List of black college football classics
This is a list of recent black college football classics that have taken place between historically black colleges and universities that compete in college football in the United States. Unlike bowl games, classics take place during college football's regular season; they differ from standard regular season games in that they are often accompanied by entertaining battle of the bands, parades, tailgate parties, social events, concerts, job fairs, and are often played at touristic neutral sites. Football classics annually attract large crowds of alumni, fans, and spectators in general, along with high media interest and corporate sponsorships.
The earliest known use of the term "classic" to describe a black college football game informally occurred in 1919 with the Thanksgiving Day contest between Howard and Lincoln–Pennsylvania. Special games pairing HBCUs have existed continuously since at least 1922 when Bishop College defeated Southern 19–0 in a Louisiana State Fair-sponsored game (now the Red River State Fair Classic) in Shreveport, Louisiana. The earliest documented use of "classic" as part of an annual black college football game's formal name dates to the October 31, 1927 Louisiana State Fair Classic when Bishop beat Southern, 34–0; the Commemorative Classic that features Johnson C. Smith and Livingstone College is also known to have been referred to as a "classic"—specifically the "Turkey Day Classic"—later during that very same 1927 season.
Though Grambling State's Eddie Robinson did not invent classic games, he is widely regarded as having perfected them as revenue-generating social events, and a chapter of his autobiography details his efforts at doing so. He was particularly proud of the success of the Bayou Classic, starting from its very first game with 76,000 patrons in attendance. It also developed a national television audience on NBC. As a result of Robinson's efforts, and its proximity to Grambling, Shreveport has established itself as the epicenter of black football classics, hosting at least five in the past (Red River State Fair Classic, Sugar Cup Classic, Red River Classic, Shreveport Football Classic, and Port City Classic).
Football classics come in three different kinds of formats. They can pair the same two rivals year after year, or they can feature a single host school with rotating opponents—most famously done during Florida A&M's association with the now-defunct Orange Blossom Classic. Other classics, particularly those based in the northern and western U.S. where there are fewer HBCUs, simply invite two different schools every season.
Classics that do double as annual rivalry games sometimes consider the first game played under a classic-format as separate from the actual first game of the series, due to the pronounced differences in ambience surrounding the games. For example, Grambling and Southern first clashed in 1932 but today rarely acknowledge their games played prior to the formal creation of the Bayou Classic of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1974; indeed, the series even seems to have intensified since it has become more of a media spectacle—Southern initially won a solid 60% of the games in the series through 1973, but after it was reconfigured as a classic the following year, the series has been largely locked dead even (currently split at 22–21–0 in Grambling's favor, through the 2016 season). One of the more noteworthy annual games that later converted into a classic was the Southern–Tennessee State series. Known as the Buck-Boar Classic starting with the 1958 contest, the losing school was required to hunt wild game that was to serve as the main course of the winning school's meal at their annual sports banquet—if SU lost, it was to hunt for deer in Louisiana's swamps and deliver the venison to TSU's banquet; if TSU lost, it was to hunt for wild hogs in the Tennessee mountains and deliver the ham to SU's banquet.
Among games that feature a permanent host with a rotating opponent, the Prairie View Bowl (first held in 1928) normally pitted Prairie View A&M against a school deemed to have had a worthy enough year to play in the season-ending game. Florida A&M's similar Orange Blossom Classic began in 1933 as a black equivalent to the segregated Orange Bowl (which was founded the year before as the Festival of Palms Bowl and was originally automatically hosted each season by the University of Miami). By the same token the Sugar Cup Classic—which was hosted yearly by Grambling, initially in New Orleans—offered an alternative to the segregated Sugar Bowl.
The third kind of classic—those featuring two different opponents each season—often occur outside of the southern U.S., where there are fewer HBCUs. These games have long appealed to those who were part of the Great Migration and were nostalgic to see teams from their home states.
The future of classic-style football games
As participants of the Great Migration have begun to age, it remains to be seen if their descendants (and others from completely different demographic groups) can sustain games that focus on teams from regions of the country that they are less familiar with. Indeed, several classics that were held in the North and West have ceased since 2000.
