The 48th Annual Bayou Classic or “Battle of the Bayou” as some may call it, returned to its home location of New Orleans this past Thanksgiving weekend. After being held in Shreveport during the unusual SWAC season this spring due to COVID-19, the weekend of festivities was one that everyone had been eagerly anticipating. Between the newly renovated Caesars Superdome, the game returning to the city, and the interest of having two interim coaches facing off against one another, the 2021 Bayou Classic was sure to be one for the books.
2021 Bayou Classic: A Little Background of the Series
The matchup between Grambling and Southern originally began in 1932 but became “Bayou Classic” in 1974. As of today, Southern leads the series 24-23 all time, with a current three-game win streak. Students, alumni, faculty, family, and even just regular supporters, come out to see the action between the two friendly rivals of HBCUS in Louisiana. This year would be the first time since 2019 that the game was held back in New Orleans. The Caesars Superdome that was formally under the name “Mercedes Benz Superdome,” went under a few major changes including a rebranding and renovation inside the dome, causing the game to be played in the Independence Stadium in Shreveport, LA. At the start of this fall season, organizers announced that the game would be back in New Orleans on the last Saturday of November, like in previous years.
Although things were different for a year, many of the historic traditions prevailed. To start the week off, the Annual Mayors Press Conference was held Monday morning, which included the athletic directors of both schools, presidents, as well as a spokesperson from Bayou Classic sponsor Proctor & Gamble.
Fast forward to the end of the week once the teams have arrived, and the annual Coaches Luncheon was held that Friday at the Hyatt Hotel with both football teams. Noted at the press conference on Monday, for the first time this year there was a showcase of small Black businesses outside of the luncheon. The showcase was used to show off products to potential customers and explain what their business was about.
Friday night, the second most important day of the Bayou Classic weekend, consisted of the long-awaited Greek Show and Battle of the Bands. With the lights off and the stadium full of spectators, the Greek Show, consisting of members of the Divine 9 from both Southern and Grambling, started the night off as they went against each other to see who would come out as the first-place winner for a $3,000 check. The crowd’s atmosphere was filled with excitement and happiness from members of the sororities and fraternities as well as students and alumni that came to watch both battles of the night. During the Greek show, each organization includes a theme along with their stepping, strolling, and organization chants. Some of this year’s themes included Dora the Explorer, Michael Jackson’s Triller, the Netflix hit Squid Games, and a version of the movie “US”.
That was just the beginning of the action that Friday night in the Caesars Superdome. Immediately after, as the crowd was still hype from the Greek Show, the highly anticipated Battle of the Bands began. This exciting musical showdown is always an event filled with pure amazement as the two most prestigious bands in the state of Louisiana go blow for blow in this friendly rivalry. With the crowd all standing, the Superdome was lit by cell phone flashlights as the DJ introduced the bands.
First to come to the field was the famous Southern University ‘Human Jukebox’ escorted elegantly by the Fabulous Dancing Dolls. Following their introduction, Grambling State University Marching Band, or the ‘World Famed Tiger Marching Band’ made their way to the field escorted by the Orchesis Dance Company. As the battle began, the energy inside of the dome was no less then amazing and electrifying. When the bands began and the crowd was able to distinguish the instrumentals of each song, everyone sang out in awe of pure amazement seeing the bands battle for the winning title that was ultimately determined by the fans at the end of the night.
2021 Bayou Classic Game Day
Finally! The day everyone has been waiting on. The 48th Annual Bayou Classic football game. From early in the day, people started filling the streets walking around in their blue and gold and gold and black for both teams. On the corners of each block, tents began to set up selling school gear for everyone to show their school pride as well as food trucks, and snack shacks selling funnel cakes and other tasty treats.
Around 2:30pm as the doors opened, fans started to slowly make their way into the seats to get ready for kickoff. Players from both teams are on the field getting warmed up, dancing to hype themselves up, ecstatic to finally be back in the dome.
“It’s just different,” New Orleans native Jakobi Jones of the Jaguars said when asked about being back in the Superdome. “Bayou Classic in the dome feel like home, and it’s what you dream of growing up in New Orleans watching the Saints, like you dream to play where those guys play, and it just wasn’t the same during the spring in Shreveport.”
Media outlets began to make their way to the seventh floor into the press box where they set up their stations and were able to enjoy a southern classic meal of red beans and rice. With 30 minutes left until kickoff, the Royal Courts were introduced from both Southern and Grambling, followed by the introductions of the marching bands as they marched to their side of the superdome. Fans were still pouring in as the excitement began to show. At 4pm the National Anthem was played, and the coin toss determined who got the ball, the game began.
The intensity of the game started early and was held throughout the whole game but was most intense at the very last stretch.
A close game in the fourth quarter had the crowd going crazy with school spirit and chants. With Grambling up 19-13, Southern was able to score a touchdown to make the score 20-19. As the anticipation grew, the entire stadium’s energy shifted with worry as the game was coming close to an end and the winner was uncertain. With 6 minutes left, Grambling scored a touchdown and GramFam, including their Marching Band, had the stadium going wild as the Tigers took a 26-20 lead. But the back-and-forth battle continued as the Jags were able to score a touchdown with 4:27 left in the game. The crowd went crazy only to have the touchdown taken away. As Southern fans booed because of the verdict, the Jaguars did not let that affect them. They went to score the touchdown back to 26-26 right after. Now everyone was out of their seats with so much enthusiasm and excitement. The crowd was out of the roof after that with everyone out their chairs, waving their pom poms around, singing HBCU classics, like Got My Whisky and You Make Me Happy. Grambling side of the stadium and all their fans were yelling out in happiness and excitement as they figured the Tigers would make the final field goal.
And their hopes were rewarded… Grambling kicker Garrett Urban nailed a 25-yard field goal with two seconds left in the game to give the Tigers the 29-26 Bayou Classic win, and players, coaches and athletic staff immediately rushed the field in excitement and happiness after snapping their Bayou Classic losing streak.
Although Grambling won in the end, history was made by a Jaguar this year. Quarterback Ladarius Skelton closed out his collegiate career winning his fourth straight MVP trophy.
To those who don’t know about the history of Bayou Classic, it is more than just a football game. The culture, atmosphere, and school pride signify the true HBCU experience. The friendly rivalry allows fans to come from all over to celebrate the importance of HBCU culture. The first Classic back in the Bayou was nothing short of an amazing weekend. As said by Rocky Dufauchard of New Orleans & Company: “The Bayou Classic is called the Bayou Classic for one reason — because New Orleans is truly your home, and you’re back.”
Author’s Note: Alexis Easton is a senior, aspiring sportswriter and broadcaster currently studying Mass Communication with a focus in Public Relations at Southern University. Starting off as a sports journalist for the school newspaper, Southern Digest, she now works as an intern with the Southern University Athletic Department where she writes game recaps for multiple sports. You can follow her on Instagram @lexeastonn or read her articles on gojagsports.com and southerndigest.com