The Lions and Nicholls State University Colonels fostered a rivalry over 27 games since the inception of the River Bell Classic in 1972.
“It has been a great healthy rivalry between Nicholls and ourselves,” said Director of Athletics Jay Artigues. “Both teams know each other well, and it’s always been a ‘friendly’ rivalry.”
With the discontinued Gulf States Conference in 1971, the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, left its rivalry with the Lions. In 1972, the Lions looked for a replacement rival.
“When the ‘72 season started, there was a group called the Alumni Advisory Board for the university said, ‘We need to find another rival to play,’” said 1971 Alumnus Cameron Barr. “When we played USL, we used to play for the Cypress Mug, so that was going away, so we said, we need to try to find another one. My fraternity, and I was a representative on the Alumni Advisory Board, we said, ‘How about letting us take a run at that?’ So, we suggested Nicholls, which they thought was a good idea.”
The River Bell Classic, named for the Mississippi River between the two schools, began with a win for the Lions in the classic’s first year. The Lions won 14 of the 27 games in the River Bell Classic.
The rivalry entered a hiatus when the football program was discontinued after the 1985 season. After the football program was reinstated, another two seasons passed before rekindling the rivalry in 2005.
“When football returned to SLU, it wasn’t hard for the two schools to pick up where it left off in regards to the rivalry,” said Artigues. “Students and fans alike know a lot of people at each institution, which makes it even more intriguing.”
The rivalry coincided with the Nicholls football program beginning. According to Barr, the geographic proximity of Nicholls made it a natural rival.
“Even back in the ‘70s, the football players kind of came from the same pool, so a lot of our guys knew a lot of the guys at Nicholls,” said Barr. “They were starting their program, so it seemed like a natural rivalry to us, closest one, had some similarities in terms of their Cajun heritage with USL, and that was a minor consideration if you will. And so, we just thought it would play well and it would work well.”
Barr shared why his fraternity participated in establishing the River Bell Classic.
Barr said, “We wanted to help Southeastern because that’s where we’re from, but we wanted to help make sure our athletic programs continue to perform at a high level, get a lot of student acceptance, and we wanted something special.”
Artigues discussed what the competition brings to the rivalry.
“The River Bell Classic adds to an already good rivalry between our two institutions,” said Artigues. “It gives the student-athletes, fans and alumni an added incentive to keep the trophy at their respective institution.”
Barr explained how the rivalry sharpened the competition between the two universities.
Barr said, “Athletes put in a lot of time and effort, and at the end of it all, if you don’t win the conference, you really don’t get any reward, so we wanted something where each team could focus on and say, ‘We want to beat the other guys because we want to win that trophy,’ and while it seems kind of ridiculous, I think it really does work. I think they do work extra hard to win that trophy and bring it back to their school each year.”