Bayou Football Finds New, Temporary Home

The Bayou Classic, the traditional Thanksgiving football rivalry between historically black universities Grambling State and Southern University, will be played in Houston this year, instead of its usual site, New Orleans. It's just one of events forced to seek a new home because of Hurricane Katrina. Karen Henderson of member station WRKF in Baton Rouge reports.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

College football rivalries are a Thanksgiving weekend tradition. Among them, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Texas against Texas A&M, and in Louisiana, Southern University and Grambling State. For the first time in 30 years, these two traditionally black universities won't be facing off in New Orleans. The annual Bayou Classic has been moved to Houston because of hurricane damage to the Superdome. Fans are happy the game goes on but afraid it just won't be the same. Karen Henderson of member station WRKF in Baton Rouge reports.

Band: (In unison) Let's go play some.

KAREN HENDERSON reporting:

Just as the football team prepares for the big game, the Southern University Marching Band, known also as the human jukebox, gets set for a competition of its own: The Battle of the Bands at halftime.

(Soundbite of marching band)

HENDERSON: Southern band director Isaac Greggs has led his team against the band of Grambling State every year since the first Bayou Classic 32 years ago.

Mr. ISAAC GREGGS (Band Director, Southern University): There's no place in the world like the Dome in New Orleans. You see, you play in New Orleans, after the game is over, you can go down on Bourbon Street and have a natural (unintelligible) or go to any of the other good jazz joints there.

HENDERSON: Greggs, who retires this year after 41 years on the job, would like to say goodbye on the familiar ground of the Superdome, but thanks to Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome is unavailable. This year's Bayou Classic will take place in Houston, Texas, in Reliant Stadium. Southern band trumpeter Jamal Washington(ph), a sophomore from New Orleans, is disappointed.

Mr. JAMAL WASHINGTON: Personally I don't think it'll be as big of a celebration in Houston as it is in New Orleans every year. It's almost like a big festival. The whole city shuts down just for this one event and everybody comes out, even people that didn't go to Southern. There are people from every college, people that didn't go to college. Kids still in high school come out to the event.

HENDERSON: Through the years, the matchup between these historically black universities has drawn hundreds of thousands of fans to New Orleans on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Grambling State's Bayou Classic coordinator Dr. Angelia Weaver says many fans will opt out of the trip to Houston this year, but she sees the move as an opportunity to introduce the game to a new audience.

Dr. ANGELIA WEAVER (Bayou Classic Coordinator, Grambling State): Many people who have never had an opportunity to experience the Bayou Classic will have an opportunity to see what it's all about, and hopefully, when we get this game back in New Orleans, we'll have many more folks that will come to New Orleans to participate in all of the activities that surround this game.

HENDERSON: The move is also a chance to deliver a little taste of home to the many Louisianians displaced by Hurricane Katrina who are now living in Houston. If all goes well, there won't be a need next year to export the game to Texas. Southern University Vice President Dr. Ralph Slaughter is keeping a close eye on the recovery in New Orleans for the signal that it's time to bring the Bayou Classic back to the Bayou.

Dr. RALPH SLAUGHTER (Vice President, Southern University): New Orleans is home. This is home. These are two Louisiana state institutions. The game needs to be played in New Orleans certainly. New Orleans could use the economic impact from it. We need--I'm hopeful that next year we can be ready.

HENDERSON: The match between the Southern Jaguars and Grambling Tigers is nationally televised, and for the first time this year will be featured on ESPN's "College Game Day." It will be the first time that "Game Day" has broadcast from a contest between two historically black universities.

For NPR News, I'm Karen Henderson in Baton Rouge.

(Soundbite of marching band)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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