Football: The day Alabama visited Cajun Field - Tide (2018 Opponent) in NCAA Championship Game
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, Sept 28, 2018
Click here for the Oct. 6, 1990 Alabama vs. USL football game photo gallery at Cajun Field.
When UL fans got the news two years ago that the Ragin’ Cajuns were going to play Alabama in football in 2018, no one had to ask where the game was going to be played.
After all, there’s no way the Crimson Tide is going to ever come to Cajun Field, right?
As spot on as that assumption was these days, believe it or not, there was a time that Alabama actually did travel to Cajun Field.
The day was Oct. 6, 1990.
The two programs have not played since.
At the time, a Cajun Field record crowd of 36,133 fans showed up.
Next game: at Alabama, 11 a.m. Sept. 29
WHAT: UL (1-2) at No. 1 Alabama (4-0)
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821)
TV: SEC Network with Tyler Zarzour (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (color) and Kris Budden (sidelines)
RADIO: KPEL 1420 AM and KHXT 107.9 FM with Jay Walker (play-by-play), ex-Cajun Chris Lanaux (analyst) and Cody Junot (sideline)
COACHES: Billy Napier (1-2) vs. Nick Saban (222-62-1, including 131-20 at Alabama)
LAST MEETING: Alabama 25, UL 6 on Oct. 6, 1990
SERIES RECORD: Alabama leads 7-0
Truth be told, it was a relatively boring affair as football games go, but it was far from the total blowout Saturday’s 48-point spread suggests when coach Billy Napier takes his 2018 Cajuns to Tuscaloosa for the seventh all-time meeting between the two programs.
Current UL director of football operations and then-starting offensive tackle Troy Wingerter accurately points out Oklahoma State came to Cajun Field four years prior to that game, so it was a little more common back then for Power Five programs to travel to mid-majors.
But then-UL assistant coach Gerald Broussard was sure stunned back then to learn Alabama was coming to town.
“It was (surprising),” Broussard said. “You hear it and you’re thinking, ‘There’s no way.’ Then you see it on the schedule and they’re really coming.”
Broussard can’t help but laugh when he recollects the reaction of Crimson Tide’s coaching staff walking down the tunnel to start the game 28 years ago.
“Then you’re coming down the tunnel with some of their coaches and they made it very clear that this was going to be the last time they ever came here,” Broussard said.
“They said, ‘We ain’t never coming back here again.’”
Somehow, the Alabama delegation wasn’t as enamored with the cool little aspects of "The Swamp."
“We think it’s neat with the slime on the walls in the tunnel and on the ground in there,” Broussard said. “They were looking at that just holding on so they didn’t slip and fall.
“We thought that was cool, but they sure didn’t like it. Plus, it’s hot in Alabama, but it’s really humid in that tunnel. They weren’t too happy about being there.”
It was Gene Stallings’ first year as head coach at Alabama, taking over for Bill Curry, who had gone 10-2 and reached the Sugar Bowl the year before.
“My first thought is that Gene Stallings wanted to be just about anywhere else on the planet than at Cajun Field,” then-Advertiser sports editor Bruce Brown said. “It was a major coup to get the Tide to come to Lafayette; all Stallings needed was to somehow lose to the Cajuns.”
As disgruntled as that walk down the tunnel made Alabama, the Crimson Tide didn’t exactly wipe the floor with the Cajuns once arriving on the field.
Sure, Alabama won the game — 25-6 to be specific — but the Cajuns’ defense certainly competed.
Alabama rushed for 241 yards and threw for 125 on 9-of-22 passing, but only scored one touchdown and was forced to settle for six Philip Doyle field goals.
“We knew we were good enough to compete defensively,” Broussard said. “We didn’t give up the explosive play. As long as you didn’t do that, you were in games.
“The problem was we didn’t have the offense to put points on the board that next year (in 1990).”
You see, it hadn’t actually been that long since these two programs had hooked up.
In 1988, Wingerter played center in Alabama’s 17-0 win over the Cajuns at Legion Field in Birmingham.
And in 1989, he played guard in a 24-17 Alabama win at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
“The year before was the best we ever played them,” then-UL secondary coach Mike Doherty said. “We had two goalline stands. The kids really thought they could beat Alabama. It wasn’t quite like it would be there today.
