Most people wouldn't know it now, but at one time in its history Tulane was trending toward becoming "The Notre Dame of the South." The powerhouse program was a founding member of the SEC, and the conference leader in attendance. It would win conference titles and garner preseason selections as the favorite for the mythical national championship.
The program experienced the kind of fall from grace few others have seen since the Ivy League dominated college athletics. And many would attribute Tulane's predicament to the same faults of Harvard and Yale. An emphasis on academics. A reigning in of renegade athletic departments. A failure to identify with the working class fan.
But Tulane is no Harvard, or Yale, or even Notre Dame. Going back to their de-emphasis of sports in the mid-50s, the stewards of Green Wave athletics gave up one thing after another in hopes to keep the football program afloat. First their membership in a power conference. Then their stadium. Then their city.
When the Saints came to New Orleans, the overwhelming sense among the Tulane faithful was that they had been replaced as the Crescent City's team. This was despite the fact that average attendance actually rose at Tulane games. But times have changed. There's enough money and television coverage these days for college football and the NFL to coexist.
So after forty years wandering in the wilderness, Tulane has come home.
They've regained a place in a conference of note. The American sits outside of the Power 5, but just. Granted, Tulane's membership was the catalyst for the Big East's breakup, but that's neither here, nor there.
They've rebuilt their stadium. The old Tulane Stadium, with all it's history and character, could never be replaced. Well $75 million will get things close enough. Yulman stadium opens this year, and all 30,000 seats are sold out for the first game. Located in Uptown, the Green Wave will finally return to campus on Saturday nights, and bring back some of the college atmosphere that gets lost in a mostly empty NFL dome. The renderings were ambitious, but the reality is stunning.
The last step is to retake their city. Tulane fully embraced their unavoidable relationship with their professional counterparts when they hired Curtis Johnson, a former assistant for the Saints. Despite moving to their own venue this season, Tulane has never been more involved with Sean Payton's staff.
But this is by far their biggest battle. In their absence, LSU has flourished in New Orleans. Tulane's hated rival has a stranglehold on the entire state, and it may be one the Green Wave have to learn to live with. Alabama has Auburn. Texas has A&M. Who says Louisiana can't be a house divided?
But regional respect isn't something you can just claim. Ask the Ragin' Cajuns. A program has to win to earn support, but needs support to win. That's the paradox of college football.
And despite this, Tulane is making a comeback. They even put the green back in their wave.