Tulane opens new stadium against Georgia Tech

NEW ORLEANS (AP) After four decades in the Superdome, Tulane football is back on campus.

Whether a new environment brings more winning remains to be seen, but the fan support will be there.

Tulane athletic director Rick Dickson said the home opener Saturday against Georgia Tech (1-0) - the first game in newly completed Yulman Stadium - is a sellout. A standing room crowd of around 30,000 is expected, and Dickson added that the rest of the home schedule is on the verge of being sold out as well.

''I love the intimacy of the stadium,'' coach Curtis Johnson said. ''The crowd is right on top of you. That's what this whole thing is all about, just getting as many people to see our kids play.

''What we have to do now is distinguish the event from the game,'' Johnson added. ''This game will hardly mean anything to us if we don't win. We have to win this game and not just open up a new stadium.''

The last time the Green Wave (0-1) played on its tree-lined campus in New Orleans' historic Uptown neighborhood was Nov. 30, 1974, when Tulane lost its regular-season finale to Mississippi, 26-10. That game was played in 80,000-seat, oval-shaped Tulane Stadium, the same stadium that hosted Sugar Bowls and even Super Bowls before the Superdome opened.

After Tulane home games moved off campus, crowds diminished. A crowd of 25,000, which would make Yulman Stadium look full, still left around 45,000 seats unoccupied in the cavernous Superdome.

Former Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin, now with the New Orleans Saints' practice squad, said the Superdome was an attraction for recruits, but that playing on campus should be better for the program in the long run.

''When I got offered by Tulane ... I was like `Oh my gosh, this is my chance to play in a legendary stadium where they hold Super Bowls,''' Griffin recalled.

Yet, after that novelty wore off, he felt the dome lacked the atmosphere one expects at a college game.

''Being on campus and having more fans - it will look more full - so that will be big,'' said Griffin, who had a chance recently to tour the stadium and sit in the second deck running along one sideline. ''It's beautiful. I can't wait to go there and see a game.''

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Here are some things to know about Tulane's return to campus against the Yellow Jackets:

RIVALS UNITED: The Glazer and Benson families, rivals in the NFL, both made major donations to help get Yulman Stadium built. A premium seating section is called the Glazer Family Club, named for the same family which owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The action will take place on Benson Field, named for Saints owner Tom Benson.

UNDER CENTER: Both Georgia Tech and Tulane have new starting quarterbacks this season. Spearheading the Yellow Jackets' spread-option offense is Justin Thomas. He had 353 yards of total offense in his first start, a season opening 38-19 victory over Wofford. He hit 11 of 15 passes for 282 yards. Tulane redshirt freshman Tanner Lee was 22-of-44 for 262 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a 38-31 double-overtime loss at Tulsa.

HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT: The energy surrounding the opening of a new stadium is only one reason Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson expects a tough game. The Green Wave missed a potential game-winning field goal near the end of regulation a week earlier. ''They had every opportunity to win the game and probably should have won,'' Johnson said. ''So playing at their place in the first ever game in a new home stadium, I'm sure they are going to be jacked up. ... So hopefully our guys are ready.''

FULL HOUSE: With much of this season already sold out, Dickson addressed the potential for stadium expansion. If the stadium continues to sell out routinely for multiple seasons, seating for up to 15,000 more spectators could be added by building a third deck along one sideline and upper decks behind both end zones.

FORMER RIVALS: The matchup of Georgia Tech and Tulane bring together two founding members of the Southeastern Conference who both left the league about a half century ago. The Yellow Jackets, now in the Atlantic Coast Conference, dropped out of the SEC after the 1963 season. Tulane, now in its first season as part of the American Athletic Conference, played its last season in the SEC in 1965.

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