In the half-century that the University of South Alabama has existed, its athletic teams have managed to carve out many memorable moments.
Who can forget the 1975 baseball team that won 36 of its first 37 games, on the way to being ranked No. 1 in the nation? The squad included future major league players Dave Stapleton, Mike O’Berry and Pat Putman.
And then there was the incredible 86-84 win over Alabama in the 1989 NCAA basketball tournament. The backcourt duo of Junie “Peanut Butter” Lewis and Jeff “Jelly” Hodge combined with forward Gabe Estaba to give Jaguar fans plenty to cheer about that day.
However, few athletic matches have been as greatly anticipated than Saturday’s football game with Mississippi State. This marks the first time a Southeastern Conference school has played at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium since 1968, when Alabama edged Southern Mississippi 17-14.
“This is really a tremendous event,” Dr. Joel Erdmann, the USA athletics director, told Lagniappe. “This is an occurrence that we all can be very excited about and proud of. And when I say ‘we’ I mean the football team, the school, the city and the region we serve.”
Erdmann took the reins of the sports program in 2009, which happened to be the first year of the football program. The Jaguars have continued to improve, finishing 6-6 last season in their first year of bowl eligibility. USA opened last Saturday with a 23-13 win at Kent State.
“The evolution of South Alabama football, from the first practice to the first game to hosting an SEC opponent,” Erdmann said, “is in and of itself a story filled with hard work and commitment from so many people.
“This, by no means, was a small team effort. This is a huge team effort.”
To mark the significance of this game, a special parade and pep rally will take place in downtown Mobile on Friday night. The band and players will march down Dauphin Street from the Battle House Hotel to Cathedral Square. The pep rally is set to begin at 7 p.m.
“The downtown plans came up during the summer,” Erdmann said. “We have had pep rallies on campus, but this was an opportunity to further strengthen and expose South Alabama and the City of Mobile.
“The response by local merchants to have the pep rally at Cathedral Square has been tremendous. It is a reflection of the power of one, where all the members of this great community are coming together.”
Because the pep rally is falling on the second Friday of September, it means a large crowd would have already been downtown for the monthly Art Walk.
“We believe the Arts District can easily handle the two events,” said Carol Hunter, the communications director of the Downtown Mobile Alliance. “In fact, we think they’ll compliment each other.
“After all, downtown handles large events almost weekly these days; everything from BayFest and Mardi Gras to National Dance Day and the Great Food Truck Race. The pep rally and Jag Night on Dauphin is a great addition to the downtown scene.”
Joanie Stiff, with Mobile’s Special Events Department, said as with all Art Walks that Dauphin Street will be closed to vehicular traffic from Warren to Conception between 6 and 9 p.m. Hunter added that Claiborne Street will also be closed to allow for a video screen to be set up and for the parking of buses that will carry the Jaguar marching band.
A huge crowd is also expected at the 40,000-seat Ladd-Pebbles Stadium on Saturday. According to the latest figures from USA, all seats in the east and west stands have been sold. Only a few tickets remain in the end zones. For the latest availability, call 251-461-1USA (1872).
“We deeply appreciate and acknowledge the interest from students and the community for grabbing tickets ahead of time,” Erdmann said. “The game called football is near and dear to a lot of hearts.”
Mississippi State comes in with a 2-0 record. The Bulldogs opened with a 49-0 rout of Southern Mississippi, before rallying to defeat UAB 47-34 last weekend. This will be their first game away from Starkville.
For those who have not attended a Jaguar game lately, there is a complete guide for activities — such as for tailgating and shuttle service — at www.southalabama.edu/gamedayguide.html. The Jaguar Prowl, a procession of players and coaches into the stadium, is set to begin Saturday at approximately 12:30 p.m. near the USA Alumni Tent.
The atmosphere should be electric, as a large contingent of Mississippi State fans are expected to cross the state line for the 3 p.m. kickoff.
“Saturday will be a very special and memorable days for all those that are there,” Erdmann said. “We are grateful for our fans who are coming to the game. It really makes a difference.”
Did you know?
Ladd-Pebbles Stadium is one of 11 municipal football stadiums that sells beer during college football games, according to The Associated Press. There are 21 campus stadiums doing the same, including Troy and Tulane.
The University of South Alabama website states fans cannot bring in their own alcohol, and those who do are subject to ejection. To read the entire AP story and see the list of stadiums, please visit www.nbcsports.com/college-football/more-schools-are-mixing-beer-football-stadiums.