MULE': LSU-Tulane not quite the same anymore

There won't be any frothing at the mouth leading up to this week's LSU game, no pregame high jinks. There will be very little emotion, really. What's more, it's a pity. There was a time when Tulane represented an emotional bloodletting for the Tigers. No more, and LSU is the poorer for it.

The silk-stocking school in New Orleans and the populist state university, a beacon of hope for all the people, as benefactor Huey Long envisioned it, were perfect rivals. They harassed each other all season long, painting each others fields and campuses. In an example of how Tulanians are not all eggheads, some Greenies once stole Mike, and another time they let him loose on the Tiger campus. Thankfully, it was during a holiday break.


More importantly, they inflicted major—and lingering—defeats on each other. Losses that sting each other to this day, like the 1982 stunner when Tulane upset Orange Bowl-bound LSU 31-28, or when LSU upset the Green Wave 21-0 in 1948, knocking Tulane out of the Sugar Bowl and taking the berth for itself.


Post-game fights in their respective stadiums were the norm.


It took decades to fall apart, beginning when Tulane dropped out of the SEC, but the upshot is these natural rivals are no longer really rivals. The situation leaves LSU with no rival—a team fans love to beat just for the pleasure of beating—to look forward to any longer. Ole Miss has fallen by the wayside; Alabama and Auburn have each other.


Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer tried to force Arkansas and LSU on each other, scheduling them the last playing date of the season. It's never really taken hold.


Kramer once pointed out that, although it took a while, the death of the animus between the schools was destined once Tulane left the SEC. "If you look at, say, Tennessee and Vanderbilt," Kramer said, "there is still feeling in their series. Why? Because what they do is reflected in the (SEC) standings. Each of their games have meaning. Can't do that with Tulane and LSU."


Too bad.


Tulane and LSU, each other's oldest rival, have played twice in the last 10 years, and nobody really cares. It should be a series that has the same meaning it had decades ago. It's sad that it doesn't.


And LSU is as poor for it as Tulane.



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Not to belabor the point, parts of which will surely be the topic of conversation across Louisiana this week, but didn't Auburn Saturday bring you back to SEC football of yesteryear? In the old days, any of Bear Bryant's Alabama opponents always had to overcome hairline officiating calls—or non-calls. They never seemed to go against Bryant, who truly ruled the roost in those days and whose teams were always good enough to prevail without any nudges from the zebras.


Against Auburn, there were at least four non-calls that affected the flow of the game. In the first half, Jacob Hester took a pass trying to pick up a first down, took two steps ("football moves") and fumbled out of bounds. The play was reviewed by the officials, who then turned the ball over to Auburn. Constant replays showed it was the wrong call.


On LSU's field goal drive just before the half, Hester caught another pass and went out of bounds, where he was hit late by a defender. Fifteen yards should have been tacked on, but that call was ignored. Of course, then there was the obvious pass interference in the end zone, which replays showed an LSU receiver's arms being held by a defender. No call.


There's no use in going into the late pass interference—which, no doubt, will be sliced and diced all week long.


Rarely does any phase of the game, including players, coaches and refs, deserve perfect grades. We all make mistakes. And by themselves, none of those calls or non-calls should have cost LSU the victory. Over the course of a game, though, they wear a team down, by field position or frustration—just like Bear's old teams used to do.


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These thoughts wouldn't be complete without a salute to an old friend and a genuine Louisiana sports legend, Collie J. Nicholson, who died this week.


Nicholson, along with Grambling coach Eddie Robinson, made the little, predominately black school in north Louisiana a household name. Robinson turned out prodigious numbers of pro prospects. But in an era when there wasn't a big interest in black college football, Nicholson found a way to get Grambling's name in big-market media outlets, making it a national name.


As his longtime friend R.L. Stockard, the first sports information director at Southern and, later, for the Southwest Athletic Conference, said in perhaps a bit of overstatement: "Without Collie, the world may never have heard of Eddie Robinson."


It was Nicholson, the first black Marine Corps combat correspondent in World War II, who came up with the concept of the "classic" game, two black schools playing in a big-market city where throngs of blacks without their own team to pull for could see a game themselves. Through that kind of national, really international scheduling, Grambling became "the black Notre Dame," a school for which blacks across the country without any real ties to a team could feel an emotional tie.


Nicholson also came up with the wildly successful Bayou Classic, where the Grambling Tigers played archrival Southern University in New Orleans each year.


"He was the ‘Man with the Golden Pen,'" former Tiger and NFL standout Doug Williams said. "Here I was, a kid from little ol' Zachary, playing in Japan, Hawaii and Washington, D.C. And it was all because of Collie Nicholson's mighty pen."




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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