50th anniversary of first Cajun Field game yields treasure trove of Ragin' Cajun memories
But the main function of what’s now called Cajun Field at Our Lady of Lourdes Stadium is serving as home of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team.
The Ragin’ Cajuns – known then as the Southwestern Louisiana Bulldogs – played there for the first time Sept. 25, 1971, beating the Santa Clara Broncos 21-0 in what amounts to a sunken bowl situated 2 feet below sea level.
On the 50th anniversary of that first game in a stadium also nicknamed “The Swamp,” former Cajun players, coaches and others woven into the program’s fabric share some memories.
Joseph Savoie savors 1982 win over ULM
Details of the freshman-year games he saw are foggy, for understandable reasons.
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“I remember the pregame parties, and I remember the first half,” he said before a hearty laugh. “But I don’t remember much after that.”
One game, however, he’ll never forget.
Savoie was there for homecoming on Nov. 6, 1982. UL trailed in-state rival UL Monroe, known as Northeast Louisiana at the time, 26-0 at halftime.
“I was so excited,” Savoie said.
“I brought my father to that game, and he was not well. He was semi-invalid; had difficulty walking. I remember when (Prudhomme) scored that 60-yard touchdown, he jumped up and threw his arms in the air. He was better the rest of the night.”
It wouldn’t be the last blessed event at Cajun Field.
Jake Delhomme needed to breathe
Two games from his freshman year in 1993 immediately come to mind for Jake Delhomme, the former UL quarterback who played for four NFL teams from 1997-2001.
One is when the Cajuns hosted San Jose State, led by future NFL QB Jeff Garcia.
“It was our homecoming game. It was in November. Four o’clock game,” Delhomme said. “I want to say there was, like, 28,000 fans. … It was very loud.”
UL won 24-13, its sixth straight victory before falling 61-14 the next week at No. 9 Florida. But the Cajuns ended that season with a 21-17 victory over Louisiana Tech to win the Big West Conference.
“To do that at home – that was fun,” Delhomme said.
Those two, though, were appetizers to what Delhomme calls “the greatest one.”
The year was 1996.
UL had opened with a 55-21 loss at No. 4 Florida, then came home to face No. 25 Texas A&M. Attendance was 38,783, a record at the time.
“The atmosphere, the electricity behind it – it was all the hype that was talked about spring and summer,” Delhomme said.
UL won 29-22 as Charles Johnson scooped up a fumble and scored, Damon Mason and Britt Jackson both scored after intercepting Branndon Stewart and – after Jackson’s touchdown – Delhomme hit Brandon Stokley for a 2-point conversion with six minutes and 30 seconds left.
“We told that story numerous times. It doesn’t get old,” Delhomme said.
“When the game was over, we were all kind of jumping around. Honestly, I was almost hyperventilating because it was so hot and so muggy that evening.
“Guys were cramping left and right,” Delhomme added. “The game’s over … and you’re celebrating, and all of a sudden you try to come down for a second, and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh. Just kind of breathe.’ ”
What happened to the goalpost?
Savoie deemed the upset of Texas A&M, after which members of the Cajun Field crowd tore down a goalpost, a miracle game.
“It was the ‘afterward,’ I think, that made it most memorable,” said Dan McDonald, UL’s sports information director at the time.
“Fans poured out on the field, but they had no experience with doing that kind of thing. They really didn’t know what to do. Security was surrounding one of the goalposts, so they ran to the other end and they managed to get that goalpost down.
“But then they realized they couldn’t get it out of the stadium, because the way the tunnel (leading to locker room facilities) is it wasn’t big enough to get through. So all of a sudden they’re going up one of the hillsides, kind of like a bunch of ants carrying this thing, and they have to put it over the fence to get it out of the stadium. I don’t really know where it wound up. There are a lot of urban legends.”
Not even Savoie is certain.
“(It’s) still on the move,” he joked earlier this year. “Someone told me that they spotted it somewhere in Canada last week.”
