Confetti streams and fans rejoice as Tulane wins the Cotton Bowl Classic , Jan. 2, 2023


The Green Wave football team and Tulane fans from across the nation and generations came together to celebrate a magical season capped off with an epic win at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas.

Above: A family reunion–like celebration unfolds on the field at AT&T Stadium after Tulane wins the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 2, 2023. (AP photo by Sam Hodde)
(All other photos by Partker Waters)

It was a season for the ages. The Green Wave ended a magical year with arguably the biggest win in the modern era of its program with a thrilling 46-45 come-from-behind victory over the 10th-ranked University of Southern California Trojans in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 2. Tulane claimed the No. 9 spot in the final college football rankings of 2022.

On the first Monday of the New Year, tens of thousands of Tulanians descended on the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and turned AT&T Stadium into a rowdy sea of olive and blue. There were handshakes, hugs and an abundance of photos taken before, during and especially after the game. But it was more than just a game for anyone associated with Tulane University. It was a long-awaited family reunion — a catharsis, a transcendental moment that represented all that is right with intercollegiate athletics and exemplified what the New York Times called “the power of belief.”

Former football players and coaches came to cheer along with current and former faculty, staff, gleeful alums, and fans of all ages. Tulane students showed up en masse and sat center stage, fueling the collective energy as they have done all season.

Catherine Susie (E ’99) was a junior at Tulane during the Green Wave’s 12-0 season in 1998. The Dallas native was more than happy to make the short trip to AT&T Stadium to cheer on her alma mater.

“Stepping into AT&T Stadium, you could feel the excitement and enthusiasm among the Tulane fans,” said Susie. “It was an indescribable rush, like going to your first Mardi Gras. The last four minutes were exhilarating, thrilling and tense.”

A diehard Green Wave fan, Susie said this season took things to “another level.”
“I’ve always been a proud Tulanian. I stop people on the street when I see Tulane shirts, but our Cotton Bowl victory took it to another level. I think I smiled for a week straight after the game.”

The 16th-ranked Green Wave’s improbable comeback in its first major bowl in 83 years was spurred by a Green Wave offense that often appeared unstoppable behind the solid play of junior quarterback Michael Pratt and junior running back Tyjae Spears. The Green Wave defense battled Trojan quarterback Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, all day and came up with a game-changing safety late in the contest that prompted an epic comeback. When Pratt found freshman tight end Alex Bauman for the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds to play the Green Wave had overcome a 15-point deficit in the final five minutes.

Cotton Bowl Highlights

Tulane's defensive unit records a safety at the Cotton Bowl,  Jan. 2, 2023
The Green Wave defensive unit records a fourth-quarter safety, bringing victory within reach. (Photo by Parker Waters)
Tight end Alex Bauman completes the pass for the winning touchdown, Jan. 2, 2023
Tight end Alex Bauman holds the football aloft, proving (and confirmed by official video review) that he completed a catch from quarterback Michael Pratt for a touchdown with 9 seconds left in the game.
Team members celebrate the Cotton Bowl championship with swirling confetti
Team members celebrate postgame after the team had trailed by 15 points in the game’s last 5 minutes.

The remarkable win also resulted in the biggest one-season turnaround in the history of the Football Bowl Subdivision — from a 2-10 record in 2021 to a 12-2 mark in 2022.

“This is a huge win for the program, the university and the city,” said Tulane head coach Willie Fritz. “I think we’ve seen this year what a great football season and competing at a high level can do for an institution. I’m just very proud to be a part of it. We have a good group of young men who are true student-athletes. When you have a season like this, it’s validation that you’re doing the right thing. It’s a credit to our staff and players for hanging together during the tough times. We want to be a nationally recognized program, year after year. That’s a big goal for us.”

Green Wave fans at the Cotton Bowl, Jan. 2, 2023
(Left) A green-haired fan exults in the triumph; (Right) Former Green Wave football player Jacob Davis (SSE ’13, ’14) and his father, Perry Davis, savor the moment.

“Everyone went crazy, including the president of Tulane University.”

Michael A. Fitts, President of Tulane University

When the final whistle sounded at the Cotton Bowl, bedlam ensued. Tulane fans erupted with tears and cheers of excitement that reverberated around the stadium and country.

“Everyone went crazy, including the president of Tulane University,” quipped Michael A. Fitts, who was on the sidelines during the Green Wave’s final drive. “It just doesn’t get any better than this. This historic season and Cotton Bowl victory was the exclamation point on the end of a year of excellence across our 17 teams and 10 schools and colleges. It is emblematic of the success we have had throughout Tulane in student achievement, research, admissions, fundraising — you name it.”

