At the south end of Joe Aillet Stadium stands a bronze Bulldog statue named the Spirit of '88. The statue commemorates the 1988 Bulldog football team which blazed the path into Division I-A football for Louisiana Tech.
That 1988 team had to endure one of the most difficult schedules in school history while playing with only 65 scholarships - the allotted amount for Division I-AA teams. In what was the nation's 11th toughest schedule that year, the Bulldogs faced five I-A bowl teams including Houston, Florida State and Texas A&M.
The results were as expected: losses like 60-0, 56-17 and 66-3 ... but as a team, the Bulldogs grew. Those experiences likely played a key role in Tech finishing 5-4-1 the following year, its first in Division I-A, and then 8-3-1 in 1990 and an Independence Bowl berth.
The statue, which every Bulldog player touches as he walks down the ramp before every home game, has also brought good fortune to the Bulldogs at Joe Aillet Stadium. On Oct. 14, 1989, when it was unveiled, Tech proceeded to pummel a highly respected Northern Illinois team by the score of 42-21. That was just the start of one of the best runs in Tech football history.
Over the next four-plus seasons, home games were few and far between, but each one resulted in a win. The Bulldogs eventually reeled off 18 consecutive home victories, tying the all-time stadium record set by head coach Maxie Lambright's great teams of the early 1970s.
Some wins have been more magical than others. The endings to three of the biggest wins in school history have taken place in the south end zone ... almost as if the Spirit of '88 willed the Bulldogs to victory.
In 1990, only Louisiana Tech's second season in the Division I-A ranks, the Bulldogs trailed Colorado State 30-14 late in the third quarter and their bowl hopes looked bleak. However, 17 unanswered points later, Tech had rallied for a 31-30 win over the bowl-bound Rams to earn their own Independence Bowl berth.
The winning touchdown pass from Gene Johnson to Bobby Slaughter in the final minutes came fittingly in the south end zone, just in front of the Spirit of '88.
Eleven years later, Tech clinched a share of its first Western Athletic Conference title with a 48-42 win over Boise State at Joe Aillet Stadium. With the Broncos driving towards what looked like a game-winning score late in the contest, the Spirit of '88 magic struck once again.
Ryan Dinwiddie's potential game-winning touchdown pass bounced off the helmet of a Tech defender and high into the air before Bulldog defensive lineman Brandon Avance plucked it out of the air, giving Tech the victory.
Some might say it's a coincidence that the two biggest wins in the program's Division I-A history had been decided in the south end zone under the watchful eyes of the Spirit of '88.
However, the third time proved it was more than just chance.
On a warm Oct. 2 evening in 2004, Louisiana Tech found itself trailing No. 17 ranked Fresno State 21-20 late in the fourth quarter. Fresno State had the football and the momentum, trying to move out of its own end zone -- the south end zone -- against a Tech defense and its 12th man, or should we say Dawg.
However, under the watchful eyes of the Spirit of '88, the Tech defense and offense would both strike. On third down Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar was intercepted by Byron Santiago who returned the football down to the 16-yard line.
Two plays later, Ryan Moats gave Tech a 28-21 lead and the eventual win as he rushed eight yards to the right corner of the south end zone. The Bulldogs had defeated the 17th-ranked team in the nation.
A Joe Aillet Stadium crowd celebrated wildly with the Tech players, coaches and the Spirit of '88.
Some may say the powers of that bronze Bulldog are a fluke. Tech fans won't agree. The numbers say 54 wins and just 19 losses since the Spirit of '88 was unveiled.
So fluke or not, the Bulldogs will continue to touch it each home game and hope the wins continue.