As Ray Charles might have put it, “The night time is the right time for Tulane football.”
Last Saturday’s second game at Yulman Stadium, the first played under the lights, demonstrated just how much the move from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is paying off for the Green Wave in atmosphere alone, especially after the sun goes down.
That same sun made the debut game a week before unbearable for many, including a few dozen who needed treatment for heat problems. Many other sought shade in the suites, the club areas and concourses, giving a sold out stadium the appearance of one that was half-empty.
Imagine what the players were enduring on the field turf surface that dehydrated and debilitated even the heartiest and left feet blistered.
Daytime football in New Orleans in September is simply not a good idea.
Prime time, however, is perfect.
With apologies to Tulane fans, the other night at Yulman felt like you were a smaller version of Tiger Stadium.
“The lights and finally being out there in front of the big crowd, is something you dream about,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee, who threw three touchdown passes in the Wave 35-20 victory against Southeastern Louisiana. “You have more energy when the sun’s not beating down on you, and the fans are more into it.
“A big reason a lot of us came here was for the stadium and that kind of feeling. It was like we were finally playing big-time college football.”
That was the idea of building an on-campus stadium — reengaging the surrounding community and especially the student body to help revive a program that’s long struggled for success and attention.
But it’s doubtful that those who made the largest investment in the school’s athletic history could have foreseen just how energizing a night game would be.
“Winning and being able to move about without having to consume gallons of water obviously had a lot to do with it,” radio play-by-play man Todd Graffagnini said. “But I could see everybody around me and below me enjoying it.
“After it was over, I got text messages from numerous people who were there saying that was the most fun they’d had at a Tulane football game in a long, long time.”
There was a time when Tulane preferred night football, although lights weren’t added to Tulane Stadium until 1957.
“I beat Tommy Casanova for a touchdown in front of 83,000 people in 1970,” longtime Tulane radio analyst Steve Barrios said of a prime time game against LSU. “That’s still a great memory for me.
“I think there’s something about nighttime football that the players and crowd just feeds off.”
After the move to the Superdome in 1975, nighttime games were the norm until Tommy Bowden became the coach in 1997 and declared he preferred afternoon starts.
While many fans expressed their displeasure, that situation continued through the regimes of Chris Scelfo, Bob Toledo and current coach Curtis Johnson, although CJ isn’t married to the idea.
“I’d play games on Mars if I thought it would help us win,” he said. “But I loved the atmosphere the other night.
“The student section was awesome.”
The players agreed.
“The other night, with the crowd and the band and everything it felt like I was back in high school,” said sophomore defensive tackle Tanzel Smart.
Added junior cornerback Lorenzo Doss, “We practice in the mornings, so you’ve got to sort of adjust your body clock to play at night. But it was a lot of fun.”
The Southeastern game won’t be the last one at night at Yulman this season. On Friday, Oct. 31 — Halloween — Tulane will host Cincinnati in a game being promoted as “The World’s Largest Costume Party at Ghoulman Stadium.”
“That ought to be another good reason for the students to party,” Lee said.
But the kickoff time for that game, like the rest for the Wave, was dictated by the desires of TV, either ESPN or the CBS Sports Network, thanks to the American Athletic Conference contract with the networks.
That was why the stadium’s inaugural game against Georgia Tech had a 3 p.m. start. LSU might get to let the SEC’s network partners know it prefers late starts, and they will acquiesce. Tulane doesn’t have that kind of clout.
However, kickoff times for games on ESPN3 are pretty much left up to the schools since they are streamed over the Internet. Thus, Tulane was able to pick a 7 p.m. start for the SLU game.
And if given that choice again, Tulane will keep them at night, at least the Oct. 11 one against Connecticut.
The other two, Nov 15 against Memphis and Dec. 6 against Temple also are TBA, although the one against the Owls seems likely for an 11:30 a.m. start. Given the date, that might be for the best.
Going forward, school officials have already made the decision avoid early-season day games if at all possible.
For his part, Graffagnini would like to see late season games get 2:30 p.m. or so starts where daylight turns to twilight which turns to darkness by the time it’s over.
“In the Superdome, you really never knew if it was night or day,” he said. “But when the weather gets cooler and the clock goes back to standard time, games like that give you the best of both worlds.”
We’ll take that, too.