Louisiana Victory Run: Birth of a Tradition by Steve Gossen
by Steve Gossen
It may be presumptuous of me to give Louisiana's Victory Run "Tradition" status, but it reflects my deep hopes that the Victory Run will not only be a permanent fixture for all home pre-game activities; but that it will evolve into a practice that generates honor and respect for our State Flag.
THE SAGA BEGINS
The story of this tradition begins on September 9, 2000 at the University of Texas game. My son Greg had joined me on this trip with the team to Austin. His business is film (TV/Media) production and his company, Channel One Video & Film, Inc., handles the video production on the scoreboard for the Cajun home games. We were seated in our end zone seats 30-40 minutes before the game and Greg was very interested in all of the scoreboard advertisements that, undoubtedly, generate funds for the University of Texas Athletic Department. As Greg was absorbing all of this and trying to apply this to Cajun Field, he noticed something that was unusual. Prominently displayed on the press box was "Darrell Royal Stadium." This was understandable since Darrell Royal was a very successful Longhorn Coach for many years. He also noticed, however, in the south end zone, a prominent sign that said "Joe Jamail Field." He asked me "Who is Joe Jamail?" I told him that he was the Pennzoil Attorney in a suit against Texaco in which his fee for the 14 billion dollar judgement was 3.13 billion dollars. I remembered seeing his interview on "60 Minutes." Obviously, Mr. Jamail made a significant donation to UT to obtain naming rights for the field. That answered Greg's question so he decided to get some souvenirs for his children and a couple of Cokes since the midday sun was beginning to bake us.
YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
After Greg left, I noticed two gentlemen casually dressed coming up the steps in my direction. They ended up sitting in the row in front of me, ten feet or so, to my left. While they were drawing closer to me, I noticed that one of them bore a remarkable similarity to what I remembered Joe Jamail to look like. I said to myself, no way, the coincidence is too much. Besides, with his clout, what was he doing in the end zone? Just seconds after they were seated, people started approaching the other guy asking for his autograph. I looked at this person and finally recognized him as Darrell Royal. I then caught the eye of the Joe Jamail look alike and pointed to him asking him, without sound, if he was Joe Jamail. He smiled and gave me two thumbs up. Knowing that he attended SLI in the forties, I introduced myself and began a conversation. He told me of the wonderful time he had at SLI mentioning several of his fondest memories. He also told me how excited he was when the Cajuns had beaten Texas A & M.
HERE COMES THE JUDGE
This was truly a coincidence, but I had to ask him what they were doing in the end zone. He told me he wanted Darrell to meet Kaliste Saloom, who he hoped was on the trip. He was glad to find out that he was indeed at the game, but had not taken his seat at that time. He said that Judge Saloom had encouraged him to become a lawyer. Mr. Jamail was headed to Tulane when Judge Saloom gave him this advice, "If you want to practice law in Texas, you should go to the University of Texas." He followed his advice and became a billionaire. Before Judge and Mrs. Saloom got to their seats, he told me that he was giving UL a million dollars. A few months later he donated $1,000,000 to UL. I spotted Judge Saloom and his wife moving to their seats twenty or so rows below so Joe and Darrell were away to meet them and then retreat to their A/C boxes high above us. Thankfully, Greg had returned with that Coke, that I really needed, and got to meet Darrell and Joe. He probably would not have believed me if he hadn't met them himself.
You ask, what does this have to do with the flag? At the time, it had nothing to do with it, but as I reminisce, it was a truly remarkable coincidence which could portend a special event or a sign that something positive would be forthcoming. After the Cajuns took a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, I allowed myself the inkling of a thought about what Mr. Jamail would say, or do, if the Cajuns pulled off the upset. This would certainly be a very positive development. My inkling was short lived as Texas used an unstoppable passing game to win big.
Later, as the flag project developed, I realized that this endeavor fulfilled the anticipation that something positive would develop from that rare coincidence.
"RUNNING THE FLAG." WE COULD DO THAT!
Texans have a special reverence for the State "Lone Star" Flag and their "Stand Alone" attitude and historical past such as the Alamo, all contribute to this reverence. It is no wonder that during the pre-game ceremonies when the huge Texas state flag is unfurled and carried on the field, the crowd roars with excitement. I watched the "Running the Flag" activity unfold and found out later that this tradition was started in 1962. On the plane ride home, I thought that since we were now the University of Louisiana, we too should honor our state flag with such a tradition. The Cajun fans that made the trip thought it was a great idea, but no one could even identify the next step much less who would initiate it.
GOOD IDEA - NOW WHAT?
In the next few months, I mentioned the idea to several people, all of whom thought it was a great idea, but none of them jumped on the project enough to get it off the ground. At this point, the project was dead in the water.
