Black College Football Notebook

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: August 21, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — With the HBCU football season set to officially begin Saturday night (Fort Valley State visiting defending Division II National Champion Valdosta State), we’ll take a peek at news within Black College football.

College Football Hall of Fame adds Special HBCU Exhibit - Anyone wanting to learn more about the distinctive HBCU brand of football should try and visit the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana. “Blood, Sweat, and Tears: A History of Black College Football” will be on exhibit at the CHOF from Feb. 1, 2008 through August 31, 2008.

Hey Philly Where is Your HBCU Classic Game?? - Though there has not been an HBCU Classic played in Philadelphia in some time — I still remember my Father and an African American men’s group that he belonged to taking a large of us kids including my brother and myself to the 1982 HBCU Classic played at Franklin Field won by Howard 41-14 over Cheyney. Maybe with the revival of Lincoln’s football team there can be something done to bring a HBCU Classic back to town, possibly at the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field.

HBCU Classic Helping to further a Legacy - There are now approximately 48 known classics including: Grambling State vs. Southern (Bayou Classic), Florida A&M vs. Bethune Cookman (Florida Classic), North Carolina Central vs. North Carolina A&T (Aggie-Eagle Classic), Norfolk State vs. Virginia State (Labor Day Classic), Jackson State vs. Tennessee State (Southern Heritage Classic), Benedict vs. South Carolina State (Palmetto Capital Classic), Alabama State vs. Alabama A&M (Magic City Classic), Fort Valley State vs. Albany State (Fountain City Classic) and others. Two of the bigger classics are the Circle City Classic (Held in Indianapolis, Indiana every October) and the Chicago Football Classic (Held at Soldier Field bringing in a reported $900,000 a year in ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and other fees).

HBCU Football has it’s own video game – In the genre of Madden football, Nerjyzed Entertainment created the video game Black College Football Xperience (BCFx). The game features three HBCU conferences (SWAC, SIAC, and CIAA), along with several schools within the MEAC and independent HBCU’s. Also fans should get a kick out of the more than 40 teams, bands, mascots, interactive halftime shows, realistic stadiums, play-by-play commentary, and ten authentic Classics.

The NFL has a rich history of HBCU football players – Though only four HBCU players were drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft led by Arizona Cardinals first round selection defensive back Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie from Tennessee State, there are strong ties between HBCU teams and the NFL. Notable HBCU players in NFL History include: HOF and Former All-time NFL Leading Rusher Walter Payton (Jackson State), HOF Chiefs DE Buck Buchanan (Grambling State), HOF Green Bay Packers DL Willie Davis (Grambling State), Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams (Grambling State), HOF Los Angeles Rams FB-LB Paul “Tank” Younger (Grambling State), HOF Los Angeles Rams DE and Sack innovator David “Deacon” Jones (South Carolina State and Mississippi Valley State), HOF Pittsburgh Steelers DB Mel Blount (Southern), HOF Pittsburgh Steelers WR John Stallworth (Alabama A&M), NFL Record-Setting WR Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), HOF Oakland Raiders OL Art Shell (Maryland – Eastern Shore), New York Giants DE Michael Strahan (Texas Southern), Tennessee Titans QB Steve McNair (Alcorn State), Dallas Cowboys WR and Olympic Gold Medalist Bob Hayes (Florida A&M), Denver Broncos Record-Setting TE Shannon Sharpe (Savannah State), Cincinnati Bengals Safety Ken Riley (Florida A&M), San Francisco 49ers WR John Taylor (Delaware State), current Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl CB Antoine Bethea (Howard), and many others.

HBCU’s looking to other places for players – With more African American players getting opportunities at mainstream schools, HBCU football teams are looking for players from everywhere including recruiting white players. At a recent Philadelphia Eagles mini-camp, I had the pleasure of talking to tall red-headed quarterback Casey Hansen from Norfolk State. Hansen led the MEAC in passing in 2006 with 2,166 yards and followed in the footsteps of Jim Gregory, Grambling State University’s first white football player. Gregory’s story had been made into a 1981 television movie called Grambling’s White Tiger starring Bruce Jenner.

Notable mainstream HBCU Alumni includes - Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Lincoln – PA), Poet Langston Hughes (Lincoln – PA), 60 Minutes Report the late Ed Bradley (Cheyney), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (Morehouse), Booker T. Washington (Hampton Institute), NFL Reporter Pam Oliver (Florida A&M), Spike Lee (Morehouse), Shawn “P-Diddy” Combs (Howard), Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State), Earl “The Pearl” Monroe (Winston Salem), funny actress Wanda Sykes (Hampton), Astronaut Ronald McNair (North Carolina A&T), ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith (Winston Salem) and many others.

One Mainstream 1-AA National Football Championship for HBCU teams - Though HBCI teams have competed in football since 1892, there has only been one team that has won the mainstream National Football Championship in 1-A (now Bowl Championship Division) or 1-AA (now Football Championship Division). That team was the 1978 Florida A&M Rattlers coached by Rudy Hubbard. The Rattlers beat Massachusetts by a score of 35-28 in Wichita Falls, Texas before a crowd of 13,604 spectators. Also Central State (OH) won NAIA Football Championships in 1990 and 1992.

Grambling leads the way in National Black College Football Championships – The Tigers led by legendary coach the late Eddie Robinson have 13 titles (1955, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1877, 1980, 1983, 1992, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005). The next teams are Florida A&M and Tennessee State (11), Southern (9), Morgan State (7), and Tuskegee (7).