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LSU v. Southern: A conversation on how this historic matchup could unite a divided community

Louisiana State University's Tiger Stadium
Aubry Procell
Louisiana State University's Tiger Stadium

Tickets are officially sold out for the long-awaited football game between LSU and Southern University. While the Tigers and the Jaguars play in the same city just 15 minutes apart, this Saturday marks the first time the teams are facing off.

Louisiana Considered managing producer Alana Schreiber was joined by Scott Rabalais, sports columnist for The Advocate, to discuss the larger impact of this game.

Alana Schreiber: This is the first time these two teams are facing off. Why is that? And what does the energy look like in Baton Rouge right now? 

Scott Rabalais: LSU and Southern play in the same city, but they play at two different levels of football. They're both in the NCAA, but LSU is in the FBS, the Football Bowl Subdivision, and Southern is in the FCS, the Football Championship Subdivision in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. So they're on a slightly lower level. If you're a school like LSU, you don't wanna play more than one of these games a year because it might hurt you in the rankings and trying to make the college football playoffs. But LSU has made a point of playing all the schools around the state that's at the NCAA level, except for the two historically black colleges, Southern and Grambling.

They're playing Southern this year and they're playing Grambling next year. And so it's definitely historic and probably a one-off event for them. They played in other sports. LSU and Southern played in men's and women's basketball and many times in baseball. But this will be the first time that they play in football.

So it's quite a happening. I think people are intrigued. It's the home opener for LSU and their first game under the new coach, Brian Kelly. And so there's a lot of those elements going on.

Let's talk a little bit about the teams. The Jaguars are coming off a landslide victory after last week's 86-0 win against Florida Memorial. Whereas the Tigers suffered a one point loss against Florida State. What are your takeaways from last weekend's games, and what might we expect to see this Saturday? 

For Southern, it was a great start. I think they were up 42-nothing in the first quarter. Florida Memorial plays it even on a lower level though. I have called AIA, but nonetheless, it's hard to score up 86 points and run up 600 yards of total offense on air. So it was very impressive and certainly helped build their confidence.

LSU, on the other hand, played a higher level team, Florida State, in the Superdome in New Orleans. They made a lot of mistakes. LSU could have won right down to the very end when they were trying to force overtime and got the extra point kick blocked, but they didn't quit. They were down 14 points a couple of times in the second half and fought back twice to get in position to force overtime.

But nonetheless, it was a game they were slightly expected to win, and they just had too many mistakes, like dropped passes and didn't tackle well at times. Now again, Florida State is a team at a higher level than Southern, but they're looking to improve.

There’s an old adage in football: you make the most improvement from your first game to your second game. And I think LSU will be looking for that Saturday night against Southern and a chance to try to build some confidence as well.

Well, we've talked about what we might see on the field. What about off the field? There will be music, events and tailgating. So just tell me a bit more about all of the festivities going around all over Baton Rouge this weekend. 

What is gonna be exciting is to see the halftime show with Southern's band and LSU’s band. I believe they're gonna perform on this field at the same time. And Southern's band is well renowned. It's one of the most exciting college bands in the nation. They’re called the Human Jukebox. The LSU band, of course, is the Golden Band from Tigerland. And so that's going to be quite a show.

One of the great things about this game is that I think there are probably a lot of Southern fans who will come who've never been to Tiger Stadium. And there are a lot of LSU fans who've never seen Southern's band play in person. And hopefully it'll be a good experience for both in that regard.

Leading up to the game, Southern's athletic director, Roman Banks said, “This will be historic. In lieu of what's going on in our country, we're bringing people together. This will engage all races in the city. Just to join hands in Baton Rouge is going to be admirable and inspirational.” 

It seems like Banks is referring to some of the racial divisions that have put the city in the national spotlight this year. Like the St. George neighborhood trying to create its own school district or the fight for a second majority Black congressional district.

There is a pretty strong metaphor here. A smaller, historically black and lesser known college going up against this Goliath of a university with a world-renowned sports program. So what do you think the larger impact of this game might be? 

I think that sports has that ability to cut across racial divides, cultural divides and class divides in ways that not a lot of other things in our society do. I think Baton Rouge is like a lot of southern cities in America where there is kind of a tale of two cities. There's the Black Baton Rouge and the white Baton Rouge. And sometimes they don't mingle as much as they should.

Sports have brought them together in the past. In 2003, LSU won the BCS National Championship, Southern won the Black College National Championship, and there was a parade in downtown Baton Rouge to honor both of them.

So the score will kind of fade over time. Maybe it will make them rethink something like St. George, which I think is kind of a wedge in this community. And maybe it'll make them rethink gerrymandering congressional districts, which is not a right thing to do and I think most people agree with that. So, culturally and socially, it has a chance to bring people together and make them say, “Hey, maybe we aren't that different or not as different as we thought.”

And I think more people will come away with that feeling than they will any bad feelings about whatever the outcome of the game is.

Alana Schreiber is the managing producer for the live daily news program, Louisiana Considered. She comes to WRKF from KUNC in Northern Colorado, where she worked as a radio producer for the daily news magazine, Colorado Edition. She has previously interned for Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul and The Documentary Group in New York City.