As Fritz and the players hoisted the Cotton Bowl trophy, confetti poured down on the newly crowned champions. Tulanians remained standing, applauding and embracing each other. The Tulane band played on, perhaps louder and prouder than ever. The game, and the season, were a turning point for the football program and the entire university community.

“The appearance in the Cotton Bowl was validation of Tulane’s ability to compete at an elite level athletically, as it has long done academically. There was a time we merely hoped this is who we could be. Advancing to the Cotton Bowl showed us that this indeed is who we can be. In the days following the game, the victory has done nothing less than remind us of this is who we should expect to be,” said Troy Dannen, the Ben Weiner Director of Athletics.

Season Highlights

Tulane was THE story of the year in college football, opening the season with a pair of dominant home wins over the University of Massachusetts (42-10) and Alcorn State University (52-10).

Quarterback Michael Pratt plays Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas
Quarterback Michael Pratt (No. 7) at the Kansas State game leads the team to victory.

But it was a mid-September game at Kansas State University that provided a glimpse into the team’s potential as the Green Wave stunned the Wildcats, 17-10, and notched its first win over a Power Five Conference school since 2010. Even more remarkable, both teams claimed their respective conference championship and played in two of the coveted New Year Six bowl games.

Following the upset at Kansas State, Tulane came up short against the University of Southern Mississippi, 27-24, and then faced perhaps its most pivotal game of the season on the road to open conference play at the University of Houston. With starting quarterback Pratt sidelined with an injury, third-string quarterback Kai Horton, a redshirt freshman, came off the bench to rally the team to a 27-24 overtime victory. The win was followed by victories over East Carolina University (24-9) and the University of South Florida (45-31).

Third string quaterback Kai Horton plays Houston for a victory
Third-string quarterback Kai Horton (No. 12) steps it up in the four-overtime win against Houston in Houston on Sept. 30.

By mid-October, Tulane, nationally ranked for the first time since 1998, hosted Memphis in front of a then-record homecoming crowd of 30,100 at Yulman Stadium, winning 38-28.

Tulane extended its win streak to five straight with a victory at the University of Tulsa (27-13) to open the month of November.

The 17th-ranked Green Wave hosted the 22nd-ranked University of Central Florida (UCF) in a showdown between first-place teams in mid-November. UCF escaped with a 38-31 victory, but it would be the Green Wave’s last taste of defeat.

They next dominated Southern Methodist University, 59-24, on Senior Night at Yulman Stadium.

The final week of the regular season came down to a winner-take-all game at the 21st-ranked University of Cincinnati, which entered the game as the defending conference champion and sported a 32-game home winning streak. The winner would host the AAC Championship game.

Two photos of out of state games with fan support in Kansas and Cincinnati
(Left) Green Wave faithful cheer at the early season upset of Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas, on Sept. 17. (Right) Tulane fans in Cincinnati support the team as it ended Cincinnati’s 32-game home winning streak on Nov. 25.
Wide receiver Lawrence Keys on the field at Cincinnati
Wide receiver Lawrence Keys III (No. 6) runs down the field after completing a catch during the Cincinnati game.

Tulane’s 27-24 win over the Bearcats marked the first time the Green Wave had beaten a ranked team since 1984 and the first time Tulane had won a ranked-against-ranked matchup since 1956.

Another record crowd watched 18th-ranked Tulane continue its magical season with a thrilling 45-28 victory over 22nd-ranked UCF to claim its first-ever AAC Championship.

Parker Waters (A&S ’78) was a first-year student at Tulane and photographed the Green Wave’s final game in old Tulane Stadium in 1974. A native of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Waters returned to his alma mater in 2010 and has served as the team photographer for all sports.

“This team was all business the entire year. One of the best things about the Cotton Bowl week was reuniting and meeting with Tulane fans from all over. I don’t know if I have ever witnessed so many Tulane fans in one place,” Waters said. “The Cotton Bowl victory was a celebration for all of Tulane to enjoy. As the confetti drifted down, I felt mixed emotions and thoughts as I moved about the field. I tried to capture the moment and convince myself that this was really happening.”

Running back Tyjae Spears and wide receiver Jha’Quan Jackson at Yulman Stadium
Running back Tyjae Spears (No. 22) scores a touchdown at the thrilling AAC championship game against University of Central Florida in Yulman Stadium on Dec. 3. Wide receiver Jha’Quan Jackson (No. 4) in the background signals his support.