This was homecoming weekend at Rice, but this time the Owls were joined by another school bringing together its alumni to celebrate and reminisce.
While Rice University celebrated homecoming Saturday, about 400 people with ties to hurricane-damaged Tulane University reunited beneath a green-and-white tent outside Rice Stadium. Over beers and barbecue, the students, alumni and faculty members talked of overcoming Katrina's wrath.
"This is the first time we have had a group this large, so it feels like a homecoming," said Alan Bern, president of the Tulane alumni association's Houston chapter. "I'm seeing people who I haven't seen in three or four years."
The passions run strong for Tulane, usually because of the highly acclaimed academics and sultry New Orleans, not football. Just last year, about 100 folks from Tulane watched the Green Wave play at the University of Houston.
Now, circumstances have turned the football team into a rallying point. With the hurricane scattering Tulane students and faculty members across the country — more of them relocated to Texas than anywhere else, including roughly 100 students enrolled at Rice — the games have become a place to reconnect.
Tulane's 11 intercollegiate teams are operating from four universities in Texas and Louisiana. The football team, based at Louisiana Tech University, has played nine games in nine different cities since the hurricane.
Before Rice's 42-34 victory dropped the Green Wave's record to 2-7, several students and alumni said they agreed with the decision for the university's teams to play.
"It would have been a sign of giving up," said Jared Caplan, a Houston attorney who graduated from Tulane in 1998. "It's important to show that the school is still alive and kicking."
Caplan and his college buddies pick one of Tulane's road games each year for a reunion. Months ago, they decided upon Rice, adding Houston to a list that includes cities in New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Louisiana.
Carey Loshbaugh, one of Caplan's friends and a New Orleans resident, said Tulane's turnout at Rice was larger than other places they have seen, probably because of the number of evacuees in Houston and the proximity to New Orleans.
Even Bern, the alumni chapter president, said he was surprised by the crowd.
Two months ago, alumni spoke in somber tones during a post-Katrina fundraiser in downtown Houston.
"Everybody is in a better mood now," said Bern, who wore Mardi Gras beads over a Tulane T-shirt. "It's different these days. People are saying the campus is in the best shape of their lives. Everything has a fresh coat of paint, and the grass is green."