Football Classics

Football Classics

Date Observed: Varies
Location: Varies

Annual football games known as Classics are held at various locations throughout the country. Most Classics take place as part of a weekend full of social activities including reunions, parades, and marching band competitions.

Historical Background

Football rivalry is a tradition as old as the game itself, and many Classics were formed around a longstanding competition between two schools. In these Classics, the same two schools play each other every year. The Turkey Day Classic, held on Thanksgiving, has played out the traditional rivalry between Alabama State University and Tuskegee University for more than 80 years. The Orange Blossom Classic began as a contest between Florida A&M and Howard University in 1933. Other examples of this type of Classic include the Morehouse-Tuskegee Classic, the Southern Heritage Classic played by Jackson State University and Tennessee State University, the Atlanta Football Classic played by Florida A&M and Tennessee State University, the Bayou Classic played by Grambling State University and Southern University, and many more.

Other Classics are hosted by the same team every year, but the match is against a different opponent each time. These games are normally always played in the same location. Still other Classics feature two different teams each year, but again usually in the same location. These Classics are similar in concept to the various post-season Bowl games played around the country, but include all the extra activities normally associated with Football Classics. The Circle City Classic in Indianapolis, Indiana, is one of the largest Classics of this type (see Indiana Black Expo's Summer Celebration).

Creation of the Observance

It is unclear when the first Football Classic game was played between African-American collegiate teams, although Classics were being played as early as 1924. In that year, Alabama State played Tuskegee in the first Turkey Day Classic held in Montgomery, Alabama. Since then, numerous Classics have been created and many traditions have formed around these events. Far more than just another college football game, the Classics give participating schools a chance to showcase the African-American college experience.

African Americans in the Early Days of Football

Football became a popular sport in the U.S. in the late 1800s, and AfricanAmerican players immediately excelled at the game. The first African Americans to play football held positions on the teams of white universities, which were generally the only organizations with enough money to have teams at that time. The first football game between historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) took place in North Carolina in 1892 (Biddle defeated Livingstone, 4-0). However, it would be nearly 20 years later before most HBCUs would be able to establish football teams.

During the early years of the sport, African-American players endured racial discrimination on and off the field. African-American students who attended white colleges and universities were not allowed to live in dormitories, and the cost of living off campus added to the financial burden of going to school. Some players enrolled in white colleges anyway, specifically because they wanted to play football, only to be told that they would not be allowed to join the team. Some schools limited the number of African Americans allowed on the team to only one or two. If they were accepted on the team, African-American players would have to sit out a game if the opposing team was segregated and refused to play against them. African Americans also often suffered brutal treatment in the course of the violent game, as white players sometimes took the opportunity to act on racial hatred. Rough tackles resulting in broken bones or even more serious injuries were quite common. In spite of all this, African Americans continued to play and to distinguish themselves as football athletes mainly because, at that time, there were no other real opportunities for African-American participation in major competitive team sports.

African Americans won more places on collegiate teams during the 1920s. In the 1930s, dozens of African Americans playing for white colleges earned reputations as football stars. By this time, African-American colleges had created their own southern football conference, featuring many outstanding and talented players. Teams at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) and Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) dominated black college football through the 1930s and early 1940s. Interest in football at HBCUs continued to grow and eventually developed into a tradition of annual matches known as Classics.

Observances

Numerous Classics are held all over the country each year, with many occurring over Labor Day weekend or on Thanksgiving Day. Dates, locations, and schedules for the games and related events are determined by the participating schools and vary from year to year. Football Classics are attended by thousands of people, with most games selling out far in advance. The football game is the focal point of a weekend full of social, cultural, and educational activities. There is usually a large parade with floats, marching bands, and appearances by various dignitaries and celebrities. At half-time or immediately after the game, there is often a battle of the bands, which pits the rival schools' marching bands against each other in competition. Most Classics include tailgate parties, step shows, pep rallies, and concerts given by popular artists. Educational activities often include college preparation workshops, college recruiting fairs, and job or career fairs. Charitable activities include fundraisers and scholarship award ceremonies. Some Classics also include a beauty pageant, golf tournament, football and cheerleading clinics, prayer and worship services, awards and recognition programs, reunions, and special luncheons or dinners.

Web Sites

Atlanta Football Classic

Bayou Classic

Southern Heritage Classic

Further Reading

Moore, Eric. "Black College Football Classic Games: A Taste of the HBCU Athletic Experience." CollegeView.com, undated. . Smith, Jessie Carney. Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events . 2nd ed., revised and expanded. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press, 2003. Smith, Thomas G. "Football." In The African-American Experience: Selections from the Five-Volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History , edited by Jack Salzman. New York: Macmillan, 1998.
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