The football bounces in unpredictable ways. Just consider the game between LSU and BYU, relative football strangers when they meet for the first time Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in their flood-fleeing season opener.
When Perry Rodrigue left his close-knit family in Louisiana to go and serve in the Marine Corps in the early 1960s, he couldn’t have imagined that football would take him to Brigham Young. But that’s where he wound up, a rare link between two disparate college football worlds.
“I tell people, ‘Here I am, a beer-drinking, hell-raising Catholic who went to a Mormon school,’ ” Rodrigue said, laughing. “I worked at a bar since I was 15.
“I don’t regret any of it.”
There are five Rodrigue brothers, all still living in the Houma-Thibodaux area, all of whom played college football in the 1960s and ’70s.
Ruffin Sr. played center at LSU on Charles McClendon’s first three teams (1962-64), followed by Berris in the late ’60s, though the latter’s career was cut short by injury and he never lettered. Donald was a fullback at McNeese State from 1968-71, while G.A. Rodrigue played linebacker at UL-Lafayette from 1972-75.
“As a kid I was always thinking he was so cool for playing for BYU,” said Ruffin Rodrigue Jr., the local restaurateur who played at LSU from 1986-89, earning honors as an All-Southeastern Conference guard in 1988. “But as I grew older, I started to understand that being a Marine was really the cool story.”
Perry was stationed in San Diego with the Marine Corps, playing four years for the base football team. Near the end of his hitch, a BYU assistant named Chris Apostol came and convinced a group of Marines to play for the Cougars.
“Prince of a guy. I guess you’d say he was charming,” said Rodrigue, a running back. “He was a very up-front guy, and we decided to go.”
There were seven former Marines who played for BYU. There was a second former Marine from Louisiana: Casey Boyett, a wingback from Jena who played from 1966-68 (a co-captain as a senior) and now lives in Hawaii.
The Marines “landed” in Provo, Utah, in 1965, though Rodrigue couldn’t play until 1966 because he started a season at Southeastern Louisiana before joining the military. They helped a Cougars team that went 3-6-1 in 1964 go 6-4 and win the Western Athletic Conference in 1965, followed by an 8-2 record in 1966 and another 6-4 mark in 1967.
“The Marine thing completely turned it around,” said Marc Lyons, quarterback at BYU from 1967-69 and and a longtime color analyst on its radio broadcasts.
Lyons remembers Rodrigue and all the Marines fondly.
“Perry was a block of muscle,” Lyons recalled. “A tough kid. “They (the Marines) brought leadership and stability. They really made a difference for our team to have that example.”
One of the seven, Phil Odle, played wide receiver from 1968-70 for the Detroit Lions. Rodrigue, a starter in 1967, had some interest from pro teams but had hurt his knee and decided to end his career.
Ruffin Jr. helped his uncle Perry secure tickets for the LSU-BYU game — but after the game moved from Houston, he said he may just stay at home and watch it on TV. His ties to the school have waned over the years. Rodrigue has returned for reunions, one in 2015 to celebrate the WAC title, but his familiar faces have mostly left the scene.
“Time moves on,” Rodrigue said. “I wouldn’t recognize anyone. Everybody’s gone — the professors, the coaches. I wouldn’t know anybody there now.”
But his three years in Provo, beneath the Wasatch Mountains on the BYU campus, still produce fond memories.
“It was a beautiful place to be,” Rodrigue said.
Perhaps it's enough to leave it at that.