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.
• 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.