In the world of HBCU sports the college football’s fan base is smaller though just as passionate. But unlike the major colleges, who play the regular season for the lucrative postseason games, the rewards for teams and their fans come during the regular season where the pomp and circumstance of bowl season comes to life in the form of classics.
When Hampton meets Howard on Sept. 17 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., Black College Football will be on center stage in the nation’s capital. The fifth Nation’s Football Classic, traditionally referred to as the battle for the “Real HU” bragging rights each year, puts the game on a stage that takes this rivalry takes on a whole new level.
When Hampton and Howard meet in the Nation’s Classic this Saturday Black College Football will play on a major league stage at RFK Stadium. (Courtesy photo)
“You don’t have to give a lot of rah-rah speeches this week because it’s a big game for both teams,” Hampton coach Connell Maynor told the AFRO. “It’s huge for both programs and HBCUs”.
Maynor and Howard coach Gary Harrell were Black College National Champions during their playing days at North Carolina A&T and Howard respectively. As elite championship winners during their days in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference they are invested in the success of this classic.
Games such as these are opportunities to share the culture and traditions of HBCUs during a weekend of social activities. In addition to Saturday’s action on the field the events surrounding the game are designed to promote and recognize the history of service to others by the students, faculty and alumni of both schools while promoting academic excellence and community service.
“The tradition and the change of venue gives the community a chance to enjoy the event,” said Harrell. “Playing at RFK Stadium is always a great experience for our guys being in an old NFL venue”.
For the first three years Howard faced Morehouse with the Bison winning those games. Hampton became the Bison’s foe in the classic for the first time in 2015. The closer proximity, conference affiliation, and larger alumni fan base has seemed to give this matchup the potential for long term success.
“We like playing in D.C.,” Maynor said. “We recruit in this area hard and go after the same players so winning this game is a great recruiting tool for sure.”
One of the classic weekend’s staple events has become the debate between elite students from the two schools. This event, which is free and always staged at Crampton Auditorium on Howard’s campus, has become the academic equivalent of the football game with some of the undergraduate intellectuals from both schools arguing complex social, academic, and cultural issues.
This year also marks the first time the festivities will include a Diversity in Sports forum and career fair at the Mayflower Hotel. Howard Bryant of ESPN will be the lead moderator for discussions with industry leaders and officials from major sports organizations giving interested students a chance to interview for jobs and internships.
Both teams will be looking for their first victory after opening the season with losses to tough non-conference opponents. Hampton lost to Old Dominion to open the season before losing to William & Mary 24-14 last weekend. Howard has been outscored 104 – 27 in losses to B1G teams Maryland and Rutgers in lucrative paydays for their program.
Great Black College football rivalries between teams with a close regional proximity have become the recipe for the success of these classics. They can prove to be a financial windfall for schools and municipalities alike. In many metropolitan areas – densely populated with HBCU alumni – the weekend of sports, civic, and social activities is the only time their fans can watch them compete in person.