College football in one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans across the nation. The 2015 Black College Football season did not disappoint with several historical events occurring throughout the fall. In the SIAC Conference the Tuskegee Golden Tigers (10-3) recorded their best finish in school history, reaching the quarterfinals – Super Region 2 championship game – before falling to the University of West Georgia. The Golden Tigers reached the NCAA Division II playoffs for the third consecutive season and won their first playoff game in school history.
The Winston-Salem State Rams (6-5) won their third CIAA title in the last five years and first under second-year head coach Kienus Boulware. Even with these great accomplishments, everything was not coming up roses for HBCU football this year.
Over the past several years fans and alumni have been at odds over the “money games” or “payday games” in which HBCU football teams typically play non-competitive matches against FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) Division I teams. In these games, HBCUs are usually routed by halftime and walk away with several injuries. On the flipside, these games provide exposure and an infusion of cash for underfunded athletic programs.
One of the more memorable games was the Southern at the University of Georgia. Southern wide receiver Devon Gales was taken off the field on a stretcher after suffering a spinal injury late in the third quarter of the game. Since the injury, Southern and Georgia has done a lot to help raise funds to pay for Gales’ family pay for medical expenses. In November, Georgia honored Gales at a game against Georgia Southern.
— 11Alive News (@11AliveNews) November 21, 2015
While these games are lopsided with the football match-ups, the halftime show is a different story. Arguably, some of the best halftime performances occurred during these largely attended, nationally televised games. Here are three examples:
Sanford Stadium, Attendance 92,746
California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, CA, Attendance 60,606
Kenan Stadium, Attendance 44,000
Finally, with so many highlights from 2015 season, we couldn’t possibly cover them all. Although, there are two highlights we would remiss not mentioning. 1) The SWAC Championship Game and 2) The Inaugural Celebration Bowl. A crowd of 40,352 in Houston, TX witnessed a record-setting day by Alcorn State as the Braves prevailed 49-21 over Grambling State to claim the 2015 Southwestern Athletic Conference Football Championship, becoming the first repeat champion since the 2000-2002 Grambling State Tigers.
On Saturday, Alcorn State won its second consecutive SWAC championship title. pic.twitter.com/GfIQCt2arq
— The SWAC (@theswac) December 6, 2015
The season was capped off in Atlanta, GA with The Celebration Bowl, which pitted the SWAC conference champion Alcorn State against one MEAC conference champion North Carolina A&T State. On a side note, North Carolina A&T rose to the top of the MEAC’s tiebreaker formula following a three-way tie for first place along with Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central.
North Carolina A&T became the first-ever Celebration Bowl Champions and the crowd of 35,528 in the Georgia Dome, and a nationally televised audience on ABC witnessed Tarik Cohen rushed for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Cohen had the HBCU Nation and many others buzzing on Twitter and rightly so.
When you have 291 yards and 3 TD. https://t.co/tMTFdEimJL
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 19, 2015
That was enough recapping from the season. Let’s take a look at the Top 5 HBCU Football Classics by Attendance includin the event histories, games summaries, and final scores.
5. Florida Classic: 45,728 Fans
Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, FL, Nov. 21, 2015
Bethune-Cookman Downs Florida A&M, 35-14
Despite the increase in attendance, The Florida Classic moved down a spot in the rankings from the number four position in 2014. Fans braved the intermittent rain and traffic delays on Interstate 4 to converge on the Florida Citrus Bowl on the weekend before of Thanksgiving.
In the game quarterback, Quentin Williams threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to help Bethune-Cookman beat Florida A&M 35-14 and earn a share of its fourth straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship.
Bethune-Cookman now has a five-game winning streak in the Florida Classic. FAMU ends a tough season at (1-10, 1-7). The Wildcats (9-2, 7-1) shared the MEAC title with North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T State. Florida A&M leads the Florida Classic series 21-15.
4. Southern Heritage Classic: 48,385 Fans
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN, Sept. 12, 2015
Tennessee State Holds Off Jackson State 35-25
The Southern Heritage Classic saw the largest crowd since 2008 but still dropped a position to make way for a new entry in the top five. The game marked the 36th meeting between Tennessee State and Jackson State, and 26th annual Southern Heritage Classic.
This year’s classic featured a concert with legendary R&B legend Gladys Knight; a live broadcast of the nationally syndicated “Tom Joyner Morning Show” and a music fest featuring Anthony Hamilton, Fantasia, Johnny Gill and Avery Sunshine.
In the game TSU quarterback, Ackerman-Carter was 15 of 26 for 250 passing yards. Telvin Hooks ran for 68 yards on 14 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns for the Tigers in the win against Jackson State.
TSU improves to 15-11 in the Southern Heritage Classic and now has a four-game winning streak. JSU’s last win over the Tigers was back in 2011. JSU ends the season at (3-8, 3-6) and TSU closes at (4-6, 1-6).
