Jim Gazzolo column: Time for McNeese to step up

Published 2:43 pm Thursday, July 21, 2022

There are those who wondered if McNeese State football had seen its best days.

They wondered why the Southland Conference had given the Cowboys so much to keep them in the league last fall.

From all over the conference there were questions, none louder than those bellowing from Hammond.

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All that talk can be put to rest.

Every good conference needs a flagship school, a program that sets the standard. With Sam Houston gone the Southland is in need of that. McNeese, despite its woes of late, needs to be that program. The Cowboys should be that program.

Even after back-to-back losing seasons, the Cowboys and their past glories are still on the mind of all those who came to Lake Charles Wednesday to talk football.

Each of the other seven football-playing members mentioned one foe on Media Day, that being McNeese.

Yes, it’s been 20 years since the Cowboys won a playoff game. And yes, they haven’t even made the plays since 2015. So much has happened since then nobody would even know where to begin. 

And maybe on the field McNeese has been often overlooked with all its issues the past few years. But it seems the more things change the more they stay the same.

Even with all roadblocks, the coaching changes, a revolving roster and headaches beyond believe, the Cowboys still have the biggest target on their backs. 

They may not be the pick to win the league like in years past, but they are the ones a lot of opposing fans think about. 

Whether it be the defending league champs from Incarnate Word talking about being excited to get another crack at McNeese, or the league’s newest club in Texas A&M-Commerce ready to start a rivalry with the SLC’s best brand name.

“We are excited to play McNeese this year,” said UIW linebacker Kelechi Anyalebechi.

Three times in 2021 the Cardinals and Cowboys met with UIW winning the first two easily and even throwing for a late touchdown in the first meeting just for good measure. It made for an instant rivalry.

You don’t throw for a late touchdown against a team you don’t have a target on.

Then McNeese, after being forced to play on the road at 11 a.m. in the first fall meeting, was the only team to beat UIW last season when the Cards returned to Lake Charles. 

Nobody gave a better account of what it used to be like playing McNeese than Commerce head coach David Bailiff, who used to roam the sidelines against the Cowboys. 

Bailiff remembers his days at Texas State when he battled the Cowboys in Southland games. He really remembers the games in Lake Charles. 

“When I was at Texas State McNeese State was the greatest place to play,” Bailiff said. “We would show up on the bus, back it up and before we could get off it their fans would moon us. That’s the way it is supposed to be.”

Bailiff said the Texas State coaches tried at times to get help from Lake Charles police but times were different then.

“We went up to a policeman and told him what their fans were doing to us,” Bailiff continued. “He said that that’s what theys was suppose to be doin.

“Hell, I wanted to come back there and tailgate with them. That’s how college football rivalries are supposed to be like.”

It is that kind of a past McNeese officials are trying to bring back to campus. An increased tailgate pregame is planned to go with last year’s Friday night concerts. 

Of course the only thing that will really bring back the good old days in Lake Charles on Saturday nights in the fall will be winning games. 

With the exit of Sam Houston State last season, the Southland Conference has a void at the top when it comes to football. As the rest struggle for position it could be time for McNeese to step back into the forefront. 

The Cowboys are a sleeping giant with the biggest stadium and new facilities coming. All eyes seem to be back on them as the SLC rebuilds from its own issues.

But that also means all others are focusing on McNeese. When a big deal is made to keep you a lot of fans and foes expect big things.

That is what it should be like for McNeese if they ever want to be considered for moving up themselves. 

And who knows, maybe you will even see a full moon or two this fall.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com