Roll Green Wave

It took 126 seasons, but Tulane has won bowl games in consecutive seasons.

The Green Wave dug themselves a 13-0 hole vs. former archrival Southern Miss in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, then reeled off 30 unanswered points, while keeping the Golden Eagles off the board for the final 54 minutes.

Last year, the Wave defeated Louisiana-Lafayette in the Cure Bowl (don’t get me started) in Orlando.

Nearly all college football fans 45 or younger don’t know Tulane was a founding member of the Southeastern Conference in 1933, and played in the SEC until leaving in July 1966.

The Green Wave played in the first Sugar Bowl following the 1934 season, defeating Temple 20-14. That was three years after Tulane lost to Washington State in the Rose Bowl. Wazzu didn’t return to Pasadena until Ryan Leaf led them there in 1997.

If you are (a) younger than 75, and/or (b) not from Louisiana, raise your hand if you knew either of those facts. Put your hand down. You didn’t.

The Rose Bowl appearance is the ONE thing Tulane can claim that its in-state archrival cannot. LSU has never been to Pasadena or any bowl game in California; in fact, last year’s Fiesta Bowl win over UCF was the Bayou Bengals’ first bowl west of Dallas.

LSU thought it would be in the Rose Bowl following the 2006 season, but a series of events gave the Tournament of Roses its desired Pac-10-Big Ten match (USC 32, MIchigan 18), leaving LSU to take out its frustration on a woefully overrated Notre Dame team coached by Charlie Weis and quarterbacked by Brady Quinn in the Sugar.

Tulane won its lone SEC championship in 1949. However, the Sugar Bowl said it would take the winner of the LSU-Tulane game.

LSU went to New Orleans and hammered Tulane 21-0. The Bayou Bengals, in turn, were hammered 35-0 in the Sugar Bowl by Oklahoma, coached by Bud Wilkinson and quarterback by Darrell Royal, who won three national championships and 176 games at Texas from 1957-76.

Following 1949, Tulane became the whipping boy for the SEC’s other 11 schools. The biggest culprit was the university’s decision in 1951 to force athletes to take a full course load in core subjects, not the typical “jock” curriculum. It got so bad LSU beat Tulane 62-0 THREE times between 1958 and 1965. The first of those saw LSU scored 56 points in the second half (eat your heart out, Joe Burrow and Joe Brady) to clinch its first national championship.

Georgia Tech left the SEC after the 1963 football season. The Yellow Jackets were angry after an incident during their 1961 game with Alabama in Birmingham when Crimson Tide guard/linebacker Darwin Holt slammed both of his forearms into the face of Tech’s Chick Graning, breaking Graning’s face and causing a Grade III concussion. Tech also had the same problem of a rigorous academic curriculum (mostly engeineering) which also handicapped Tulane and Vanderbilt.

As LSU prepared to face Syracuse in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 1965, Tulane announced it was leaving the SEC effective at the end of the 1965-66 school year. The Bayou Bengals’ going away gift to the Green Wave gridders? The third 62-0 beatdown. At least this one (and the one in 1961) were in Baton Rouge, so most Tulane fans didn’t have to sit through it.

The Green Wave played as an independent in football from 1966 through 1995 (all other sports joined the Metropolitan Athletic Conference, or the Metro, in 1975, and again from 1989-95; Tulane was expelled from the Metro in 1985 after it shut down its men’s basketball program in the wake of point shaving). There were a few nibbles of success: 1970, when Jim Pittman led the Wave to a Liberty Bowl win over Colorado to cap a 9-3 season; 1973, when Tulane defeated LSU 14-0 for its first win over the Bayou Bengals since 1948; 1979, when the Wave opened the season by defeating Stanford in John Elway’s first collegiate game, then defeating LSU in Bayou Bengals coach Charlie McClendon’s last regular season game.

Pittman left for TCU in January 1971. Sadly, he dropped dead of a heart attack on the sideline in Waco nine months later during the Horned Frogs’ victory over Baylor.

Bennie Ellender, the coach of the 1973 team, saw his 1974 team start 5-0, only to drop the last six in the last season at Tulane Stadium. It got no better in 1975, the first season in the Superdome, and Ellender was fired following a 42-6 loss to LSU, which experienced a 4-7 season, its worst since 1956.

Larry Smith left Tulane for Arizona in December 1979. Had he stuck around, he might have been LSU’s coach. Bo Rein, hired from North Carolina State to replace McClendon six days after LSU lost to Tulane, died in a plane crash seven weeks later.

Vince Gibson, who coached Lynn Dickey at Kansas State from 1968-70, took Tulane to a bowl in 1980, the first time Tulane went to bowls in consecutive seasons. Gibson went 3-1 vs. LSU, including a 31-28 victory in Baton Rouge in 1982 over a Bayou Bengal team headed to the Orange Bowl, but he was fired.