“We had played them so well in Alabama, so when they came to Lafayette, our kids were pumped. We definitely thought we were going to beat them.”
The difference is Brian Mitchell’s final season was in 1989. The Cajuns led 10-3 going to the fourth quarter at Tuscaloosa that year.
It was an even game Alabama just pulled out. UL won the first downs battle 19-17, total yards 201-294 and the turnovers were even. For the record, the most productive player on either team in those final two meetings was UL receiver Quent McCollum with two-game totals of 16 receptions, 189 yards and a score.
“Because of that (1989) game, in all honesty, the coaches and players had a better feeling for that Alabama game than for the Texas A&M game (29-22 win in 1996),” Doherty said.
Wingerter has very specific memories for all three battles against Alabama. The 1988 game was more of a nightmare, thanks to All-American linebacker Derrick Thomas.
“One of the biggest butt-whippings I almost took was Brian Mitchell grabbing me by the facemask and saying that if Derrick Thomas hits him in the back of the head again, he was going to kick my butt,” Wingerter said.
“I told him, ‘You better get ready buddy, but he’s going to get you.' I had to pick up the back side and I wasn’t catching him. There was no way. He was the fastest dude I’d ever seen.”
Wingerter said he thinks he played one of his best individual games ever in 1989 against the likes of Keith McCants and John Mangum.
“For Alabama being here, my dad was an Alabama fan when I was a kid, I had been to three or four of their national championship games in the Sugar Bowl as a kid,” Wingerter said. “For me, it was a very cool thing.
“I can remember talking to my dad after the game (at Legion Field in Alabama) in 1988 about how cool it was being in that lockerroom, knowing all the greats that had been in that lockerroom, it was something that I really had an appreciation for.”
Now somehow on this day in 1990, Wingerter and the Cajuns were actually hosting one of college football’s most storied programs.
“It was easier to get bigger schools like that to come to your place back then,” Doherty said. “You could do things like play them four times and you’d get them one time at home.
“Today, they offer so much money that the schools can’t afford to have that one time at home, even if the bigger schools would do it. It’s just a different animal now.”
As it turned out, that 1990 Alabama squad – filled with such big college names as David Palmer, Siran Stacy, Lemanski Hall, Sherman Williams and Antonio Langham – finished 7-5. But that group was go on to finish 11-1 in 1991 and then 13-0 and win the national title in 1992.
“They were a great team,” Wingerter said about watching that squad grow into 1992 champions. “They had some special guys. As a player … as a young kid, there was some level of, ‘Yeah, I played against those guys. I know what they’re all about.’”
Now in his second season as a retired coach who was a defensive coordinator at Teurlings Catholic for years after his tenure at UL ended, Doherty still follows college football, but certainly prefers the sport’s good old days.
“It wasn’t all about money back then,” Doherty said. “Today, it’s more about money than it is anything else.”
Doherty’s father, George, was a defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech in the 1960s and head coach at Northwestern State in the '70s.
“My Daddy was a college football coach, so I grew up in it,” Doherty said. “As a kid, I’d watch Dad pick up the phone and call Bear Bryant. He was very close to Bear and he and Barry Switzer were close friends as well.
“Today, there’s a separation of that. It’s you’re SEC and it’s not as friendly a basis as it was back then. They’re not worried about filling your stadium and making your year after you went to their place three times like in the old days.”
For instance, when his father suffered a heart attack as a young assistant in Ruston in the 1960s, head coach Joe Aillet called Arkansas coach Frank Broyles to see if he had a graduate assistant that could go to Ruston and help coach the linebackers for the spring semester while Doherty was healing.
“Coach Broyles said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a good G.A. I think it would do him some good to go down there.’ He lived in our third bedroom in our home that spring,” Doherty remembered.
That young coach was Jimmy Johnson.
On Saturday, the 2018 Cajuns aren’t expected to be treated with such great hospitality in this brave new world of college football.
But for one day 28 years ago, as hard as it may seem to fathom in today’s game, the legend that is Alabama football got a small dose of Cajun Country.