It all began in 1924 when Alabama State College and Tuskegee Institute met in the Turkey Day Classic in Montgomery, Alabama. Today, Black College Football Classic Games have become an integral part of the fall athletic environment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In some cases these games outdraw homecoming as the most well attended event on a school’s football schedule.
Classic Games generally fall into three categories. First you have traditional rivalries that have grown so large that school stadiums can’t accommodate the number of people planning to attend. The same schools play each year, and bragging rights are on the line for the next twelve months. These traditional rivalries are often scheduled around holidays like Labor Day and Thanksgiving but aren’t necessarily limited to those two dates.
The largest of these traditional rivalries include 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 City Classic), Tennessee State vs. Florida A&M (Atlanta Football Classic), Prairie View A&M vs. Grambling State (State Fair Classic), Morehouse vs. Tuskegee (Morehouse-’Skegee Classic), Alabama State vs. Alabama A&M (Magic City Classic), Jackson State vs. Alcorn State (Capital City Classic), Fort Valley State vs. Albany State (Fountain City Classic), Grambling State vs. Southern (Bayou Classic), and Florida A&M vs. Bethune Cookman (Florida Classic). The Turkey Day Classic celebrated its 80th Anniversary during the 2003 football season.
The second category of Classic Games features a host school playing a different opponent each year. These games are usually held off-campus in large venues and carry all the pageantry associated with big time football. Often ancillary activities are scheduled, focusing on the benefits associated with being in the city with the large stadium. Bethune-Cookman plays in the Gateway Classic in Jacksonville, Florida. Alabama State always schedules a game in Mobile, Alabama known as the Gulf Coast Classic. Virginia Union’s Gold Bowl is always a big event in Richmond, as is the Fish Bowl where Shriners from throughout the east coast gather in Tidewater Virginia to witness a game hosted by Norfolk State.
The third category includes events that have an identity of their own where different teams are invited each year. Grambling State and Morgan State met in Yankee Stadium in 1968 before 64,000 fans. Now, the New York Urban League sponsors an annual Classic Game at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Long before the NFL Colts moved to Indianapolis, the Indiana Black Expo convinced the local sports commission to partner in the sponsorship of a Black College Classic game. Now, the first week in October culminates with the Circle City Classic, which has featured a variety of match-ups over the past 20 years. The Circle City Classic has become a Midwest homecoming for fans that seldom get to experience a black college football game.
Regardless of the category, Classic Games provide all the excitement of a post-season bowl game. Fans get to visit a city away from campus to watch their favorite team play in a large stadium. There are usually extra activities like golf tournaments, step shows, and beauty pageants to spice up the event. Larger parking areas contribute to expanded tailgating before, during, and after the game. And then there is the battle of the bands at halftime and in the fifth quarter—after the game—for schools to showcase their artistic talents.
Black College Classic Games cover the country from New York to San Diego; Cleveland to Dallas, and they often attract large crowds looking to get a taste of the HBCU experience both on and off the field.