen said the New Orleans Bowl is the perfect fit for the Cajuns.
“New Orleans has so much to offer a Ragin’ Cajuns fan. It’s close, it’s a game that’s going to be inside a dome and then there’s Bourbon Street for all those Cajun fans,” he said.
Valteaux and Billy Ferrante, the bowl’s executive director, said they’ve never seen anything like the atmosphere for ULL’s acceptance, which included participation by the ULL band and supporting spirit groups.
“It’s certainly the greatest one that I’ve been to. In terms of enthusiasm, this has to be the best,” Valteaux said.
Ferrante said bowl officials think the crowd the Cajuns and their yet unnamed opponent will bring to the game should surpass the 30,000 who watched the New Orleans Bowl game between Troy and Southern Miss in 2008.
Valteaux said it’s also significant that for the first time in the bowl’s 11-year history that a Louisiana team is one of the participants.
“It’s the epitome of the purpose of this bowl, having a Louisiana team play in order to showcase the city of New Orleans and their own city,” he said.
ULL’s opponent won’t be decided until at least this weekend, after some Conference USA teams complete their regulation seasons, Ferrante said.
Conference USA teams have played in all but two games in New Orleans Bowl history.
Tickets for the game cost $62 or $42. Tickets purchased from ULL’s ticket office will be located on the school’s side.
Tickets can be purchased by calling or visiting the school’s box offices at at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field (337-851-2011) or the Cajundome (337-265-2357). Or tickets may also be purchased at RaginCajuns.com.
Fans that have reserved tickets will be contacted to by the school’s ticket office to finalize their purchase.