This is part of a series of stories profiling the 12-person Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023, who will be inducted to culminate three days of festivities in Natchitoches July 27-29. For tickets and more information, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255. The LSHOF museum, 800 Front Street in Natchitoches, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., with admission at $6 or less.. The Lincoln Parish Journal is a proud supporter of the LSHOF.
By KEVIN FOOTE, Written for the LSWA
For Bruce Brown, the world’s view of the biggest thing out there was never a guiding light for him.
So when it came to selecting which college he would attend, the 1971 graduate of Ben Franklin High in New Orleans didn’t do what was expected of him.
His father Max, mother Dorothy and older brother Max all went to LSU.
Sure, he’d grown up watching the Tigers play with his family and knew all about the history of LSU’s athletic program.
In fact, the first “big date” with his future wife of 37 years, Barbara, was at the one of the most infamous LSU football games ever – the 1972 last-second Bert Jones-to-Brad Davis game-winning touchdown pass to beat visiting Ole Miss.
The young couple got to Baton Rouge on a Greyhound bus from Lafayette.
“That’s the big-time operator I was,” Bruce laughed.
Once they arrived, Barbara asked him, “How many people are here?”
After Bruce told her about 68,000, his future wife said, “That’s more than my whole hometown (of Jennings).”
It was upon returning to his friend’s postgame fraternity party that Bruce realized he’d made the right choice to attend USL in Lafayette and not follow his family to Baton Rouge.
He asked the guys as he arrived at the party, “Great game, huh?” and they responded, “We left early. We win all the time.”
Indeed, Brown was glad to return to Lafayette, where a Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame writing career he hadn’t even envisioned at the time was about to unfold.
Brown will receive the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism and join the LSHOF Class of 2023 July 27-29 in Natchitoches. Information and tickets are available at LaSportsHall.com or by calling 318-238-4255.
“I was just wanting something different,” he said of his choice to settle in Cajun country. “Dad couldn’t imagine why I was doing this.”
Initially, his major was broadcasting, but he soon discovered most of the opportunities in that field were filled.
The couple planned to marry in December of 1975, so that summer following graduation was a job-hunting venture. Barbara was going to be a teacher and began her career at Paul Breaux Middle School in Lafayette.
Bruce worked as a part-timer at the Daily Advertiser and was a manager trainee at the new Skaggs-Albertson’s grocery store opening near campus.
One Sunday morning, the couple was driving around campus when Barbara noticed a story in the paper reporting Advertiser sportswriter Guy Rials was leaving.
“It didn’t matter what my degree was,” the English major said. “I just went out and hustled a job.”
While it wasn’t really his original plan, he had written a sports story before. As a teenager living in New Orleans, Brown was all fired up for the 1968 Sugar Bowl between LSU and Wyoming.
So much so in fact, he wrote a game story before the opening kickoff.
In this story, he wrote that Jerry Depoyster would kick a Sugar Bowl record field goal and Tommy Allen would be LSU’s rushing star in a 21-13 win over Wyoming.
As it played out, Depoyster did hit a record 49-yard field goal, but Glenn Smith was the rushing MVP of the game in a 20-13 win over Wyoming.
“I showed it to my dad and he was like, ‘Man, this is pretty good.’”
Once it became his profession, it wasn’t foretelling the action, but accurately and fairly relaying what happened through words that highlighted his career as a sportswriter.
“He never came after us in his articles but he never trumped us up unless we deserved it,” former USL tennis star Bill Bryan said of Brown’s integrity as a writer. “He was honest in his articles and that gave them value. He never tried to grab the spotlight for himself. He just gave an honest opinion of what he saw.”
And just like with his school decision, his reporting was never about a popularity contest. Sure, he enjoyed covering USL’s memorable 9-2 football season in 1976, but he found the same amount of satisfaction in covering the Cajuns in tennis or track or perhaps even writing about the high school 3200-meter champion.
“I’ve always appreciated the effort that it takes to compete in high school, and particularly track and particularly distance running in track,” Brown said. “Nobody’s watching you in practice. Nobody’s judging you until the finals at state. You have to believe in what you’re doing and nobody’s going to do it for you. It’s that way in a lot of sports, but in track particularly.”
Even since he officially retired as a sportswriter, Brown still volunteers to cover high school track meets and compiles the top prep performances in the Acadiana area, and helps compile the All-State track team.
“His impact in the track and field community is especially noteworthy,” UL-Lafayette track and field assistant coach Tommy Badon said. “His knowledge of track and field, and his willingness to cover our sport through the years with passion and professionalism is a testimony to who he is as a writer and a person.
“He believes everyone should be honored and covered for their accomplishments. Whether covering high school or the Cajuns, Bruce always went above and beyond to make athletes and coaches feel special.”
