On a day when Tennessee State reignited a beloved pastime, Rod Reed shed a personal tradition.
Normally a man of habit and routine, the TSU coach decided to shake off the tunnel vision and look around Saturday as the Tigers returned to Hale Stadium for the first time since 1998.
“I normally don’t look in the stands a whole lot but what I was most impressed with [Saturday] was when I looked up into the stands I saw a sea of blue,” said Reed, who also celebrated his 46th birthday the same day. “I saw blue and white. A lot of times you go to our games and it looks kind of like a fashion show. But I saw true fans out there today. And that’s what this team needs. They need the support of these fans.”
The Tigers rewarded an enthusiastic crowd of 14,264 with a 34-14 win over Austin Peay to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.
Led by Michael German’s career-high 318 passing yards and three touchdowns, TSU scored the final 25 points and overcame a 14-9 halftime deficit in its Ohio Valley Conference opener. The Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak to the Governors (0-3, 0-1) and added to the winning tradition at the 59-year-old stadium, affectionately called The Hole. TSU is 135-27-5 all-time at Hale.
“We had a little bit of jitters,” German, who was named the OVC offensive player of the week on Sunday, said. “The atmosphere was a little different from what we ever expected. But the fans, the crowd, the band, that is the best thing TSU has going for itself right now. We played off their fever. We kept it going.”
Fans began sprinkling in 90 minutes before kickoff, checking out the $1 million worth of renovations necessary for three games at Hale this fall in conjunction with the school’s centennial celebration.
A mural celebrating 100 years draped the fence outside the north entrance. A brief ceremony was held at midfield before kickoff, with interim president Portia Shields, wearing a cowboy hat and sparkling silver vest, handing the game ball to officials.
TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands didn’t disappoint in their return either. Led by their flamboyant drum majors, the 300-plus member unit delivered an entertaining halftime performance, which included dancing solos from the band’s hefty tuba players.
Normally spread out at gigantic LP Field, where TSU has played its home games since 1999, anxious alumni and students cozied up together on the aluminum bleachers. But many more walked around, standing near the new entranceway behind the north end zone of the 18,000-seat stadium.
With a lush green grass field as the centerpiece, additional bleachers filling out the open end zones and fresh coats of blue, white and yellow paint, the Tigers treated the 21st largest crowd in stadium history.
“It is nothing like it,” longtime TSU fan Randy Lane said. “We can remember the times when this was the place. Yeah, it is a special day because it brings back a lot of fond memories. It is something long overdue.”
Lane and his wife, Brenda, who graduated from TSU and now works there, have enjoyed the amenities of LP Field but missed the allure of Hale.
Though he didn’t attend TSU, Randy, from Lewisburg, basically grew up around Hale Stadium, gravitating to Jefferson Street at a young age.
“TSU, especially before desegregation, this was the hub of black Tennessee,” Lane, 59, said. “African-Americans had to come here or go to Fisk, HBCU schools. It’s a fabric of who we are. We got a generation over here that don’t understand that. That’s what it is going to bring back too. We’ve got a whole generation that has never been to a game here.”
On Saturday, that new generation added to the storied tradition at historic Hale Stadium.
“We came back home, to our fans, to a big crowd and we gave them wanted,” senior wide receiver Travis James said. “We gave them a win.”