In an unprecedented chain of
events, Baton Rouge served home to a pair of national football champions in
2003. The LSU Tigers, the SEC Champion, posted a 13-1 record en route to the
Nokia Sugar Bowl and the 2003 Bowl Championship Series national
On the other hand, the Jaguars,
champions of the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC), were dubbed the Black
College National Champions after posting a 12-1 record in 2003.
To honor these two championship
squads, Mayor-President Bobby Simpson and his staff, along with the
administration of both Southern and LSU planned the most prolific celebration in
the history of Baton Rouge sports.
A parade included both universities
legendary bands, cheerleaders, coaches, players and administrators, Jaguar and
Tiger fans lined the sidewalks of third and fourth streets in downtown Baton
Rouge to honor the team’s respective championships.
After an hour-long processions
through the downtown financial district, the entourage assembled on the steps of
the Louisiana State Capitol for a concert of each school’s bands as well
welcoming speeches for Simpson, lieutenant governor Mitch Landrieu as well as
dignitaries from each institution.
Despite miserable weather, a crowd
estimated between 75,000 and 100,000 well-wishers covered the capitol grounds
for the joyous event.
LSU chancellor Mark Emmert greeted
the throng with a statement that brought about a boisterous response.
"They're not having a celebration
like this in Southern California," said Emmert, referring to LSU’s split
national title with the USC Trojans.
The camaraderie between fans of the
Jaguar Nation as well as Tigertown was one never seen before in the history of
football players ride
on a firetruck
in Saturday's parade. (Sally Stiel)
“I don't think this could happen
anywhere else in this nation," said Southern coach Pete Richardson. "I didn't
think we could get this many people in one place in Baton Rouge.”
Members of the LSU and Southern
football team were tapped out by Simpson as honorary Mayor-Presidents, including
Tigers Matt Mauck and Michael Clayton. In the end, band members as well as
players from both teams exchanged congratulations.
"It was special to see that many
people show up," Richardson said. "You see that following, and it's special to
be sitting in that car and see so many people waving for both programs, both
black and white."
In the wake of the celebration
downtown, the Tiger football team and its following moved south to Tiger Stadium
were a campus-full of tailgaiting LSU fans were waiting in an almost
Soggy weather kept the numbers down
as an estimated 25,000 filed into Death Valley for the official LSU Tiger
national championship celebration, but the atmosphere was festive and the
players, especially the senior enjoyed one final hurrah.
"You make Tiger Stadium the most
special player in the world to play a football game," said LSU head coach Nick Saban. "This is the greatest place to be the coach of any place in the United
States in any league. Everyone here today, everyone that supported this group of
players, is a part of this team. You helped this team realize what it could
accomplish. It is an accomplishment that none of us can ever forget and I know
that it will be next year's standard to try to repeat this.”
Several players were introduced
including SEC Championship Game and Nokia Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player Justin Vincent. Departing stars Mauck and Clayton each offered stirring good-byes to
the cheers of the in attendance, then accepted the ADT National Championship
"When I was a senior in high
school, I came to the opening game and the stadium wasn't quite as full and I
was a little skeptical where I was going to school," Clayton said. "I didn't
know where I wanted to go. I was going to go to either Florida State or Miami
(Fla.), but I came back to a game when LSU played Tennessee (in 2000). The
Tigers won that game in overtime, and I was sitting right up there (pointing)
when I saw the 90,000 fans from the stadium charge the field. I knew then that I
wanted to be a part of something special.”
The field was painted as if a game
would be played, including memorial reminders on each 20-yard-line of the late
Jeff Boss, LSU longtime equipment manager that passed away from a brain tumor
earlier in the season.
"It has been that way since I have
been here for three years playing under Coach Saban,” Mauck said. “It has been
an honor, and I speak on behalf of the whole football team in everything we
wanted to do, we dedicated to Jeff Boss' family. We were dedicated to success.
One of the highlights this season wasn't to win a national championship. That
wasn't our goal. Our goal was to play like champions and we did that this year.
Next year, Coach Saban I won't be here but the Tigers will be running again for
another national championship. I promise you that.”
As always, there was a fair share
of comedy relief. When Landrieu, the recently-elected lieutenant governor,
stepped to the podium to address the crowd a chorus of boos radiated through the
walls of Tiger Stadium. When Landrieu stated he would be speaking on the behalf
of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who was out of town at the wedding of her husband’s
nephew, the boos turned to cheers.
Landrieu wasn’t the only dignitary
booed. Saban was presented three national coach of the year awards on Saturday,
one from the Associated Press, the Paul Bryant Award as well as the Eddie Robinson Award. When AP beat writer Mary Foster was introduced as the Associated
Press’ representative, the fans again let loose another string of boos, due to
the fact the AP named Southern California its national champion.
Saban accepted the honors with his
typical humble elegance.
"To receive an honor like this,
these trophies have to be split up many, many ways," Saban said. "First of all,
we have a great administration and we have a great coaching staff, which has
done a phenomenal job of working with the players. But most of all, these
trophies should be split up about 120 different ways, because every player,
regardless of what his role was on our team this year, trusted each other,
respected each other and was responsible for their own self-determination. This
is the hardest-working, best chemistry team I've ever been associated