In addition, the schools themselves have also been forced to weigh the benefits of maintaining their historical ties with classics or to accept the changes of modern game scheduling. Improvements to all modes of transportation and the end of segregation have greatly increased the scheduling options of HBCUs. All HBCUs compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level or below in college football, but because of the commitments of some universities (especially Southwestern Athletic Conference schools) to season-finale classic games, they may forgo the opportunity to participate in the national playoffs. The Bayou Classic and Alabama-based Turkey Day Classic, for example, are closely associated with Thanksgiving weekend—which directly conflicts with the playoffs' opening round. Labor Day weekend, with its season-opening games, is now the biggest weekend for classics—including the John A. Merritt Classic, the Labor Day Classic, the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, and the Palmetto Capital City Classic.
Recent black college football classics (those active since 2000, though this list may not be fully inclusive)
|Classic Name||Location||Year Established||Notes|
|Aggie–Eagle Classic||Durham, NC & Greensboro, NC||1994||Annual game between the two largest HBCUs in North Carolina, North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central. The series, which began in 1924, rotated between Durham and Greensboro, North Carolina until 1992, although for part of that time (starting in 1949) the series was played in a classic format and known as the "Carolina Classic." It was moved to Carter–Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina and returned to a classic-style format between 1994–2005. After its association with Raleigh was discontinued, the series ceased before later being revived as an on-campus event in 2007. In 2016, the game was televised on ESPN3.|
|Atlanta Football Classic||Atlanta, GA||1989||Formerly an annual game between two NCAA Division I–FCS teams. The event was canceled after the 2014 season to make way for the Celebration Bowl.|
|Augusta City Classic||Augusta, GA||1992||Annual game that, prior to 2010, was known as the CSRA Football Classic (named after the Central Savannah River Area).|
|Battle of the Bay||Hampton, VA & Norfolk, VA||1962||Annual game between two schools in different portions of the Hampton Roads area—Hampton on the "Peninsula" and Norfolk State on the "Southside". Unlike many HBCU classics, this game alternates between the two schools' home fields.|
|Battle of the Firsts||Philadelphia, PA||2009||Annual game between Cheyney and Lincoln–Pennsylvania, held the first week of the season. The "first" also refers to the schools being among the first HBCUs; Cheyney was the first four-year institution established for African Americans, and Lincoln was the third.|
|Bayou Classic||New Orleans, LA||1974||Annual game between Grambling State and Southern, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The series, which began in 1932, is televised on NBCSN.|
|Big Easy Classic||New Orleans, LA||2000||Formerly an annual game that, since 2002, had featured Jackson State and Southern. It originally featured Southern and—unusually—an NCAA Division I-A school, Tulane. The event was canceled after the 2004 season.|
|Biker's Classic||Nashville, TN||2006||Annual game featuring Tennessee State.|
|BoomBox Classic||Baton Rouge, LA & Jackson, MS||2010||Annual game between Jackson State and Southern. The series, which began in 1929, was played in New Orleans, Louisiana in a classic format in 2002 and 2004 and known as the "Big Easy Classic." After its permanent association with New Orleans was discontinued, the series began to rotate between Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson and Southern's A. W. Mumford Stadium in 2005. It was later informally dubbed a name by fans that was never officially adopted by the participating schools; the classic derives its name from a combination of the nicknames of the marching bands of the two schools—JSU's Sonic Boom of the South and SU's Human Jukebox.|