It wasn't until December on a trip to Tucson, Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl basketball championship that the idea was resurrected. With a seven hour layover in Houston, I was among a group of Cajun fans that had nothing to do but eat, drink and complain about things. After depleting all conversational subject matter, I decided to bring up the flag project to the handful of Cajun fans there. I mentioned that I wanted to do this flag project even if I had to do it by myself. All of the fans were more than enthusiastic, they all assured me that they would financially assist me. That was the encouragement I needed. Paul Giroir, Lee Hill, Mike Helo, Robert Trahan, T.C. Wiggins, Bob Rodgers, Jim Kreamer and Dan Carroll were responsible for my decision to start the process toward the development of the Louisiana's Victory Run tradition.
One morning, in Tucson, I noticed Dr. Authement and his wife Barbara having breakfast. I approached them and bargained with Dr. Authement that if he would find a campus group to handle the flag, I would see that the flag was obtained. He whole heartedly agreed and I was off to get the flag with no idea of where to start.
YOU WANT THE BALL? YOU GOT IT!
I decided that I should start at the beginning. I wanted to talk to the Texas flag handlers and get as much information as possible about their flag. I called the University of Texas athletic department and survived going through five or six electronic plateaus and finally got a human voice which ultimately led nowhere. I then spoke to a friend and a fan, Randy Monceaux and he recommended I speak to Dan Hare of the UL Alumni. I spoke to Dan, after Randy told him I was going to call, and asked him, with his Alumni position, to contact UT Alumni Association for further leads. Dan was successful in getting the number of the flag coordinator of Alpha Phi Omega, Ginger Walker. Ginger gave me what information she could about how to wash the flag and other facts, but could not give me any information on the flag's manufacturer. She did supply me with a flag history, "Running the Flag" which was helpful. I tried to call the sail maker who fabricated their flag, but they were no longer in business.
UP STEPS TECHNOLOGY
From this point, I decided to go to the Internet to find suitable flag makers. I located 59 flag companies and called each one of them to ask if they were interested and capable of manufacturing our Louisiana flag. Twenty-five companies said they could do the job. With the help of some of the manufacturers, I compiled a Louisiana Flag specification. This specification was included on a bid proposal form and submitted to each of the interested companies. I received 17 bids ranging from $7,460 to $25,800. The lowest bid was from Advertising Flag Co., Inc. of Chicago and was $40 below a San Antonio company. I was pleased with the low bidder, since the person I dealt with (Randy Smith) from that company was largely responsible for the specification I used and seemed the most knowledgeable of all those I conversed with during my research. I checked the company's references (museums in New York and Chicago) who gave the company and Mr. Smith the highest of recommendations.
THE PELICAN IS HATCHED AND IT'S NOT A LONGHORN
On February 23, 2001, I authorized Advertising Flag Co., Inc. to proceed with the manufacture of a state flag of Louisiana measuring 53' x 80' with 70 sewn-in handles. I set Memorial Day as a completion day, but no later than July 4, 2001. At that time, I decided to purchase the flag on my own. I could not ask fans and friends to donate to this project, since I was embarking on a process that was totally unfamiliar.
During the time the flag was being fabricated, I thought that we should establish a difference in what we were doing compared to Texas' "Running of the Flag." An idea immediately came to me that would add some tradition and historical value to our flag. I thought, suppose we could embroider the edges of the flag with scores and dates of every victory UL has ever had since 1908. I spoke with Dr. Authement about it and he said that the new Apparel Computer Integrated Manufacturing Center at the Abdalla building on campus had a high speed embroidering machine that could be useful. He checked on it and had me speak to Al Steward, the director of the facility. Mr. Steward was very cooperative and was anxious to proceed. On April 24, 2001, I ordered enough blue flag material for the embroidery to begin. It was established that each victory would take up a swatch, 3" x 8" with a total of 431 victories which would go completely around the large flag with 80 victories to spare on the second go around. Karmen Comeaux, CAD Intern Supervisor, and her crew began the embroidery of the games on the blue material I supplied. When finished, 360 total hours were logged by Karmen's two interns, Allison Ardoin (200) and Suzanne Sewell (160). Karmen's time was not included in the 360 hours. All of this work was done at no cost to our flag group.
