Shreveport's soiree

Tigers face South Carolina today in the town's biggest event of the year
Friday, December 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

SHREVEPORT, La. — The Independence Bowl gets some Americans to turn on their televisions for a few hours at the end of the year. For big college football fans, it might even be a reason for temporary excitement before it becomes an afterthought in the shadow of more prestigious bowls.

But here, the game is looked forward to all year long. It’s the Super Bowl of northwestern Louisiana, the crucible of the mid-sized community of Shreveport and its across-the-river partner, Bossier City.

“This is the event for this metropolitan area,” said Tim Brando, a CBS Sports broadcaster and Shreveport native. “Not just the sporting event — it’s the event for the Shreveport-Bossier area. This is the only game in town.”

That means special attention for the teams involved in the game. This year, it’s Missouri and South Carolina, which play at 2:30 p.m. today in Independence Stadium.

But the game itself is the end of a weeklong celebration. The Tigers arrived in Shreveport on Sunday, the South Carolina Gamecocks the next day. Mixed in with a visit to a hospital, tours of nearby Barksdale Air Force Base and welcome parties, were sights and sounds of a city ramping up with anticipation for its biggest show.

* * *

The Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel, across the Red River from Shreveport, was full of signs Thursday afternoon that the I-Bowl, as it’s called locally, was approaching. There were fans waiting in long lines to check in, cars with Missouri flags outside the window were being valet parked and kids were wearing way-too-big jerseys of their favorite South Carolina player.

One Tiger fan, Roger Kehde of Sedalia, is attending a Missouri bowl game for the first time. He said his brother-in-law found the hotel and booked it for the family.

“Missouri has been to four bowls in the last 25 years,” Kehde said, “but two in the last three, so we decided it’s time to stop and smell the roses.”

* * *

A dichotomy quickly unfolded under the Texas Street Bridge on Thursday night.

Like usual there was the Louisiana Boardwalk, a collection of shops, restaurants and pavilions along the Red River. Half of the biggest pavilion was packed with South Carolina’s garnet-colored garb, standing and excited for the I-Bowl pep rally about to take place.

The other half, designated for Missouri, was scattered with a few dozen Tiger fans, sitting down and looking bored. On the other side of the river, the bright lights of Shreveport’s many casinos shined, and across the pavilion, South Carolina fans chanted and cheered, but it took Independence Bowl volunteers to even somewhat ignite the MU side.

That changed when, after two hours of waiting, the teams’ bands and cheerleaders arrived, starting a sort of spirit competition. Despite South Carolina’s bigger crowd, Missouri fans held their own in a competition of chants and cheered wildly for the Tiger band as it tried to outplay its Gamecock counterpart.

Still, South Carolina’s crowd dwarfed the contingent from the Show-me State, and its sound did, too. But either way, the pep rally showcased the best part of Shreveport — the night before the biggest day of the year in this town.

* * *

South Carolina has seen the sights of Shreveport, including the less noticeable ones. Captain Na’Shan Goddard and about 10 of his teammates had an interesting method of introducing themselves to Shreveport locals. They headed down to a barbershop for a trim and some good old-fashioned sports talk.

“It’s a fun place to sit around and talk with everybody and hear about this area,” he said. “There’s been a little bit of trash talking from the barbers actually.”

* * *

A big game in college football has the ability to capture attention and dominate coffee-shop conversation. It is what makes college football so special. Shreveport’s devotion to the Independence Bowl exemplifies this atmosphere unlike any other bowl.

For 30 years, the people of this community, one of the smallest to host a bowl game, have kept it alive while others have died out. Unlike big metro areas that host other games, saying you’re “in town for the game” during Independence Bowl week needs no clarification because the bowl is the only game in town. The stadium that houses the game is fittingly named Independence Stadium, because it is the one major event the venue hosts each year.

The official I-Bowl representatives deck themselves out in red, but Missouri quarterback Brad Smith said he liked the warm Shreveport hospitality, which reaches beyond the representatives. He said he liked “going around town and having people wish you luck, everybody, not just the people wearing red coats. The whole town is willing to show support. We went to the hospital, and the patients even were looking forward to the game and rooting us on.”

* * *

Bowl game bets are being made around the country and Columbia’s Mayor Darwin Hindman got in on the action by accepting a wager he can’t lose, or win. Hindman agreed to a wager from Mayor Bob Coble, Columbia, S.C., for today’s Independence Bowl.

Both cities have agreed to send gifts to crew members of the USS Columbia submarine, win or lose. The gifts include local products that the Convention and Visitors Bureau will assist in sending.

Columbia, Mo., and Columbia, S.C., are both namesake cities to the submarine, which has its home port in Pearl Harbor.

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