Tulane players and coaches offer a different version of how the football team’s new Takeaway Beads concept started, but they all agree on the outcome.
The derivative of the Miami Hurricanes' turnover chain that went viral last season has worked as they envisioned.
Yahoo Sports, ESPN.com and USA Today led a parade of coverage during the Green Wave’s opener against Wake Forest, showing a picture of linebacker Lawrence Graham wearing the big, gaudy, multi-colored Mardi Gras beads after a fourth-quarter interception.
“There’s people all over the country who have said stuff to me about that, and it’s through social media that everybody’s heard about it,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “These guys are actively engaged all day, looking at their phones, looking at TV, talking to somebody. If we were doing this 20 years ago, it would have taken a whole season for somebody to figure it out.”
Fritz said the Wave’s defensive coaches approached him with the idea a day before the Wake Forest game.
“They’d been talking about it and wanted to have a little New Orleans flavor to it,” he said. “I’m a planner and an organized guy and was like, wait a second. I said 'You guys write up the guidelines and present it to me here in a couple of hours, and then we’ll present it to the kids tonight.' Obviously I’m not a big surprise guy.”
Senior safety Roderic Teamer offered a different story, saying the idea originated with tight end Charles Jones.
“He actually was trying to have a type of sword or something like that, but we figured the Mardi Gras beads would fit New Orleans more,” Teamer said. “As far as I know, it was Charles’ idea and everyone loves it. The offensive guys want to get some touchdown beads.”
Cornerback Donnie Lewis became the first player with the honor of wearing the beads after an interception in the second quarter against Wake Forest. But the whole deal attracted national attention when Graham intercepted an ill-advised pass in the fourth quarter, raced to the sideline and had the beads placed around his neck.
Defensive end Cameron Sample almost became the third bead-wearer on the Demon Deacons’ next possession. A deflected pass was headed right into his hands when linebacker Marvin Moody, making his own play on the ball, knocked it away from him without seeing him.
“I wish I could have gotten my Mardi Gras beads, but that’s just all of us playing hard trying to create turnovers,” Sample said. “Those turnover beads get the fans into it and the sideline hype. It’s just a big momentum swing, a boost for the whole team. I think every position but the D-linemen has gotten them, so we’re going to try to get our fair share.”
Lewis and Graham did not get to bring the beads home because Tulane lost. Teamer and fellow safety Chase Kuerschen were more fortunate after their interceptions in Tulane’s 42-17 victory against Nicholls State.
“After we win, whoever gets the turnover beads during games gets to keep them,” Teamer said. “So that’s also fun, seeing who gets the most turnover beads (for the season).”
Fritz laid down some ground rules to make sure the gimmick did not become a distraction, and he is happy with the result.
“I watch some games and (other players) are still worried about the turnover (object) two series later,” he said. “You’ve got to move on. But we want to have fun and play this game the way it’s supposed to be played. We’re embracing New Orleans. We’re New Orleans’ college football team.”
Freshman nose tackle Jeffery Johnson (unspecified injury) did not practice again Thursday but has not been ruled out of the UAB game. Fritz said Wednesday he expected him to play, and it will be a game-time decision. … Fritz said quarterback Justin McMillan, who transferred from LSU in late August, had learned about half of the playbook and was getting close to being ready to play. Coaches are designing limited packages for him for each game in case he is needed.