UL bowl sales on pace to exceed last year

by Leslie Turk

In this week's column: Bowl tickets going fast, weekend activities take shape, former Cajuns assistant coach Brian Jenkins eyes return to state, and Petrino makes Sun Belt landing. Nobody's giving hard numbers yet, but it appears that UL's ticket sales for the upcoming R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl are on track to match or exceed last year's total.

This year's total crowd also figures to surpass last year's bowl-record 42,481 in attendance at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Ragin' Cajuns' 32-30 last-play victory over San Diego State.

UL officials announced Monday that more than 18,000 ticket requests had been received in the UL Ticket Office for the Saturday, Dec. 22, 11 a.m. contest against East Carolina. Ticket manager Matt Casbon said earlier that the school sold 18,862 tickets for last year's game.

Casbon and UL Assistant Sports Information Director Matt Hebert both say that tickets had been assigned to Ragin' Cajuns Athletic Foundation members, the top priority in the ticket distribution, as of Monday. Hebert said the ticket office is now working on assigning all other seats, and that individuals will receive phone calls when their ticket order is ready.

The ticket office at the Cajundome is open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and will also be open Saturday during those hours. The deadline to purchase tickets through the UL ticket office is Monday at 5 p.m.

It's no surprise considering the proximity, but tickets aren't selling as quickly at ECU. Scott Wetherbee, director of marketing and ticket operations for the Pirates, says 1,800 tickets had been sold as of Friday. But he adds that many fans are still making arrangements for the New Orleans trip and that he expects at least 5,000 ECU supporters to attend the game.

The 1,800 sale is already more than far-flung San Diego State sold to fans last year.

ECU will be putting some of its unsold tickets assigned by the New Orleans Bowl to good use. The Pirates are asking their local fans in the North Carolina area to purchase tickets to send Crescent City-area military personnel and their families - specifically, those identified by the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Miss., as deserving families who are not traveling for the holidays.

Each ticket purchased in the "Tickets For Troops" campaign will be matched ticket for ticket by ECU. In addition, the first 1,000 military personnel arriving at the Superdome as part of the campaign will receive a purple ECU military appreciation T-shirt. Information on the program is available at (252) 737-4500.

Last year's 42,481 crowd was a 13,322 increase from the previous year and topped the old mark of 30,228 set in 2009 by almost 41 percent. That total was also higher than 14 other bowl games including the Shreveport-based Independence Bowl (41,728) and not far behind the more-established Outback Bowl and Hyundai Sun Bowl.

It'll be another busy week of activities for Cajun fans at the New Orleans Bowl this year.

Other than the obvious 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Superdome, the fan highlight will be the bowl's Friday night concert scheduled for Champions Square adjacent to the Dome. The Beach Boys, America's iconic band, will be the headliner of a show that opens with classic rock legend Bad Company with Brian Howe. The 5:30 p.m. concert is free to the public and food and drink will be available.

UL fans staying at the Marriott headquarters on Canal Street can take advantage of free bus transportation from the Marriott to Champions Square from 6-9 p.m. Cajun fans can also warm up for that concern with the second annual Ragin' Cajuns Fan Fest sponsored by Home Bank, set for 3-5 p.m. in one of the Marriott ballrooms. Free beer, soft drinks and water will be provided and Roddy Romero and the Hub City All-Stars will be performing.

UL fans also have a Thursday night activity, with the "We're Back!" Parade sponsored by MidSouth Bank beginning at 9 p.m. at the Marriott. The UL band will lead fans to Bourbon Street "second-line" fashion, with fans encouraged to bring Mardi Gras beads to throw.

Lafayette-area fans can send the Cajun team off Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. at the "Cajun Walk" on Reinhardt Drive next to Moore Field and the track/soccer complex. The team is slated to depart at 1 p.m. and will arrive at the Marriott between 3-4 p.m. with fans also invited to welcome the team upon arrival.
Fans can also attend the official luncheon set for noon Friday at the Marriott. The teams, staffs, mascots, cheerleaders and bands will take part, and Hall of Famer Warren Moon will be keynote speaker. Tickets are $45 each and are available through the bowl office.