Brian Mitchell got it done
Jay Walker is UL’s longtime play-by-play voice.
“I remember Brian Mitchell having to do a 2-point conversion not once but twice to beat Arkansas State right at the end of the game,” Walker said.
It was 1989, and the UL quarterback who later played 14 NFL seasons scored late on a late 7-yard touchdown run.
“It was 28-27 (A-State). There was no overtime back then. So rather than kick the extra point and tie, (coach Nelson) Stokley decided to go for two. (Mitchell) completes the pass. There was a holding penalty.
“So they move it back 10 yards, and then he’s scrambling for his life, and, I swear, he probably had to throw the ball 35 yards, or 30 yards at least, and the guy (Corey Williams) caught it in the back of the end zone. Next to A&M, it was probably the most-exciting game I ever saw at Cajun Field. It just showed how good Brian Mitchell was.”
Wild weather against Arkansas State
Etched in the memory of McDonald, UL’s SID for 20 years, is a 1992 game against Arkansas State.
UL ended a 2-9 season with a 20-7 loss in a contest cut short in the second half due to inclement weather.
“It was such a surreal moment,” McDonald said. “Those big windows in the pressbox are shaking in and out, and rain is going sideways.
“People (had) no business being in there, much less trying to play football. Lighting is everywhere. I don’t know if we had official lightning indicators then. It was just like, ‘Oh, wow, that lightning was close, we better clear the field.
“I remember one of my student assistant workers at the time, Jennifer Shaw, went to the end of the press box … where the door you push open (to the upper deck outside) is,” McDonald added. “She … opened that thing, and it was like a tornado of paper just flying toward the door. We were like, ‘SHUT THE DOOR.’ It was about 10 minutes later they cut everything off.”
Another comeback against ULM
In 2011, Mark Hudspeth’s first of seven seasons as coach, UL rallied from 11 points down with just more than two minutes remaining to beat ULM 36-35.
“It was looking pretty dim, pretty gloomy, at a point,” offensive lineman Mykhael Quave said.
At the time, linebacker Devon Lewis-Buchanan called the comeback “a miracle” inspired by perseverance. Almost 10 years later, Quave recalls it all, right down to standing at the 42-yard line with a teammate – it was their superstitious spot – when Green recovered the onside kick.
“I remember just jumping up and down screaming and everybody going crazy,” Quave said.
Blow up the upper deck
Quave also remembers the hours upon hours spent working out at Cajun Field, including pride-inspiring “Protect the House” drills that involved running stadium steps while carrying a backpacked loaded with weights.
“When we got to the upper deck,” Quave said, “it was always crazy.”
Gerald Broussard is a former player and assistant coach who now is the team’s radio analyst. He also recalls conditioning work on Cajun Field’s steps, which grow increasingly steep the higher they go.
“One of the first days … they had us hopping the upper deck, and it was one of the hardest things did in my life,” Broussard said. “We had to … hop one-legged up the upper deck.”
Broussard, who played in the early 1980s, even had to do it after undergoing knee surgery.
“I’m telling you: If I could have blown up the upper deck, I’d have done it,” Broussard said.
Sixty yards later at Cajun Field
Lafayette old-timers treasure the 1982 win over ULM inspired by Prudhomme’s uncharacteristic run.
“Northeast ran what we call an eight-man front, and we had an automatic,” said Sam Robertson, UL’s coach from 1980-85. “They double-blitzed the middle linebacker, and we had a pickoff blocking scheme and our quarterback would just step back and take off through the empty hole there.
“When he got on the sideline … I said, ‘Well, Dwight, I’ve never seen you run that fast.’ He said, ‘Well, fear-factor kicks in pretty good Coach.’ ”
To this day, Robertson doesn’t believe Prudhomme made it 60 yards.
“He would have passed out by then,” Roberson said, laughing.
But Prudhomme made it.
Savoie remembers that clearly, joking another Cajun Field miracle would be “if Dwight could run 60 yards today.”