LOOKING FOR A NEST
Thinking about the flag, I wondered, where would it be stored? UT kept their flag in a trailer which allowed for protection and minimum handling. After considering many solutions, I decided that a trailer would also be our best solution. I called Robert Trahan of Lafayette Motors and asked him to look into the cost of such a trailer. Robert told me it would cost about $1,800 for a good, air-tight trailer of the proper size. We ordered a Wells Cargo trailer from Southern Trailer Sales in Lafayette. I then started calling some of the good and solid Cajun fans telling them about our flag and asking them for a $100 contribution to assist in the purchase of the trailer and other expenses which were sure to pop up. I promised that each $100 contributor would become a Charter member of our, as yet, unnamed group. His/Her name would be etched on a plaque that would be permanently attached to the flag trailer. Everyone I called was enthusiastic and even thanked me for including them in this project. Others gave me more than $100 such as Bob Manuel ($500), Elix Decoux ($500), Brad Hamilton ($400), Paul Giroir ($300), and Robert Trahan ($200). It was wonderful seeing the excitement and enthusiasm build as the seeds of tradition were beginning to sprout.
THE PELICAN HAS LANDED AND ITS NAME IS "LOUISIANA"
On Monday, July 2, 2001, the flag was delivered to my office in Thibodaux in a box 42" x 42" x 12" weighing 160 lbs. I arranged to deliver the flag to the Apparel Center on Thursday, July 5, 2001. I told all the contributors that the flag was in and we would be unfurling it for viewing for the first time. A special invitation was extended to them to witness this event. I was a bit apprehensive about showing the flag to others when I had not even seen it myself. Would this whole project fly like a lead balloon? What if it was cheap and poorly done? At the Apparel Center, we had found an area that seemed to be large enough to display the whole flag. We were wrong. A few of us struggled to spread the flag for viewing and realized how hard it was to handle this huge flag. We did not get to view the complete flag, but we got a great look at the pelican, the nest and the pelican chicks. The pelican's eye was measured at 10" in diameter. The workmanship was excellent with all the seams perfectly fitted. It was very impressive to all. The enthusiasm with the flag fans was again bolstered with this viewing. Eric Treuil of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, the chosen campus group to handle the flag, was amazed with the size of the flag. No one had told him of the actual size of the flag. The flag was folded back to its 42" x 42" size and laid next to the embroidery machine for the victory swatches to be applied. It was decided to give the flag a name. The name that was chosen was "Louisiana." This was a natural, since this tradition will relate to and honor all of Louisiana and all of the rich history of this great state.
A LARGE BUMP IN THE ROAD
Speaking to Julie Dronet of UL's Public Relations Department, I wondered if there were any prohibitions against embroidering on the flag and asked her to check on it. A legal review dug up a Louisiana statute that prohibits adding anything to the state flag. The planned embroidery on the flag would be considered flag desecration and a felony. Our flag was alive and well and the embroidery almost completed, but we now had suddenly reached an impasse. A change of direction was needed and quickly. We immediately started thinking of ways to display the embroidered victories. Many ideas were presented, considered and rejected. Finally, we decided to produce five smaller flags (58" x 96") with one side red with "Ragin' Cajuns" in black and white. The other side of each flag would be basically black with 100 blue embroidered victories 30" x 80" set on the black with 8" white letters showing "100 Victories" (for the first 100 victories) and "200 Victories" (for the second 100 victories) and so on with the fifth flag indicating 500 victories with the final 31 victories embroidered. We ordered the black material and the 431 embroidered victories were sewn on to the black material. These were sent to Chicago to be stitched to the red Ragin' Cajun flags. These victory flags are to be paraded and waved by five cheerleaders ahead of the large flag as it is brought on the field and ahead of the Ragin' Cajun team as it comes out of the tunnel.
A flag handling session was planned for Wednesday, August 15, 2001 in Bourgeois Hall with Chi Alpha. The entire flag was spread out and I got my first viewing of it in its entirety. Chi Alpha experimented in folding, unfolding, moving and turning the flag. This practice was important since a dress rehearsal at Cajun Field was planned for Friday, August 17, which would also serve as a press conference. The trailer also came in and was delivered to Eric Treuil on the 15th. Friday the 17th came around and Nelson Schexnayder, Athletic Director, as well as, Dr. Authement spoke about the flag project. I explained some of the reasons this project got started and what it would mean as a tradition in support, honoring the state flag and providing support for the football team.
FINAL DETAILS COMING TOGETHER
On August 23, 2001, the victory flags were in Thibodaux with fine anodized aluminum poles. These five flags will be waved and paraded by the cheerleaders as the large flag is brought out. The trailer was delivered to Paul Giroir who washed and waxed it and was himself providing for the purchase and installation of the logos. It was promised to be complete on Friday, August 31. Ronnie Mahtook of Talk'n T Shirts provided the logo for the shirts and caps for Chi Alpha. They were displayed along with the 500 victories flag at a meeting of supporters held Wednesday, August 29, 2001 at the Alumni House.
