Book details rich history, lasting impact of Bayou Classic

Monroe, Louisiana-native Thomas Aiello explores the deeper meaning of the football rivalry between Grambling State and Southern in his book: Bayou Classic: The Grambling-Southern Football Rivalry. Paul J. Letlow, an occasional TDR correspondent, found it offered a rich history lesson behind the nationally televised game that brightens New Orleans annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Here’s Letlow’s report:

Aiello takes readers back to a time when Grambling was known as Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute and Southern’s Bushmen dominated their northeastern Louisiana foe.

Like Aiello himself, the game has its roots in Monroe – the first contest in 1932 was played at Casino Park, home of the now defunct Monroe Monarchs Negro Southern League baseball team.

The modern Bayou Classic is housed in the Louisiana Superdome and serves as a magnet for celebrities, fans of both schools and a national audience that peers in through the NBC television cameras. Some say the Battle of the Bands is bigger than the game itself, but truthfully it’s all things intertwined that make the weekend a happening. Aiello gets that and his writing reflects an appreciation.

All the key figures are here in Aiello’s 328 pages, including immortal coaching legend Eddie G. Robinson, shown above with his family and former Southern coach Pete Richardson in a post-game Bayou Classic celebration.

“To appreciate the rivalry,” Robinson once said, “you have to realize Grambling and Southern fans are close friends, as well as relatives.”

Aiello added his personal observations after attending the 2008 Bayou Classic and came away with an even stronger understanding.

“The rivalry is heated,” he writes in the epilogue, “but it is gilded with the soft veneer of sportsmanship. As I left the stadium into a quiet New Orleans night, that sportsmanship was still there. Grambling fans and Southern fans nodded as they walked past each other on the ramps leading from the Superdome. They stopped and shook hands. As they had for the past 35 seasons of the Bayou Classic – for the past 76 seasons of the rivalry – they would be back next year.”

Aiello is an assistant professor of history at Valdosta State University. Bayou Classic: The Grambling-Southern Football Rivalry is available through the LSU Press Web site or major retailers.

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