3. State Fair Classic: 51,328 Fans
The Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX, Sept. 26, 2015
Grambling State Puts Away Prairie View in Scoring Shootout 70-54
The Southwest Airlines State Fair Classic in a new entry in the Top 5, surpassing the Southern Heritage Classic. This annual weekend event is not only a big part of Black history in Dallas but Texas history, dating back to 1925.
Beyond the game, this year’s events included a comedy show featuring Cedric ‘The Entertainer’; Eddie Griffin, D. L. Hughley, George Lopez and Charlie Murphy. A Celebrity Golf tournament, scholarship gala, concert and, of course, the battle of the bands.
In the game, Johnathan Williams threw six touchdown passes and ran in another to lead Grambling State to a 70-54 win over Prairie View at the Cotton Bowl in the annual State Fair Classic.
Martez Carter returned two kicks for touchdowns and had a 10-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to cement the win for Grambling State. Williams completed 20 of 33 passes for 429 yards and had two interceptions.
GSU improves to 23-5 in the State Fair Classic and now has a two-game winning streak. PVAMU ended the season at (7-2, 7-1) and GSU closed at (9-3, 9-0).
2. Bayou Classic: 62,507 Fans
Mercedes-Benz Super Dome, New Orleans, LA, Nov. 28, 2015
Grambling Scores 28 Unanswered Points in 34-23 victory over Southern
The 42nd edition of the Bayou Classic between the Grambling Tigers and Southern Jaguars has not only maintained its position as the 2nd most attended HBCU Classic, but it has continued an upward trend of attendance year-over-year since 2011 (40,715).
The Tigers and Jaguars historic rivalry dates back to 1932. The two schools combine for the most SWAC titles. The 2015 events included the Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Parade, a college and career fair, Battle of the Bands & Greek Show, Fan Fest and a Gospel Brunch.
Southern started the game strong with Grambling trailing 20-10 in the second quarter, but the momentum shifted with the help of several timely turnovers from Southern. These errors include an interception, a fumble, and running into the kicker on a punt attempt. All are adding up to 28 unanswered points from the Tigers.
Grambling’s Marc Orozco added a 22-yard field goal with 2:09 remaining to cap off the scoring. With the win, GSU became the first SWAC team to finish with a perfect conference record since they accomplished that same feat in 2008.
The two teams are all tied up in Bayou Classic Series with Grambling’s 2015 win. GSU ends the season at (9-3, 9-0) and SU closes at (6-5, 6-3).
1. Magic City Classic: 63,874 Fans
Legion Field, Birmingham, AL, Oct. 31, 2015
Alabama State Runs Past Alabama A&M, 35-20
The 74th edition Annual Magic City Classic saw a slight decrease in attendance this year but firmly held on to its number one position. The event is historically the most attended Division I FCS game in the nation. The annual tradition between Alabama A&M University (AAMU) and Alabama State University (ASU) at Legion Field dates back to 1940’s and currently has an economic impact of over $24 million.
This year actor, Anthony Anderson was named the ambassador of the Magic City Classic. He was also the Grand Marshal of the McDonald’s Magic City Classic parade. Anderson stars in the hit ABC series “Blackish” and has appeared on several hit shows and movies in the past. In addition to the thousands of fans, the Classic is known for attracting celebrity sightings (Rubin Studdard, Juicy J, and Jeff Sessions) to the game and surrounding events. Some of these events included a block party, the Coors Light Tailgate Sunset Party, The Ford Tailgate Takeover, Alumni Pep Rally, and expo with Tom Joyner. The post-game concert featured R&B group Jagged Edge.
In the game between Alabama State and Alabama A&M, Brandon Eldemire rushed for two touchdowns for the Bulldogs to tie the game at 14 early in the second quarter before ASU Quarterback Daniel Duhart connected with Brandon Barnes for 60 yards and Josh Davis for 18 in the second quarter for a 28-14 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, Duhart completed a one-yard touchdown run for the Hornets. Then Rasha Anderson answered with a 35 yard TD pass to O’Dar Williams for the Bulldogs. Following the score, the AAMU’s kicker failed to convert the extra point; leaving the Hornets ahead 35-20. With a scoreless fourth quarter, Alabama State takes the win over Alabama A&M.
The Alabama A&M Bulldogs lead the series with a record of 39-37-3 all-time. ASU ends the season at (6-5, 5-4) and AAMU closes at (3-8, 3-6).
Sources: Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), TheShadowLeague.com, bighamp76.sportsblog.com, northdallasgazette.com, Twitter.com, YouTube.com, Nola.com, flcourier.com, Grambling State University Atheletics, Tennessee State University Athletics, Wikipedia.org, al.com, and Bethune-Cookman University Athletics.