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Bayou Classic marks major milestone

25th November 2013   ·   0 Comments

With only days remaining until families all over this city, state and nation polish off hearty helpings of turkey, ham, oyster dressing, cornbread dressing, sweet potato pie and the like, Grambling State University and Southern University fans are pulling out those time-tested sweaters, caps and jackets and preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Bayou Classic, the largest Black college sporting event in the U.S.

The inaugural Bayou Classic was first played under that name in 1974 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, although the series itself actually dates back to 1936. Since 1978 the game has been held the final Saturday in November at the Mercedes Benz Superdome. A Waterford crystal trophy is awarded to the winning school. State Farm Insurance has served as the game’s title sponsor since 1996. In November 2005 the game was moved to Houston’s Reliant Stadium because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and several levee breaks several months earlier, the first and only year the Bayou Classic was played outside of the Crescent City. The game returned to the Dome in 2006.

Sometimes referred to as the “Black Super Bowl,” the Bayou Classic game is one of two HBCU football classics to be associated with Thanksgiving weekend; the other is the older, Turkey Day Classic, held two days prior on Thanksgiving itself.

This year’s game pits GSU (1-9), which has fallen on hard times this season, against the Southern University Jaguars (7-4, 6-2 SWAC), who have already captured the Western Division title of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and will play for the SWAC championship against Eastern Division champs Jackson State University (8-3, 8-1 SWAC) in Houston, Texas on Dec. 7.

SU is currently ranked 6th and the JSU Tigers are ranked 5th in the FCS HBCU Football Coaches Poll.

Although the Bayou Classic pits two historically Black institutions of higher learning from Louisiana in the annual Thanksgiving weekend matchup, the pageantry, camaraderie and traditions are unrivaled in college sports.

In April the NBC television network announced that the network will continue to nationally televise the annual matchup through the 2015 season. It first began airing the game in the fall of 1991.

“The Bayou Classic is a slice of Americana, and at the end of the this agreement we will have to have broadcast this iconic event for 20 straight years,” Gary Quinn, Vice President of Programming and Owned Properties for the NBC Sports Group, said in April. “We look forward to continuing to broadcast this Thanksgiving weekend tradition to college football fans across the country.”

“The Bayou Classic is another opportunity to show Ohio State and the rest of the world who really has the baddest band in the land,” Imhotep Alexander, a Southern alum, told The Louisiana Weekly. “When you put Ohio State against SU, FAMU, JSU or some of the other great HBCU bands, it’s not even close. Grambling has gotten better and made the battle of the bands more fun to watch in the Superdome, but they still can’t hang with the Jags.

“The Bayou Classic gives people in every neck of the woods, all over this nation, to see what a real college marching band looks like,” Alexander added. “The SU Human Jukebox is the real thing.”

“This is a big year – the big 4-0 – and we are ready to celebrate with new events and bigger events that celebrate what the Bayou Classic has brought our community for over 40 years,” said Dottie Belletto, president of New Orleans Convention Company, Inc., the management firm of the 40th Annual Bayou Classic. “We’ve put together our schedule of events focused on continuing our work to make Bayou Classic fan and family friendly, but have developed new programming that helps nourish our HBCU community through their financial health and success.”

“Show me a game in all of college football that’s harder-fought and more anticipated than the Bayou Classic, I dare you,” Darrell Stevens, a New Orleans native whose three older brothers all attended Southern, told The Louisiana Weekly. “We don’t expect anybody outside of Southern or Grambling to admit it, but nobody does it better than these HBCUs. It’s every bit as intense as USC-Notre Dame, LSU-Alabama or Texas and Oklahoma. And with a lot more soul and flavor.”

As an added bonus to the full lineup of events, 100 Black Men of New Orleans will host “Riverjam,” a Bayou Classic after party on the Mississippi River on Nov. 30 from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Boarding takes place at 400 Toulouse Street. There will be live music, food, drinks and a silent auction.

The SU Jags edged GSU 38-33 in last year’s contest, ending a four-game GSU winning streak. Grambling’s G-Men hold a 20-19 lead in the Bayou Classic series.

The official Bayou Classic list of events follows:

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013

• Bayou Classic Economic Development Consortium (By invitation only), Time and location TBD

Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013

• Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Day Parade, 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Parade starts at Mercedes-Benz Superdome and ends at the French Market.

Friday, November 29, 2013

•Bayou Classic Golf Tourn-ament, Joe Bartholomew Golf Course at Pontchartrain Park, 9:00 a.m.

• Bayou Classic Empower-ment Exchange Focusing on Health & Wellness, Hyatt Regency Hotel, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

• Bayou Classic Hack-A-Thon, Hyatt Regency Hotel, All day.

• Bayou Classic Coaches’ Luncheon (By invitation only), 12 noon.

• Bayou Classic Fan Fest, Champions Square, Noon to 6:00 p.m.

• Bayou Classic Welcome Re-ception (By invitation only), Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 6:00 p.m.

• Battle of the Bandss and Greek Show, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

• Doc Greggs 2X’s Around the Dome, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Registration starts at 7:30 a.m.

• Bayou Classic Fan Fest, Champions Square, 10:00 a.m. t0 4:00 p.m.

• 40th Annual Bayou Classic, Mercedes Benz Superdome, Doors open at 12 noon, kickoff at 1:30 p.m.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

• Bayou Classic Gospel Brunch, House of Blues, 225 Decatur Street, New Orleans, La., 10:00 a.m.

This article originally published in the November 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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