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Jaguars and Tigers Battled It Out

Every Saturday after Thanksgiving, Jaguars and Tigers take the field.

They are stronger, faster, louder. They move more gracefully, evade more effectively. Some wear capes. Others, armor. All arrive outfitted with their weapon of choice:

Tubas, footballs, and unitards, mostly. Trombones and cymbals, too.

These are the stars of the Bayou Classic. College athletes, musicians, dancers. Gods and goddesses of an earthbound sort.

The rivalry between the Southern University Jaguars and the Grambling State University Tigers started – officially, at least – in 1974. The two historically black colleges have been taking it out on the fifty-yard line ever since.

Photo: Cheryl Gerber

For spectators, there’s no better excuse

for a NOLA homecoming.

While most of America is still carving up turkey, the Crescent City dives headlong into three days of combat. Two hundred thousand fans and alumni come to stand on the sidelines. But they’re not just here to watch football.

Southern University and Grambling State count their marching bands as two of the best in the country. They are big, loud, brassy. An absolute sonic delight, as worthy of your attention as any touchdown or blitz.

On the Friday before game day, Southern’s Human Jukebox and Grambling’s Tiger Marching Band duke it out in the Superdome.

Placed side by side, staggered on stands, the two become a wall of sound. They pulse and shake and sway in time with the music. Dancers, all sequins and spandex, punctuate the noise with hip rolls and hair flips.

The bands volley back and forth, trying to outdo each other with ecstatic renditions of contemporary pop, played on the instruments that built jazz.

There is no judge in this contest. No winner is called.

Photo: Cheryl Gerber

Saturday’s game is more clear cut.

The Jaguars and Tigers kick and punt and hook. Players vie for victory, aim to take a leg up in what’s been a multi-decade dead heat.

Southern. Southern. Grambling. Grambling.

On it goes. Each team always one game ahead or behind.

The score, for many, might be besides the point. The Bayou Classic is about more than the game.

It’s about coming home.

Visit New Orleans and start your story with #OneTimeInNOLA.

Jenny is a writer of culture both high and low. Her work has appeared in V Magazine, Lenny Letter, and TIME, to name a few. She first fell in love with New Orleans over buttermilk biscuits and strawberry preserves. She’s been a NOLA regular ever since.

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