The Difference Between McNeese Fan and UL Fan
McNeese State and Louisiana haven't met on the gridiron in nine years. They've only met once in 31 years.
Yet, for most, the game Saturday night at Cajun Field is a big deal.
But the more I hear the rhetoric, read the comments and watch the facial expressions, I realize the fan bases of these two teams come at this game, and this rivalry, differently.
For the last 30-plus years, the teams have competed in different divisions. That is what, in effect, ended the rivalry as far as yearly meetings are concerned. With that separation came the shifting in feelings.
Add to that the fact McNeese went from 1973-1982 without losing to the Cajuns (there was one tie in that time) and you see where some of the long time animosity comes from.
McNeese fan extols the FCS playoff system, while calling Cajun bowl wins "meaningless" .
Cajun Fan points to the four bowl games, where attendance was at least two and sometimes more than three times the capacity of McNeese's stadium.
McNeese is promoting the game as "Rivalry Week," pointing to the teams meeting in volleyball and soccer in addition to football.
Cajun fans didn't know the programs were meeting three times until they were told. And, overall, they don't seem to care all that much about the first two.
Even the two Sports Information Directors approach it differently in their game notes
Matthew Bonnette, McNeese: "One of the most storied and heated rivalries in the South..." (Move over, Alabama/Auburn.)
Matt Sullivan, Louisiana: "...team will renew one of its oldest rivalries..." (and evidently, one of the stalest.)
McNeese has always resented the Cajuns for leaving them behind when Louisiana chose to be a part of what was then called Division 1-A. It doesn't matter than both Louisiana Tech and ULM saw the fallacy of 1-AA and acted accordingly. The Cajuns did it and that makes them evil.
As a result, McNeese fans rejoice over the opportunity to beat the Cajuns.
But for Cajun fans, it's very different.
It's not about winning this game, it's about not losing it.
The Cajuns love to remind the Cowboys how there is now a huge difference between the two schools, the two budgets, the two programs, the two stadiums and, for that matter, the two cities.
If the Cajuns win the game, Cajun Nation is happy for a day or two and then they move on to the next game against South Alabama.. McNeese fans are disappointed for a day or two and then get ready for Stephen F. Austin.
But if McNeese wins, their fans will be on cloud nine the rest of the season. "Hey it doesn't matter if we are six and five, we beat the Cajuns.....again." And if the Cajuns lose, it's flat unacceptable and the fan base will wail and gnash teeth. "So what if we're bowl eligible, we lost to freaking McNeese....again."
There are many fans who say the game means more to the opponent than it does to them. And, there was a time I agreed with that. But I've come to realize the passion is the same for both fan bases. They just approach it differently.
McNeese fans really want to win this game.
Cajuns' fans really want to not lose it.