You can find an update on this post here.
By Alan Bean
When the Grambling Tigers and the Southern Jaguars meet tomorrow in the New Orleans Superdome to play their annual Bayou Classic, two members of the Jena 6 will be on the field. Robert Bailey Jr. is number 85 for the Tigers and Mychal Bell is number 26 for the Jaguars. The game is being broadcast Saturday, November 27 at 1:00 (C). Robert and Mychal are both working hard and maturing into fine young men.
Two other former Jena 6 defendants are also involved in college sports, Corwin Jones is playing football with Tyler Jr. College in Texas and Bryant Purvis is playing basketball with Southern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. Theo Shaw is enjoying his studies at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, and Jesse Ray Bear graduated from high school in 2009.
In January of 2007, I took a group of Jena 6 family members to Southern University where the Louisiana NAACP was holding its annual convention. None of us knew at that point what a strange, glorious and tortured course our struggle for justice would take.
If you’re interested in the background to this annual showdown between two traditionally black Louisiana colleges I have pasted a brief article below.
“Won-and-loss records are meaningless when these two teams meet, because the Bayou Classic is a bowl game of sorts for both teams.”
— Eddie Robinson, 1980
Neatly attired as he spoke on the ground floor of the Superdome, Grambling’s football coach did what most smart, experienced football coaches do: Leading up to a bigger-than-life rivalry game, he poured truckloads of sugar on his opponent.
Only this time, the coach wasn’t Eddie Robinson, and the year wasn’t 1980. It was Rod Broadway in 2010.
“When I look at tape of Southern — and I’ve said this a number of times, and I’ve said it to our football team — they are a lot better than their record. And I mean, a lot better,” he said. “This is a dangerous team that we’re getting ready to play.”
If Broadway didn’t rip that passage from Page 1 of “The Coaches’ Cliché Handbook: Revised Edition,” he must have found it somewhere in Chapter 1. Still, there’s a reason he said it.
The Tigers and Jaguars meet at 1 p.m. Saturday for the 37th Bayou Classic; and this season, only a fool would argue that Southern has the better team.
The Jaguars are 2-8 in their first year under Stump Mitchell, one that turned into a weekly series of disappointments. Fans — the ones that aren’t incensed, anyway — have simply given up, as evidenced by the empty seats they’ve left behind.
Meanwhile, Grambling is 8-2. Grambling has a hard-hitting defense, great skill-position players and offensive linemen who look like they clean-and-jerk redwood trees for fun.
In this game, a Southern victory would indeed be a stunner. But it wouldn’t be unprecedented. History, we’re told, has a funny way of repeating itself.
You might remember that in 1981, amid a haze of Gap Band records and Rubik’s Cubes, the Jaguars staggered into the Superdome with a 2-8 record, a first-year coach (in this case, Otis Washington) and little chance to defeat mighty Grambling. SU didn’t just win. The Jaguars were dominant in a 50-20 shocker.
Washington went 8-3 the following year, and while his teams rarely realized their full potential, he never had another losing season at SU.
This is the kind of bounce Mitchell can achieve Saturday, if he somehow finds a way to upset those mighty Tigers.
A victory would buy Mitchell an offseason of good will, something he’s a little short on these days. He spent a lot of it this summer (“We can go 12-0!”) and lost almost all of it this fall (“We can go 3-8!”).
A victory would give SU a boost in recruiting — and this winter, more than any other, recruiting will be crucial to the Jaguars’ long-term success. A victory would also give returning players a reason to believe in Mitchell’s program.
Will it happen? Well, it doesn’t look good. The Jaguars are 2-8 for a reason.
At this point, however, Mitchell has to convince his players they can repeat history. At this point, it’s the only thing left he has to sell.