Tulane came perilously close to shutting down its football program in early 1985. The new Green Wave coach, Mack Brown (yes, that Mack Brown) was forced to take over as athletic director for a brief period in the wake of the point shaving scandal. Brown’s first Wave team went 1-10, but in 1987, Tulane went 6-5 and played in the Independence Bowl. Following the loss to Washington, Brown went to Chapel Hill.

On the other hand, Brown’s second squad lost to Wichita State. The Shockers won only once more, then shuttered their program in January 1987.

The period from 1988-86 was one of the darkest for the Wave. Tulane bottomed out with 1-10 seasons in 1991 and ’94. In both of those seasons, the Wave hosted LSU, which was in the throes of its own woe under Curley Hallman. Neither game drew a paid attendance of 40,000 (30,000 short of capacity in the Superdome), and there may have been 25,000 at most in 1994, which was four days after Hallman was fired (he coached LSU to wins over the Wave and Arkansas after the announcement).

Tommy Bowden, Bobby’s son and Terry’s brother, took over in 1997 and turned the 2-9 of ’96 to 7-4. The next season, Tulane ran the table–admittedly against a weak schedule which did not include LSU–and defeated BYU in the Liberty Bowl to finish 12-0 and No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll. Tulane was hoping for a BCS berth in the first season of the system; however, if Kansas State could not get a BCS bid ranked #4, even after the loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game, what chance did Tulane have? Under the College Football Playoff system, Tulane would have likely played A&M or Florida as the highest-ranked Group of Five champion.

Bowden accepted the Clemson job before the Liberty Bowl, and he did not coach the Wave in Memphis. Instead, that job fell to incoming coach Chris Scelfo, who was Georgia’s quarterbacks coach under Jim Donnan. Scelfo, a New Iberia native, took Tulane to another bowl in 2002, but the Wave fell off quickly.

Then came 2005. Hurricane Katrina. Tulane was forced to play 11 games at 11 different locations due to the catastrophic damage at the Superdome. Ironically, one of those locales was Tiger Stadium, where the Wave defeated Southeastern Louisiana.

The Wave floundered shortly after returning to the Big Easy, but in 2011, Tulane earned its biggest victory in a long, long, LONG time.

It was announced Tulane would return to campus in 2014 to play in Yulman Stadium, a 30,000-seat facility which would occupy much of the footprint of the old Tulane Stadium.

The Wave needed it worse than an alcoholic needs cheap wine. By the end of their time at the Superdome, most crowds were under 10,000, and some were as low as 3,000, not enough to fill most high school stadiums in the New Orleans area.

Fittingly, Tulane’s first opponent at Yulman was Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were thrown a lifeline in 1979 with membership in the ACC. While Tulane played in Conference USA from 1995-2013 and the American Athletic Conference since 2014, the Wave has been shut out in its attempts to join a power conference.

In 2016, Tulane hired Willie Fritz, who had success at Georgia Southern.He has upgraded the Wave’s recruiting, and while Tulane will never be able to attract as many blue chippers as LSU, it is doing quite well in taking the second and third tier recruits and molding them to Fritz’s triple option offense.

Sadly, LSU and Tulane don’t play any more. Both sides are stubborn, and I see where they are coming from.

LSU’s contention is most, if not all, games should be in Baton Rouge. Tiger Stadium now seats 102,000, and Tulane will net more from a game in Death Valley than they would anywhere else. With no travel expenses, except for gas for the busses, LSU has a point.

Tulane, however, wants the series to resume being a home-and-home, or at least a two-for-one. I don’t see any way LSU would play at Yulman. The games would have to be at the :Superdome, but the Wave has a good point about that becoming a de facto LSU home game.

I find it sad LSU will play the lower level colleges from Louisiana–Southeastern, Northwestern State, McNeese, Nicholls (in 2020) and Southern (2021)–but not Tulane. I would rather LSU play two Power Five teams in non-conference if the SEC is not going to play nine conference games, but Tulane should be on the schedule no matter what.

I’ll root for the Wave, except when they play LSU. I have a soft spot for Tulane, because one of my favorite people on earth, Rebecca Hale, who taught me English during the first semester of my junior year of high school, is a huge Wave supporter and has been all her life.

I hope Rebecca was in Fort Worth today. It had to be a thrill to see the Wave make history and do it against Southern Miss, which gave Tulane so many heartaches throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

I have a strong antipathy for USM, since it was the Golden Eagles’ success under Curley Hallman which prompted then-LSU athletic director Joe Dean to lure Hallman to Baton Rouge. What Dean forgot was a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, one which was gifted to Hallman by his predecessor at USM, Jim Carmody, was leading the Golden Eagle offense.

My dissertation on Tulane football began at Buffalo Wild Wings Shoal Creek and ended at Minsky’s. In between, the Texans defeated the Bills in overtime to advance in the AFC playoffs. The Patriots are trailing the Titans 7-3 late in the first quarter, but we all know New England isn’t going to lose at home to Tennessee.

About David

Louisiana native living in Kansas. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, addictions to The Brady Bunch, most sports, food and trivia games.

Posted on 2020-01-04, in College Football and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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