The French Quarter was packed with Grambling and Southern fans right through daybreak. Canal Street was an SUV parking lot, and a man pushing a shopping cart filled with stuffed jaguars and tigers did a nice business. The comedian Sinbad played the Saenger Theatre. Public drinking from "go cups" is legal in New Orleans, and pot smoking seemed to have been decriminalized as Friday night came and went. The 1 p.m. Saturday kickoff was too early for many.
The game was wild, frenzied from the start. Grambling came in at 6-0 and Southern at 5-1 in Southwestern Athletic Conference play. Southern had 15 Bayou Classic wins, Grambling 14. The winner would secure a spot in the conference tide game. Southern scored on its first drive and Grambling on its first pass. NBC carried the game. Touchdowns were coming so fast that the network was able to run promo spots for its new comedy The Tracy Morgan Show again and again.
Southern led, Grambling led, Southern led, Grambling led. It was crazy. The ball was in the air so much, the game looked like Ultimate Frisbee. Jaguars quarterback Quincy Richard threw 42 times, completing 34 passes for 552 yards. Tigers quarterback Bruce Eugene tossed 48 passes, 26 of them caught, for 409 yards. Southern won 44-41.
Doug Williams was 1-0 as a Super Bowl quarterback, but he's 1-5 as a Bayou Classic coach. He gathered his players around him in a still, dank locker room. They could hear the drumbeat of the celebrating Southern marching band through two steel doors.
"We had a great season," the Grambling coach said. "Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. I know how you feel, because I feel the same way."
The players and coaches bowed their heads in prayer. The weekend had its second solemn moment. The Grambling bus headed north, for home.
Saturday night was a repeat of Friday night on the ancient streets of the French Quarter, except there were Southern players among the revelers. Pete Richardson is known for running a tight ship, but he gave his kids the night off.
The Southern- Grambling game is not a black version of storied college rivalries. It is not a black version of Florida-Florida State. It is a storied college rivalry. "The game is really about northern Louisiana versus southern Louisiana," Richardson said. "It's about Southern families and Grambling families. It's about playing for pride."
On Sunday morning at the Hyatt, at the ungodly hour of 11 o'clock, there was a final Bayou Classic event called the Gospel Brunch. Many Southern families were there and some Grambling families too. It was a chance to praise the Lord, to load up on crawfish and to brag and commiserate, brag and commiserate.