A "Countdown to Yulman Stadium" digital timer on the Tulane University athletics website (www.tulanegreenwave.com) ticks down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until kickoff of the very first game at the new $73 million football arena on Tulane's Uptown campus. The Green Wave hasn't played a game on campus since 1974.
At 3 p.m. Sept. 6, the university will christen the new stadium with a season home opener against Georgia Tech.
Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson says he is doing his best to ignore the countdown ticker because it causes too much anxiety and excitement.
"I kind of make sure I never see it," he says.
The 30,000-seat Yulman Stadium is the culmination of years of planning and hustling for private donations, which financed construction of the new stadium. After several decades of playing home games at the Superdome, the Green Wave will return to the Tulane campus, a final piece in a feverish effort to rebuild what had for years been a mediocre football program into the power house that Tulane football once was.
That rebuilding process included the hiring in late 2011 of energetic head coach Curtis Johnson, who brought vibrance to the program that resulted in a winning season and a post-season bowl invitation in 2013.
Tulane also switched conference membership for the 2014 year from Conference USA to the new American Athletic Conference, a phoenix that rose from the ashes of the Big East Conference. The athletics department recently unveiled a new look for the Green Wave's football uniforms and helmets.
University officials hope these changes and the new on-campus stadium will build enthusiasm for the Greenies' football program, especially among students, who should find it easier to attend games than it was when the contests were held in the Superdome.
Dickson says the right factors have come together for the 2014 season, creating a positive vibe on campus about the football team and its prospects for a winning season.
"It does feel like that," Dickson says. "All of it points to a bright future. What we went through (assembling a winning program) was a gut check, but we got through it."
Yulman Stadium is technically Tulane's fourth on-campus football facility; two much smaller, more intimate fields existed before the 1926 opening of what became famous as "Tulane Stadium." It was this third incarnation that hosted Sugar Bowls, Super Bowls and the first several New Orleans Saints seasons.
That stadium also served as home field for what is now known as the golden era of Tulane football — from the mid-1920s into the early '50s, when the team earned spots in Rose Bowls and routinely found itself in the upper echelons of national polls.
But a marked decision to deemphasize athletics in favor of academics, and the withdrawal from what would evolve into the mega-powerful Southeastern Conference in 1966, triggered a decades-long slide in the Greenies' gridiron fortunes, both on the field and at the gate.
The program has suffered from anemic attendance figures since that time, but indications are that could change this season. Tickets for the Georgia Tech game sold out in less than 20 minutes, and last week the ticket office had fewer than 1,000 tickets available for home games the entire season, Dickson says.
"I've always said that the Superdome is a pro venue," Johnson said during a media day this summer. "It was great when I was with the Saints, and our time there was fabulous. All of a sudden, we've got our own.
"We can walk to the games. Everybody can come see us play. I think there's a renewed excitement about Tulane football. I think the community is really behind us. Looking at the season tickets and where we are with that."
The Green Wave will play six of its 12 games this season at home, including a homecoming date with the Memphis Tigers Nov. 15 and a season-concluding clash with the Temple Owls Dec. 6. Another gem on the home slate is a Halloween night, prime-time showdown with a new conference mate, the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Challenges remain, including sustaining on-the-field success in a more rigorous conference. But Dickson believes the football team, as well as the rest of the campus, is prepared to clear the final hurdles.
"In my 14 years at this university, I've never seen this much focus on the program, selling tickets and interest in the games," he says. "We certainly continue to have bigger hopes and expectations, but so far (the success) has been very satisfying and very exciting, just seeing everything happen and come together."