In the 1970s, Daily Advertiser’s new sports editor quickly discovered one of the Cajuns’ most successful sports was men’s tennis, led by coach Jerry Simmons.
“Jerry was a little bit leery of opening up too much to a writer he doesn’t know,” Brown said. “I treated him fairly. I covered every match. He liked that. That’s what he liked. He loved coverage on the front page of the section with pictures.”
And so did his athletes, ranging from Bryan to Paul Griffith to Tarek El-Sakka.
“When you are sitting in the dorm on match day, waiting to make the drive to Cajun Courts, there are three things you are sure of: Barbara Authement and Betty Pyle will be in the stands, and Bruce Brown will be on site covering the match,” said Bryan, who is now the Tennis Director for the Youngsville Sports Complex.
“Bruce wasn’t a sportswriter it us. He was one of us. Maybe the MVP. I would finish a match and someone would ask me how I thought I played, my reply, ‘Let’s see what Bruce writes and who gets the front page picture.’”
Brown never took that responsibility for granted and always appreciated the opportunity to bring their performances to life.
That was evident last year when he learned of his selection into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“The first thing I did was say, ‘Get out of town’ because I just couldn’t believe it,” Brown said upon receiving the news.
The next thing he did was write down a list of athletes he had covered the most in his career and attempted to call each one to “thank them for making my life so fun.”
Unfortunately, he never reached some of them, but the gesture was genuine. That list ranged from football players like Mike McDonald, Jake Delhomme and Brandon Stokley to basketball stars like Andrew Toney to tennis players Ashley Rhoney, Griffith and Bryan to high school track standouts Grady Labbe and Jill Robertson.
“Most writers write about the event,” Bryan said. “Bruce took the time and effort to get to know us personally. He knew who our families were and who we were dating. Every one of us appreciated the time he put into covering UL athletics.
“It has been 43 years since I put on the Cajun uniform, but I still consider my friendship with Bruce one of the most valued in my life. Bruce gave us more than we could ever give back to him. He was one of us. He just didn’t have a racket.”
Incredibly, LSU’s quarterback threw two touchdown passes in that 1968 Sugar Bowl victory Brown predicted in the first game story he ever wrote.
His name was Nelson Stokley, who later was the Cajuns’ head football coach and whose son Brandon gave Brown some of his greatest thrills as a sportswriter.
And yet he still vividly remembers the first sporting event he ever covered for the Daily Advertiser in 1975. Fittingly, it was a small-town high school basketball contest between Pecan Island and Meaux.
“Pecan Island had Leonard Bourque and Meaux had Joey Meaux and Jerome Meaux,” Brown recollected. “Rickey Broussard was the coach and I’d swear Danny Broussard was on the bench. It was great. The gym was like a coffee can halfway out the ground.
“There were little stands on either side and a stage at the end. They had little kids playing at the bottom of the bleachers and the guys had to move them out of the way to inbound the ball. It was just a charming thing … and Meaux won. Not enough Leonard Bourque I guess.”
Brown soon realized, however, that he hadn’t sacrificed the really famous while appreciating the world’s less glamourous sports figures and venues.
Soon, he was riding in a car with tennis superstar Bjorn Borg during an exhibition match at Blackham Coliseum or interviewing Arthur Ashe during an appearance in Lafayette.
“I’ve seen some of the greatest athletes that anyone’s ever seen, in a little town like Lafayette,” Brown said. “People like Carl Lewis, Pete Maravich, Mondo Duplantis.”
As a Dallas Cowboys fan, Brown found great joy in covering Tony Dorsett’s last college game for Pitt in the Sugar Bowl and then covering Dorsett helping the Cowboys beat Denver in the Super Bowl his rookie season.
As a student at USL, Brown witnessed firsthand one of the state’s most exciting basketball teams ever with the Bo Lamar-led Ragin’ Cajuns of the early 1970s.
“I challenge anybody to have more fun at a basketball game than when I was in school there,” Brown said. “I had two years of Roy Ebron and Bo Lamar … just fabulous.
“You had to go wolf down your meal at the cafeteria on campus and got to Blackham two hours early just to get a seat in the student area, or you’d be standing.”
Just a few years into his new gig, he was following future NBA star guard Toney all the way north to Minnesota in the NIT quarterfinals against future Hall of Famer Kevin McHale.
Five years later, the Cajuns made it to the NIT Final Four in the mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden.
“Those days were something,” Brown said.
In his mind, he hadn’t missed out on anything. Instead, he enjoyed the best of both worlds.
“His enshrinement into the Hall of Fame is so deserved,” Badon said. “I always wondered how such a talented person stayed here in Acadiana when I’m sure he could have made a career in a bigger market and made more money.
“But I guess it was his love of our sporting community and the significance sports play in our area that kept him here,” said Badon, “and we are much the better for it.”