Halftime was a good time to enjoy something special

I never knew.

All the years I’ve spent closely watching college and high school football games, almost every one  including a halftime show with at least the home team’s band, and I didn’t know.

Many of the best shows have featured both the home and visiting bands, as was the case Saturday night in Aillet Stadium and in Tiger Stadium.

No doubt the sold-out crowd in Baton Rouge was eagerly anticipating the performance of the “World Famed Tiger Marching Band.” And they were certainly not disappointed, enjoying a trademark show from Grambling’s finest. Louisiana Football Magazine’s Lee Brecheen reported many LSU fans said it was the highlight of the night.

In Ruston, there was tailgating talk centered around halftime, with Louisiana Tech’s faithful having watched dynamic performances in 2014 and 2017 by NSU’s “Spirit of Northwestern.” The “Band of Pride” at Tech has rising stock and proved it Saturday night.

But until then, I never knew. Neither did Shreveport’s Gordon Boogaerts, a Demon football legend who  joined me on the way down from the visiting athletic director’s suite (I wasn’t in there, of course – I was in the O.K. “Buddy” Davis Memorial Press Box, an appropriate showcase honoring the legendary Ruston Daily Leader sports editor).

I knew Gordon should strike fear into the heart of any Bulldogs. In the 1973 State Fair Classic, with a struggling Demon squad facing off with the Bulldogs’ eventual Division II national championship team featuring the likes of future Pro Football Hall of Famer Fred Dean, current Evangel coach and longtime chancellor Pastor Denny Duron, Pro Bowl pass catchers Roger Carr and Mike Barber, Gordon made 33 tackles.

Thirty-three. Not a misprint. Just an indelible impact by a Captain Shreve product who has since become a successful farmer and businessman and an aficionado of beautiful roses. You probably never knew.

We navigated the west side stands, running into friends including Lady Techsters’ basketball coach Brooke Stoehr, eventually finding the elusive staircase to the field. Three steps down left Gordon briefly in the Bulldogs’ bench area, and that could have been bad if he suddenly reverted back a half-century.

There was no bull-in-the-china shop incident, although Gordon admitted he felt young again being so close to the action. We swept right, moving quickly past Champ the Bulldog mascot and the enthusiastic Tech cheerleaders, looping around to the NSU bench area in the waning moments before halftime.

Gordon was back in his element (not that he spent much time on the bench back in his day). In my 30 years as sports information director at Northwestern, I’d been on the Demons’ sideline plenty, but never at that stage of games, just in the closing minutes. I watched walk-off field goals score stunning upsets at TCU (2001) and Tech (2014). I watched coach Sam Goodwin carried onto the field on the shoulders of his players, more than once. I saw goalposts tugged down (twice). As the clock wound down, I had one of NSU’s greatest running backs, Clarence Matthews, ask me about his game rushing total, and then give me what he’d kept in his head. There wasn’t much difference, but he didn’t agree with the Stephen F. Austin stat crew.

The back of the bench area Saturday night began getting congested as the Band of Pride left the stands, moving into position to march. On the other end of the bench, there was an even larger contingent from the SON, as they’re called, massing in their purple and orange. They were first up.

Suddenly, the halftime horn sounded, the teams trotted toward their dressing rooms, and NSU’s band began excitedly streaming into position to take the field.

Northwestern-Tech, once a bitter rivalry, now not so much. For the guys wearing helmets and shoulder pads, there was obvious intensity but there was a definite pecking order – the Bulldogs were not only at home, they were supposed to win, being a much-greater resourced Football Bowl Subdivision team compared to the Football Championship Subdivision Demons.

For the guys and girls in shorts and shirts, toting instruments, trotting giddily to find their spots so the show could begin, the dynamic was flipped. Over the past three decades, the scholarship-heavy SON has earned a national reputation for excellence – mentioned in band blogs alongside stalwarts like Ohio State, Texas and yes, LSU – along with the Human Jukebox from Southern, and Grambling’s crew. That I knew.

What I didn’t know, had never seen before, was the kinship between the bands. I was later told that’s not uniformly the case, in bitter school rivalries, but what I saw in a few fleeting moments on that sideline was remarkable.

Louisiana Tech’s bandmembers were cheering NSU’s. They were encouraging them. They were high-fiving them as the SON streamed in front to start the show.

I never knew.

It was very, very cool.

I’m pretty sure Boogaerts and Duron never had that friendly bond 50 years ago.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com