The Pelican Bowl: Prelude To A Celebration

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Updated: December 14, 2016
Pelican Bowl program

By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus

 

NEW HAVEN (BASN) — When the Tigers of Grambling State (10-1) meet the Eagles of N.C. Central (9-2) in Saturday’s Celebration Bowl at the Georgia Dome, it will be for the Black College Football Championship.

 

This will also be the second time that these two schools will be playing each other in a bowl game for the Black College Football Championship. Take a trip with us back to December of 1972.

 

In the inaugural Pelican Bowl — a game that matched the champions of the newly-formed Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) against the winners of the longtime Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) — Grambling would battle Central.

 

It also serves as one of many preludes of what the Celebration Bowl has become.

 

pelican bowl logo

 

 

The 1972 contest was originally scheduled to be played at A.W. Mumford Stadium on the campus of Southern University. However, in the wake of an on-campus shooting in November, officials from both conferences decided to move the game to another location.

 

Just five days later, the announcement was officially made to move the game to Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. At the time, it was first bowl game played in the state of North Carolina since the 1942 Rose Bowl was temporarily relocated there.

 

Due to the attack on Pearl Harbor one year earlier, the United States government prohibited large public gatherings on the West Coast of the United States for the duration of the war.

 

At the time, the game was the first significant canceled sporting event in the U.S.

 

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN?

 

Pelican Bowl pic

 

 

Historically speaking, the parallels to this year’s teams and the 1972 squads are eerily similar. For example, N.C. Central secured a berth in the Pelican Bowl by defeating N.C. A&T 9-7 to clinch the 1972 MEAC crown.

 

As for Grambling, they secured their spot in the bowl as SWAC co-champions with a loss by Alcorn State (who was previously 4–0–1 in conference play) against Jackson State (who was now 5–1 in the SWAC, and with whom Grambling owned the tiebreaker.

 

Just a few weeks ago, Central defeated A&T 42-21 in their season finale to claim the MEAC crown outright after being co-champs the past two seasons. Grambling punched its ticket for the Celebration Bowl by defeating two-time champion Alcorn State 27-20 for its 25th SWAC Championship in school history.

 

As for the actual game in 1972, Grambling led from start to finish in a 56-6 victory over Central. The Tigers jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter behind a pair of scoring runs by Rod Tureaud and coasted the rest of the way.

 

Central’s only score came on an eight-yard Garvin Stone touchdown pass to Jeff Inmon to cut the lead to 21–6 only to see Grambling respond with another pair of touchdowns before the half.

 

GSU’s All-American quarterback Matthew Reed was selected as the game’s offensive MVP while teammate Walt Baisy was selected as the defensive MVP of the game.

 

THE AFTERMATH

 

Pelican bowl paper

 

 

 

A crowd of 22,500 would attend the inaugural contest in Durham. A year later, the game was scheduled to be played at Tulane Stadium but was canceled as a result of both unavailability of the stadium for the contest on December 1 and the NCAA not officially sanctioning the game.

 

In addition, the bowl game was now also facing an identity crisis with the creation of the NCAA Division II Playoffs that year and the incorporation of other Division II bowl games into the new playoff format.

 

In 1974, Grambling would return to the contest and defeat South Carolina State 28-7 before a crowd of just over 30,000 in New Orleans. Southern would win the third and final Pelican Bowl in 1975 as the Jaguars nipped South Carolina State 15-12 before 6,748 at the Louisiana Superdome.

 

Eventually, low attendance figures would lead to the demise of the Pelican Bowl. Many fans and followers of HBCU football believe that the emergence of the Bayou Classic overshadowed the bowl game.

 

For many fans of its now famous Fifth Quarter, the standards that the Bayou Classic had set for entertainment and pageantry made the Pelican Bowl almost seem anticlimactic on and off the field.

 

However, by 1991, the concept of a postseason bowl game featuring the MEAC and SWAC was revived with the introduction of the Heritage Bowl. Unfortunately, a similar fate would befall this bowl as well until the Celebration Bowl was formed just over a year ago.

 

Despite the problems that plagued the initial Pelican Bowl, the efforts to get the concept started should still be applauded. Without those efforts and those of the Heritage Bowl, the modest success of the Celebration Bowl after two years wouldn’t have been possible.

 

Anthony McClean can be reached via email at anthonymcclean1962@gmail.com.

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