On game day, the RCAF and the Alumni Association will hold a Tailgate Party from 8:30-10:30 a.m. in the Bienville Room of the Superdome, with Krossfyre providing live music. Admission is free to all RCAF 2012 Annual Fund donors and current Alumni Association members and $10 for others (game ticket required for entry into Superdome Gate C). Food and drink will be available for purchase.

Other pregame options include the Rouses Ragin' Cajuns Tailgate Party from 7:30-10:30 a.m. in the Rouses Parking Lot at 701 Baronne St. (a short walk from the Dome) where Sammy Kershaw will be performing and drink and food specials available. The bowl's official tailgate party is from 9-10:30 a.m. at Champions Square with Band Camp performing outside the Dome.

After the game, the party continues. "Official" post-game spots include The Beach (227 Bourbon), Bourbon Cowboy (241 Bourbon), Rita's Tequila House Tex-Mex Grill (419 Bourbon) and The Swamp (516 Bourbon).

One of the candidates being interviewed for the head football coaching position at Southern would be making a return to the state should he get the job.

Brian Jenkins, who is scheduled to interview with SU Athletic Director William Broussard on Thursday, was a part of the UL coaching staff for seven years under head coach Rickey Bustle. Jenkins, who has served the past three years as head coach at Bethune-Cookman, was the Cajuns' running backs coach and special teams coordinator from 2002-08 - a period in which UL set several school records.

The Cajuns rushed for 8,080 yards and 77 touchdowns during a three-year span from 2005-07, with Tyrell Fenroy doing most of that heavy lifting. Fenroy, UL's all-time leading career rusher and one of seven players in NCAA history to have four 1,000-yard rushing seasons, went for over 4,500 career yards and became the first running back (not including quarterbacks) to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. That came as a freshman in 2005, when UL set school marks with 2,797 yards and 34 rush scores. They topped that in 2008 with 3,019 yards, becoming the first Sun Belt Conference team to rush for over 3,000 yards in a season.

Jenkins, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a graduate of Cincinnati, has led Bethune-Cookman to 10-2, 8-3 and 9-3 records in his three years. B-C was a perfect 8-0 in winning the MEAC title this past season.

Broussard, a former athletic staff member at Northwestern State before taking over as Southern AD this year, interviewed Nevada assistant coach James Spady on Monday and Jaguar interim head coach Dawson Odums - who took over for the fired Stump Mitchell two games into this season and led SU to a 4-5 mark - on Tuesday.

The Sun Belt will have another "name" football coach next season, but most remember his name for a reason other than football.

Bobby Petrino was officially named head coach at Western Kentucky Monday, eight months after being fired by the Arkansas Razorbacks for what the school described as a "pattern of misleading behavior." A motorcycle accident led to injuries and a bizarre turn of events when it was discovered that his hired assistant and mistress was also on the bike.

Petrino had a 34-17 record at Arkansas, but having former UA volleyball player Jessica Dorrell, whom Petrino had hired as an assistant, on the bike and then lying about her presence led to his ouster.

"What it comes down to is that he made a big mistake," says WKU AD Todd Stewart, a former member of the Sun Belt staff. "He acknowledges that and he's taken ownership of that. And he's paid a heavy price for it. But this is the United States of America, and we're a country of second chances."

Petrino has an $850,000 base salary, but if he terminates the deal he must repay WKU $1.2 million in six monthly payments beginning the month he leaves. Petrino famously left the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in the 2007 NFL season to take the Arkansas post.

"At this point in my career, it's about getting back and coaching players," Petrino says. "I'm going to be able to sit down with mom and dad and the student-athlete and make them understand how this experience has made me a better coach, a better person and will make me understand their son better."