Sam Nader is reminded of it every time he drives by Memorial Stadium on the Interstate 110 Loop in Baton Rouge.
But Nader, the quarterback of the 1962 Byrd football team that was the last Yellow Jacket squad to play for a state football title, doesn’t first think of a specific play or a series in that championship loss to Istrouma.
He remembers the team’s bus driver getting lost on the way to the stadium. The Yellow Jackets quickly fell behind by two scores after they arrived at kickoff time and weren’t permitted time to warm up on a chilly, rainy Dec. 14 day.
“We got to the game at kickoff, and the officials wouldn’t delay the start of the game,” said Nader, LSU’s assistant athletics director for football operations who has been a part of the athletics staff for 39 seasons in various roles. “There is some suspicion on the Byrd side that the bus driver’s heart was in the wrong place.
“We came down and stayed at the old Capitol House Hotel, so it was a matter of a few blocks from Memorial Stadium. There was no way to get lost.”
Istrouma led 21-0 before Byrd scored two late touchdowns to make the final score 21-14 in the 1962 AAA state title game.
“All of a sudden, they were up 14-0 in the first quarter,” said running back Jim Ryan, who practices psychiatry in North Carolina. “We came back right at the end.
“We had a good team that year offensively and defensively. I didn’t realize that we were the last (Byrd) team to go to the state championship game, so I am proud of this current team and hope they win.”
Ryan was also a kicker, making a 47-yarder to beat West Monroe 3-0 in the regular season that helped Byrd win the district.
Nader was a senior on that Byrd team, and he and other classmates shared similar memories when the Class of 1963 met for its 50th reunion in November.
Byrd finished the season 10-2, and Jim Yauger remembers the postgame routine following each win.
“We would get back on the bus, and everybody would be real quiet waiting for (head coach J.D. Cox) to get on,” said Yauger, an offensive tackle who has made a living as a construction executive in Virginia and now teaches at Virginia Tech. “He would yell, ‘It feels soooo good.’
“That coaching staff with Coach (Nicky) Lester, Coach (Woodrow) Turner, Coach (Scotty Robertson) Coach Rogers, they all need mention. They deserve a lot of credit and were unique in their own ways.”
Several players moved on to college football and offensive lineman Jack Pyburn (Texas A&M) played two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
Nader played quarterback at Auburn, offensive lineman Bill Brown played at Tulane, offensive lineman Blocker Thornton went to LSU, Ryan went to Notre Dame while multiple others played at smaller colleges.
Other names surfaced Barry Firestone, Danny Atchley, Robbie Odom, Mike Garrison and Doug Shill (now lives in Australia)
Byrd students and fans will travel by charter bus down to New Orleans this season, but offensive and defensive end Mike Gosslee remembers fans and students taking a train to Baton Rouge in 1962.
“I didn’t know if they rented a train car or what, but we had a great crowd there despite the cold,” Gosslee said. “Even with the loss and with our bus being rerouted, the experience playing in that championship game was great.
“Football is really just a terrific thing, to be on a team and do something special. You don’t realize how special it is until years from now … I hope that somebody from the 1962 team can come and talk to this season’s team.”
Nader said he follows the Byrd program closely, and he said he’s proud to see the Yellow Jackets back in a title game.
“We’ve got a lot of pride, and coach (Mike Suggs) is doing a great job and has a consistent program,” said Nader, who said the 1962 team also ran the Wing-T. “A lot of faithful Byrd alums are very proud.”
Several players offered similar advice, and Gosslee added that because it’s been more than 50 years since the school has played for a football championship, current players and coaches soaking in the moment and experience is important.
But Ryan might have offered the most pertinent advice.
“Make sure you show up on time for the game.”