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Know your enemy: Louisiana-Lafayette edition

Southwestern Louisiana

Football is upon us, my friends. Less than 24 hours from now we’ll be basking in the warming glow of Bronco football on our televisions computer screens. While you’re preparing yourself for McWeapons and Sperbecks...enjoy the game week tradition of Know your enemy. It’s a fun and educational way to learn a bit more about this week’s opponent. Get ready to learn.


Ten things you might not have known about Lousiana Lafayette or their swampy sanctuary

10) The city now known as Lafayette, Louisiana was founded as "St. Jean du Vermilionville" in 1821, but as that was too long and decidedly too French, was shortened to just "Vermilionville", and that it remained until 1884 when another French enough sounding replacement could be found.

9) "Lafayette" was the name of a New Orleans suburb and the name of the parish in which Vermilionville resided, but in 1884 the suburb of Lafayette was incorporated into New Orleans and the city of Vermilionville took on the name of its parish. Apparently, Vermilionville was non-parishable. Let's hear that rimshot.


8) Now'd probably be a good time to explain just why the name "Lafayette" was so popular amongst namers of parishes, suburbs, and such. The name "Lafayette" actually belonged to a French (gasp) general—one Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette a key figure in the American Revolution and personal homeboy of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and noted rapper Alexander Hamilton.

Lafayette was born in France in 1757 to an aristocratic family and enjoyed all the perks with came with being commissioned as an officer at age 13. At 19, the still pretty-darn-young-for-an-officer Lafayette learned that the Americans were shooting redcoats and wanted a piece of that action and traveled to America (on his own dime). Continental Congress didn't know what to do with the influx of French soldiers and officers (they must've really hated the British), but soon commissioned the young Lafayette a major general after he said the magic words (in English, even), "I'll serve without pay". After some bro-time with George Washington (they were both masons), he was asked to serve on GW's staff and even got wounded (not gravely) in the Battle of Brandywine (a tasty sounding battle). Remember, he was only age at which I had already watched The Matrix 17 times.


Le swag.

7) Like most universities, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was created (on paper, anyway) by an act of legislature—an 1898 act to be exact. The legislative act paved the way for the creation of the Southwestern Lousiana Industrial Institute, which opened its doors in 1901 with a whopping 100 students and 8 faculty members. In 1921, SLII became SLILTL—Southwestern Louisiana Institute of Liberal and Technical Learning and stayed that way until 1960, when University of Southwestern Louisiana was dubbed to have a better ring. USL remained the institution’s name all the way up until 1999, when it got the more familiar moniker that we still mistake for Louisiana Tech today.

6) Lafayette jumped right into the football fire just a year after their founding and played their first "season" in 1902—a 3 game slate that saw them play LSU, Lake Charles High School, and New Orleans AC (due to humidity...that AC probably set to "high"). Lafayette went 1-2, with their sole win coming against Lake Charles High, and were shut out in the other two contests. Not exactly the start of a football dynasty...but in 1902, people were just happy if they didn't develop trench foot after a game.

5) As was the custom in the early 1900s, ULL's first athletic nickname was the Bulldogs, and I'm sure there is a charming story about how it was picked by the student body after a bulldog saved a dozen men from a dormitory fire before collapsing from exhaustion. Whatever the mythology, the nickname (and mascot) stuck until 1962, when the school became the University of Southwestern Louisiana and the "Raging Cajuns" nickname was introduced.

Coach Russ Faulkinberry dubbed his team the Raging Cajuns since 95 percent of the football team was from the Acadiana area. It didn't take long before some intrepid students realized that dropping the "g" actually made the nickname rhyme a bit better and the Ragin' Cajuns became the nickname of note. The succession of live or animated mascots reads thusly: "Bulldog", "Mr. Cajun", "RC" the Bulldog (live), "Gee" the Bulldog (live), "The Fabulous Cajun Chicken" (sadly, animated), and finally "Cayenne" (animated...and terrifying). For my money...the Fabulous Cajun Chicken was the best mascot in the school's history and I miss his colorful plumage and devil-may-care attitude despite learning of him just today.


Absolutely fabulous.

4) The first recorded coach in ULL football history is one C.J. McNaspy, who came on in 1908 and coached the "Bulldogs" off and on for a decade. McNaspy's tenure wasn't overly McNasty, as he won 68% of his contests in seven seasons...a win percentage that ties for the best in school history with George "Gee" Mitchell, who coached from 1947 to 1949. The multi-year coach with the worst win percentage in school history was much more recent, as Jerry Baldwin (1999-2001) won just 18% of his game at the helm—a forgettable 6-27 mark, but at least he didn't oversee the worst destruction in school history—a 95-0 beatdown by Tulane. That happened in 1912 and was overseen by coach H. Lee Prather and so humbled him that he stayed just the one year before slinking off to Northwestern State where he coached for another 20 seasons(?). Come on Prather, don't you know that you joining a monastery would've made for much better reading?

3) Go through a list of notable ULL alumni and your eye will no doubt be drawn to Alex McCool...who has a name that sounds dreamed up by the writers of Archie Comics. In the comics, Alex McCool is the captain of the Hadley High football team who strolls into town to spirit away both Betty and Veronica before Archie and his pals find a way to run him off (Reggie threatens him with a switchblade). In reality, Alex McCool is more McNerd...he was a manager of space shuttle projects at NASA and looks more like Morley Safer than James Dean. Darn you, expectations.


Too McCool for school.

2) ULL plays their home football games at 37,000 seat Cajun Field...nicknamed "The Swamp". Isn't the University of Florida's stadium nicknamed "The Swamp" as well? Why yes, but it's the Ragin' Cajuns who aren't feeling litigious as their stadium picked up the nickname a full 3 years before the Old Ball Coach adopted it for Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Cajun Field was built in 1970 and replaced the 4.500 seat McNaspy Stadium (hey! you remember that guy). The field is below sea level, and as such requires four 60 horsepower (45 kW) pumps and a sophisticated drainage system to keep the field in good playing condition during the frequent south Louisiana (and unfortunately, floods). Speaking of floods, the stadium hosted the 2005 New Orleans Bowl between Southern Miss and Arkansas State, as Hurricane Katrina rendered the SuperDome unusable.

1) Louisiana-Monroe is Lafayette's chief sports rival and the two teams play annually in the Battle on the Bayou—and have since 1951. Since 2002, the teams have played for the "wooden boot", which I deduce is some sort of wooden boot. Currently, the Ragin' Cajuns hold the boot...and the edge in the overall series (27-24) to boot. Sorry, I'm stuck in a boot loop.