Green Wave crests
The world is a scary and sick place.
Between the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin’s scary medical emergency on the field last night in Cincinnati and several Trump worshippers sabotaging the vote for Speaker of the House, the last 27 hours have been horrible. It can only get better, right?
Four hours before Hamlin’s collapse, Tulane wrote the fairytale ending to one of the greatest Cinderella stories in college football this century.
The Green Wave, 2-10 in 2021, rallied from a 15-point deficit in the final six minutes of the Cotton Bowl to stun mighty Southern California 46-45. By going 12-2 this season, Tulane now has the greatest single-season turnaround in the history of college football’s top division.
Tulane deserves the moment in the sun, considering it has been among college football have-nots for most of the last 73 seasons.
In 1949, the Wave was ranked No. 4 when it went to South Bend and was crushed 46-7 by Frank Leahy’s Fighting Irish. Tulane recovered to win the Southeastern Conference championship, but was denied a berth in the Sugar Bowl–on its home field–when it lost 21-0 to LSU. The Bayou Bengals went to the Sugar Bowl and were demolished 35-0 by Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners, whose offense was led by quarterback Darrell Royal.
Starting in the early 1950s, Tulane forced athletes to take the same rigorous course load required of all other undergraduates. This meant physical education and other so-called “fluff” classes were no more.
Additionally, Tulane drastically reduced the number of scholarships it offered, leaving it with precious little depth when battling LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and other SEC behemoths.
Years of losing caught up to Tulane’s administration and boosters, and on 31 December 1964, the school announced it was leaving the SEC at the end of the 1965-66 school year.
The Wave had a few good seasons here and there–8-4 under Jim Pittman in 1970, 9-3 under Bennie Ellender in 1973, 9-3 under Larry Smith in 1979–but by the mid-1980s, the program was at its nadir.
Wally English, Tulane’s coach in 1983 and ’84, began his tenure by starting his son, Jon, at quarterback. Problem was, Jon English was ineligible, and the Wave was forced to forfeit four wins in ’83, including one over Florida State. When 1984 ended with a bench-clearing brawl vs. LSU in Baton Rouge, Tulane athletic director Hindman Wall had seen enough and sent English packing.
Meanwhile, two very dark clouds hung over Willow Street.
The first was a point-shaving scandal involving the men’s basketball team. Several players, including superstar John “Hot Rod” Williams, were forced to testify in front of a grand jury. Williams was eventually acquitted, but others were not so lucky.
On 4 April 1985, Tulane president Eamon Kelly announced the immediate termination of the men’s basketball program. Tulane was expelled from the Metro Conference later that month, as a men’s basketball program was an ironclad requirement for membership.
Shortly after the point-shaving scandal, Tulane football appeared to be on life support.
Mack Brown was hired to replace English. He soon became Tulane’s interim athletic director following Wall’s resignation in the wake of the point-shaving scandal.
As Brown led the Wave through a depressing 1-10 campaign in 1985, a 14-member committee studied whether or not the university should drop football.
The night before Tulane faced Southern Mississippi, the committee deadlocked 7-7. Another vote was taken before the Wave hosted LSU, and it came out 8-6 in favor of football.
One of the members of the committee was Darrell Royal, who won 190 games and three national championships coaching Texas from 1957-76. Royal told Brown that he should get the hell out of New Orleans as quickly as possible, because Tulane was never going to be able to compete with LSU.
Brown stayed at Tulane through 1987, then went to North Carolina, a large state school, but one where he was in the large shadow cast by Dean Smith. Ironically, Brown made his way to Austin in 1998 and spent 16 seasons on the 40 Acres, winning the 2005 national championship, the Longhorns’ first since Royal’s last in 1970.
Tulane, which had been an independent since leaving the SEC, joined the new Conference USA in 1996. The Wave went 12-0 in 1998 and finished No. 7 in the national polls, but soon returned to the lower echelon of the sport it had become too accustomed to.
Willie Fritz was hired from Georgia Southern in 2016 and led Tulane to three consecutive bowl games from 2018-20, the first time the Wave had achieved that feat.
Hurricane Ida destroyed any hopes Tulane had of making it four in a row.
What transpired Monday in Arlington has more than made up for it.
LSU won 63-7 over a depleted Purdue team in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. No need to say much about that one. LSU was expected to win big and it did. Now it needs to carry the momentum into Brian Kelly’s second season.
Posted on 2023-01-03, in College Football, History and tagged Tulane Green Wave. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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