Oct 19, 200912:00 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

Errol Laborde: Yes, Tulane Football Is Important, and Here’s Why

Still stunned by the Saints win, I would rather cherish the moment than write about it.

My attention turns to the city’s other football team.

I have been to two Tulane football games this year. I paid my way into both games. I am not an alumnus of the university. So, as a ticket-buying, graduate-neutral fan, I guess I have some right to respond to Tulane Head Coach Bob Toledo’s frustration about poor attendance at the games.

Some thoughts:

• I feel for the coach, but we all know what the problem is — losing. There is not a person alive today who has witnessed a continuous winning tradition at Tulane. Oh, there have been some good years, even an undefeated season — and a couple of upsets over mighty LSU –– but for the most part, the program has been a loser. So there is no tradition. And yes, when the team moved from playing on its campus to the Dome, it lost the Uptown neighborhood feel and some student interest. All of that can be cured by winning, though. And that’s the hard part.

• For whatever disinterest there might be, the historic role of Tulane football in this community needs to be remembered. It has been an important economic force. Without Tulane football, there would have been no mammoth Tulane Stadium, and without that, there never would have been a Sugar Bowl, which annually rescues tourism during the otherwise-soft season between Christmas and New Year’s. One of the games that I attended was the matchup against McNeese State University from Lake Charles. Driving down Poydras that afternoon, I was stunned to see the sidewalks filled with blue-and-gold McNeese shirts. The university reportedly brought up to 10,000 supporters to the game. Many spent at least one night here, and most, based on what I could overhear from McNeese fans on their cell phones after the game, partied at area restaurants. This was a small-convention-size boost to the economy that would not have happened without Tulane football.

• Two weeks ago, Tulane staged its homecoming game against Marshall University. For the second year in a row, the team played badly before a homecoming crowd (last year it was a rout by Army), but the point is that there was a homecoming crowd. Several hotels, including the Windsor Court, were filled that weekend with Tulane alumni who, given the choice of their lodging, are obviously doing quite well.

• Had it not been for Tulane football, the Saints franchise likely would not exist. Tulane Stadium was the home for the team during its early years when the Dome was being built, but had there not been such a stadium available, the league would have likely looked elsewhere for expansion. Without the Saints, there would have been no Dome. Without the Dome, there would be no arena. Without the arena, there would be no New Orleans Hornets. Without Tulane football, New Orleans would be a minor league city.

• Finally, something I have not understood about Tulane football: There are at least two other nearby major Southern private universities with high academic standards that field football teams, Vanderbilt and Rice. Why don't they play each other? They could be natural rivals, the Ivy League of the South. Build a rivalry, and fans will come.

Don’t give up on Tulane, folks. We are a city of people who have experienced hard times but who are living our lives working for a comeback. The city and the football team are great metaphors for each other. We work hard at getting better. And when all else fails, there is always the Hail Mary play.


Reader Comments:
Oct 19, 2009 12:59 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Most of my friends are LSU football fans. I have a big problem with the "Bubba's" who paint their pick-up trucks purple and gold but who never attended a class on LSU's campus. (And note that an LSU diploma now has a real value since the university has dramatically inceased its admission standards.) But I always root for the losing underdog, Tulane, and love their out-of-the-stadium chant: "Thats all right; That's OK You're gonna work for us one day".

Oct 19, 2009 01:07 pm
 Posted by  H. L. Baloo

It "felt like" a continuous winning tradition when I was at Tulane from 1947-1951. Henry Frnka was the coach and the team was doing quite well. So well, in fact, that faculty calls for "de-emphasis" in athletics were paramount and, shortly after, the major in physical education was dropped.
Not just football players sought that degree. Indeed, many local and state high school coaches in all sports came out of the program. I was one of the student sports reporters for the Tulane "Hullabaloo" at the time. In many ways we have never recovered from that "de-emphasis." Maybe it was needed, but maybe the "de-emphasis" needed to be "de-emphasized" a bit.
And you are right, about playing schools like Vanderbilt and Rice. We do play the latter and the baseball rivalry with Rice is a crowd-pleaser. Let's go further, why not a Conference of such schools: Not only Vanderbilt, Rice, and Tulane; how about SMU, Duke, TCU, Baylor, Wake Forest. You can probably think of others. None of those schools have truly long-standing winning traditions---only 15 minutes of fame here and there. The Conference winner could have its own BCS Pre-Bowl game with Notre Dame each year!

Oct 19, 2009 01:22 pm
 Posted by  MindyMoo

I am a Tulane alumnus, but haven't gone to a game since 1998, my freshman year (our undefeated season). My interest in football is fleeting at most, but honestly, it's very depressing to watch a game in the nearly empty Dome. Someone told me about last year's Homecoming Game, which was held at Tad Gormley Stadium. Although I was not there, most of the press from that event heralds it as a success. Apparently, the coach was not impressed with the stadium and refused to hold more games there. Why? Someone needs to revisit this issue, starting with Tulane administration.


