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Football: Ex-Cajuns relish success – N.O. Bowl stretch ignites pride in former players

Chad Washington, Daily Advertiser, Dec. 22, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — For most of the 1980’s, the UL football team – then known as USL – had three straight 6-5 seasons.

But there was no bowl game at the end of those seasons. So players like linebacker Will Sirmon, wide receiver Dana Herrick and offensive lineman Tim Calcagno never got a chance to experience what the last three Cajun teams have.

But that’s not stopping them from enjoying the moment as UL prepares to play in its third-straight New Orleans Bowl.

Even though most former UL football players did not get a chance to enjoy going to a bowl game, getting a chance to watch the current Ragin’ Cajuns football team play in its third straight New Orleans Bowl is worth the four years they put in building the program. Former players have flocked to New Orleans from all over the state and the country.

“When you have people coming in from Chicago and Dallas, and guys that you played with that you see once every two-three-four years, it’s exciting to come out and hang with everybody,” Sirmon said.

Chris Gannon, who was a defensive lineman from 1985 to 1989, is the president of the UL Gridiron Club and believes the three-year bowl run by the Cajuns is energizing former players to be more involved with the club and with the program, especially under head coach Mark Hudspeth.

“The energy is high,” he said. “It’s made it really fun in the offseason to have a golf tournament and a lot of people want to come back. And the energy that Coach Hudspeth has brought to the community has just been remarkable.”

The group sat in the hotel lobby and talked of the glory years in the mid 80’s, when quarterback Brian Mitchell put up huge numbers to help the Cajuns to put up three winning seasons in a row. While UL has enjoyed three straight bowl trips, the pride of that accomplishment is also seen in players who donned the vermilion and white almost 30 years ago.

“When you’re part of something as a player, and when we were all playing, we had Brian Mitchell, so everyone knows about the Brian Mitchell years were good years,” Sirmon said. “At the time, there weren’t a whole lot of bowl games. In this format, our teams would have played in a bowl game. We had that caliber of a team.

“But for the program to come back so strong, it makes you proud that you’re a part of that tradition. And you’ll always be a part of that tradition.”

This year’s game against Tulane also brings back memories of past meetings between the Cajuns and the Green Wave. Including one especially in 1988, when UL beat the Wave in a shootout, 51-34. Some of the players rather that the Cajuns play Tulane every year instead of waiting for a bowl game to play them.

“Cajun fans know we had some heated battles with Tulane,” Gannon said. “And I was very sad that this rivalry wasn’t kept year after year. There’s no reason for us to not play Tulane year after year. ”

Gannon believes that regardless where it’s played, a UL-Tulane game will sell out. And tonight’s game will come very close to doing that, with almost 60,000 tickets sold, according to a New Orleans Bowl official.

Calcagno feels the bowls are giving the Cajun football program the support it needs to become a bigger and better draw for other bowl games. “We’re making progress,” he said. “Getting the support base that we need. You can never have enough of this.”

There’s no doubt that the 80’s group wanted to play in a bowl game to leave their mark on UL’s history. But they’re happy getting a chance to get to a bowl 30 years later.

“See the crowd? Everyone having a great time? Yeah, it’s worth it,” Herrick said.