On Friday, as promised, Crown Decal Printers turned the trailer over to Paul Giroir. The work was done beautifully and attracted plenty of attention as Paul transported it to his place of business (A-Abal Transmission and Differential Repairs). Paul has taken it upon himself to furnish and install 4" PVC tubing to store the victory flags in the trailer. Paul's continued assistance is absolutely essential in getting the trailer ready for use.
Friday, August the 31st, brought more afternoon thundershowers to an already soaked Cajun Field. Early Saturday, September 1st, more torrential rain pelted the field. At 12:30 PM it was raining steadily and all the university staff were advising me that it was too wet to bring the trailer on the field. I was a very disappointed camper, but agreed not to debut "Louisiana's Victory Run." Since this was our first effort, I wanted it to procede without a hitch. Getting the flag wet would be a serious hitch, so a decision was made not to run the flag. I know many of our fans were as disappointed as I was because of this long awaited event. Hopefully the increased anticipation for the flag will maximize the excitement generated when it is finally run.
The game, however, was not cancelled or delayed. The Ragin' Cajuns shut out Nicholls State 20-0. It was a fantastic defensive performance considering Nicholls only had 57 yards rushing and 0 yards passing. As a result of the remarkable statistics UL was leading the nation in total defense. This was victory 432 which will be embroidered onto Victory Flag 500. In the meantime, a flag streamer will be added to Victory Flag 500 embroidered with the following "Victory 432, 9/1/01, UL 20, Nicholls State 0, MVP Jerome Coleman." This streamer will be presented to Jerome Coleman, after the season, at the event we sponsor for the flag handlers of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.
BIG TEN DEBUT
Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a game with the Golden Gophers at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. It was UL’s first venture in the Big 10. Minnesota, the previous week, had been soundly trounced by Toledo. They had an uninspired game at Toledo, but they were ready for us. Minnesota 44, UL 14
On September 11th, all America was shocked beyond belief as terrorists sadistically and emphatically declared war on the USA. This well-organized and well planned apocalyptic attack caused billions of dollars in damage and murdered over 6,000 completely innocent people. We were all humbled to see how fragile our great nation can be. This event caused us to look at our vulnerability, as seriously threatened, and made many of our societal pursuits seem trivial. Conversely, the effect of this horrific incident allowed us to express, with unmatched unity, our great American ideals such as patriotism, courage, honor, and charity. The world is changed forever and our country is engaged in a conflict that we must win to maintain our basic freedoms.
TIME TO HEAL
After the events of Tuesday, September 11th, all NCAA Division I A games for September 15th were postponed. UL will meet Central Florida in November. During this time of healing, a strong UL and Louisiana supporter, Ken Ardoin of Dallas, Texas, purchased the hats and t-shirts ($1,200) used by Chi Alpha. This was a wonderful gesture which definitely provided us some budgetary breathing room. Thanks Ken.
CHI ALPHA SHINES
Louisiana’s Victory Run finally occurred during the pre-game ceremonies of the Southern Mississippi - UL contest. Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, Louisiana, and the five victory flags were introduced to the field after one of the most inspiring arrangements of the Star Spangled Banner ever performed. Brian Taylor (UL Marching Band Director) along with Meeke Golden (Chi Alpha Louisiana’s first flagmaster) had their charges perform flawlessly. The game did not go as well, however, as USM beat the Cajuns 35-10. With the first exposure of Louisiana’s Victory Run, the tradition has finally begun.
Join our group of flag supporters. We need as many Ragin' Cajun fans as possible to unite and perpetuate the tradition of "Louisiana's Victory Run."
Anyone interested in supporting "Louisiana's Victory Run" is welcomed to join our charter group. Send a check of $100.00 made out to UL Foundation - Flag Project to Steve Gossen, P.O. Box 1124, Thibodaux, LA 70302. After the season all charter members shall have their name inscribed on a plaque located on "Louisiana's Victory Run" trailer. All members will also be placed on the mailing list for future events.
The newest tradition of "Louisiana's Victory Run" features a flag that:
* is the World's Largest State of Louisiana Flag
* is the largest state or territorial flag ever built in the 65 years of the Chicago based manufacturer
* is 80' x 53' (4,240 s.f.) and weighs 160 lbs.
* consists of 4,680 s.f. of 66-bright solar max nylon and 2,820 s.f. optic white nylon
* has over 3 miles of blue and white spun polyester threading securing the design and additional miles of heavy filament polyester thread used to join and edge the flag.
* took over 270 man hours in pattern making and sewing as well as many more hours of fabric cutting and handling.
* was too large to be laid out indoors so it was finally finished on the roof of the manufacturer's building.
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