Oct 19, 2009 01:55 pm
 Posted by  Galoop

Unfortunatley, Tad Gormley is not large enough nor does it have the facilities to meet NCAA requirements. The rules let you stage occasional games at less than adequate locations, but Tulane could not host all of its games at Gormely and remain a Div 1 team.

That being said, the Dome is indeed too big and too sterile for Tulane football. Perhaps an investment in Tad Gormely to bring it to NCAA standards? Or what about an uptown riverfront staium? It's going to take a lot to get the crowds in the Dome to see Tulane.

Oct 19, 2009 02:27 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I have been a fan of Tulane football for my entire life and have been there from TU stadium to the debacle of the dome. There are many reasons TU football does not draw a crowd, one of which is winning. But there are programs all over the country that are not winning that draw more, tens of thousands more than TU. Even when TU was working on a perfect record, they never drew that many fans. I may stand to be corrected, but on T'giving night of that perfect season when they played La. Tech, only 27,000 showed up on the last game of the season for TU.

I believe the BIGGEST REASONS for little turnout for TU is the venue and that most of TU's alums live outside of NO. The Dome is horrible for TU football. Here's my thought. BUILD A 35-40,000 SEAT, OPEN AIR STADIUM ON THE BUTTERFLY BY AUDUBON ZOO. Students and fans can walk to the games and there can be a real family friendly atmosphere for tailgating and enjoying the beauty of that uptown area. Safe, easy for the students, plenty of parking available and a true college home for Tulane Football. The University of Houston did it when they left the Astrodome and went back to campus and TU should do it too. They have to. The Dome is a morgue and if TU doesn't get out of there, I think the end of TU football (shutter!) may be at hand.

Oct 19, 2009 02:51 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Erroll - to answer your question about why Rice, SMU, Duke and Vandy are not in the same conference: there were talks in the late 50's, early 60's to set up a Southern Ivy League and call it the Magnolia Conference.

However, Duke did not want to give up rivalry with North Carolina and Rice/SMU did not want to give up the money from the Cotton Bowl tie-in.

Oct 19, 2009 03:11 pm
 Posted by  Go42lane

Mr. Laborde - what you write is very "on the button". If Tulane were a consistent winner in football, similar to the way they are in baseball, then I would find the money and time to go to most of the games. (I drive in from Baton Rouge to do this when I can)

I have already made a comment to Coach Toledo that it is not fun to witness Tulane give up at least 31 points to every visitor to the Superdome this year. How can you consistently win at home with that statistic?

By the way, Tulane is in the same conference with Rice, in case you missed it.

The Tad Gormley idea was tried by Tulane, but it has been found to not be the solution to the attendance woes. Tulane is just going to have to find a way to build its own facility (starting at a capacity of 30K), and build the program back up from that point.

A.S.Madere, Baton Rouge, LA

Oct 19, 2009 03:58 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

One reason Tulane doesn't command a large crowd is that there is a whole lot of "other stuff" going on in NO all day, every day. In BR the only game in town is Tiger Football on a home game day. In NO, Tulane Football is just one choice among hundreds, no matter what day it is. Winning would certainly help, but I fear even that wouldn't be enough in a city that never stops partying.

Oct 19, 2009 07:31 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Tulane has football? I didn't know that. Gee, thanks Erroll, after living here all my life, you would think it is hard to be shocked. Wow!

Seriously, it isn't just not winning. It is not just the Superdome. Other schools who do not win draw crowds. Tulane was not drawing a crowd even at the old Tulane Sugar Bowl Stadium. I think it is because the University, its students and its alumni do not make it important. And this is not a recent phenomenon. It has not been important for a long time, probably the 1950's. If it is not important to the school as a whole, you will not draw a crowd. If it is important, it will not matter where you play or how you play. It will be the event that matters. UNO is the same about sports. Look what the students did to that program and the alumni did not step foward to push the idea of increasing fees to keep sports alive, because it just did not matter.

Oct 20, 2009 01:31 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I'm a current Tulane student so let me give you some insight into what's going on on the inside. I've attended every home game in the Dome ever since my first game as a freshman. That's nearly four years of support for my team whose greatest moment was a 10-9 lead over LSU at half time wo years ago. The problem truly lies in the University and the Student Body. I've been to too many games where the students number in the single digits. The University provides transportation to and from and that's their entire effort. The Greenbacks put more energy into student participation at games than they do. I urge alumni to press on the university to create programs and events that encourage students to attend and not just during Homecoming Week. It also has to do with our student body being from so many areas around the country. So many of us come from states with big schools that have successful athletic programs (i.e. Florida, Georgia, Texas, Ohio State, etc.) Tulane's student body is apathetic and it's killed me for all of my undergraduate career.

My belief has always been that if you have a college sports program, support and relish it because it's an experience you won't ever get again.

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde


Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.




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