When you consider Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the decline of the Grambling and Southern programs with frequent coaching changes, a player revolt at Grambling, the moving of the game from NBC to the NBC Sports Network and the various distractions of so many other entertainment entities, the word had taken root in the minds of many.
After the 42nd Classic this past Saturday, those whispers have been silent. The Bayou Clasic remains relevant.
First, there was an entertaining game in which Grambling overcame Southern 34-23. The play of both quarterbacks was solid. The game was entertaining. The bands are as good as it gets.
Jonathan Williams of Grambling completed 20-of-34 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns and added 78 yards and a touchdown rushing. Austin Howard of Southern completed 24-of-40 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 56 yards. A pair of turnovers by the Jaguars proved fatal.
While the numbers posted by the players were impressive, the most impressive numbers came from those in attendance.
The announced crowd of 62,907 is the largest crowd to attend the Bayou Classic since the Classic returned to New Orleans following Katrina in 2006 after a one year hiatus in Houston.
Attendance had dipped to an all-time low of 40,715 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2011. NBC was talking about pulling out. State Farm was watching closely. With few top level athletes involved, interest from the general football fan was minimal.
Clearly, the oxygen is back in the building and in the Classic. This year’s attendance was 5,055 more than the 57,852 that showed up a year ago. Clearly, the game is trending upward as attendance has increased every year since the forgettable crowd in 2011.
Both problems are on solid ground now. Broderick Fobbs has steadied the ship, doing a superb job at Grambling. He has the Tigers in the SWAC championship game. Dawsom Odums has done the same at Southern, righting a listing ship in Baton Rouge.
The game remains a destination location entity and a winner for the New Orleans economy. Talk of the game returning to campus locations or moving to another city have been erased, a distant memory. The Bayou Classic is alive and well, thriving in the city that Eddie Robinson wanted it to be in permanently.