|Capital City Classic||Jackson, MS & Lorman, MS||1993||Annual game between Alcorn State and Jackson State held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The series, which began in 1927, rotated between Jackson and Lorman, Mississippi until 1992, although for part of that time the series was played in a classic format and known as the "Dixie Classic." It was moved to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson in a classic-style format between 1993–2011. After its permanent association with Jackson was discontinued, the series began to rotate between there and Alcorn's Jack Spinks Stadium in 2012. In a document published on the Alcorn website, President M. Christopher Brown II and interim athletic director Dwayne White informally dubbed the game the "Soul Bowl," apparently because the game would no longer be played annually in the capital city as the previously-existing name suggested—and, also, because a classic held in Sacramento, California since 2008 has been using a similar name. However, the "Soul Bowl" name itself has already been in use with other football-related events in the Deep South for some time now. Likewise, it could prove difficult to revert to the old Dixie Classic name, since it has also been used by other events more recently.|
|Capital City Football Classic||Sacramento, CA||2008||Annual game held in September.|
|Chicago Football Classic||Chicago, IL||1997||Annual game held in September at Soldier Field.|
|Circle City Classic||Indianapolis, IN||1983||Annual game held on the first weekend in October.|
|Cleveland Classic||Cleveland, OH||2011||Annual game held in September at FirstEnergy Stadium.|
|Commemorative Classic||Charlotte, NC||2009||Annual game between Johnson C. Smith and Livingstone College. The series, which began in 1892, featured the first black college football game, and for part of that time (as early as 1927) the series was played in a classic format and known as the "Turkey Day Classic" (not to be confused with the existing classic of the same name—see below). It returned to a classic-style format in 1976 as the "Bicentennial Football Classic," and was recognized by President Gerald Ford.|
|Community Youth Bowl||Richmond, VA||2002||Annual game featuring Virginia Union.|
|Dallas Lone Star Classic||Dallas, TX||2008||Formerly an annual game between Arkansas–Pine Bluff and Texas Southern played at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. The event was canceled after the 2009 season.|
|Dayton Classic||Dayton, OH||2005||Annual game featuring Central State.|
|Delta Classic for Literacy||Little Rock, AR||2006||Formerly an annual game featuring Arkansas–Pine Bluff. The event was canceled after the 2012 season.|
|Detroit Football Classic||Detroit, MI||2003||Formerly an annual game. The event was canceled after the 2006 season.|
|Down East Classic||Rocky Mount, NC||1998||Annual game featuring Elizabeth City State.|
|Druid City Classic||Tuscaloosa, AL||2002||Annual game featuring Stillman College.|
|Eddie C. McGirt Kick-off Classic||Charlotte, NC||2000||Annual game featuring Johnson C. Smith in its home opener that, through 2002, was known as the Eddie McGirt Classic and played in Memorial Stadium before being discontinued for nine years.|
|FAMU/FIU Orange Blossom Classic||Miami, FL||1933||Formerly an annual game between Florida A&M and Florida International. The game was formerly known as the "Orange Blossom Classic" before being discontinued for twenty-five years. The event was canceled after the 2005 season.|
|5th Quarter Classic||Mobile, AL||2016||Annual game.|
|Fish Bowl Classic||Norfolk, VA||1948||Annual game featuring Norfolk State.|
|Florida Classic||Orlando, FL||1979||Annual game between Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. Televised on ESPNU.|
|Fountain City Classic||Columbus, GA||1989||Annual game between Albany State and Fort Valley State.|
|Gateway Classic||Jacksonville, FL||1953||Annual game featuring Bethune-Cookman.|
|Gateway Football Classic||St. Louis, MO||1993||Annual game.|
|Gold Bowl Classic||Richmond, VA||1981||Annual game inspired by the Gold Bowl postseason game, which featured schools from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and MEAC from 1977–80. It has featured Virginia Union and Bowie State or Virginia State.|
|Gulf Coast Classic||Mobile, AL||1974||Formerly an annual game featuring Alabama State. The event was canceled after the 2009 season.|
|HBCU Classic||Greenville, SC||2005||Annual game.|
|Joe Turner Classic||Savannah, GA||1993||Annual game featuring Savannah State.|
|John A. Merritt Classic||Nashville, TN||1999||Annual game featuring Tennessee State, held in early September and played at Nissan Stadium.|
|Labor Day Classic||Houston, TX & Prairie View, TX||1985||Annual game between Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern. The series, which began in 1946, is played on Labor Day weekend and was played in a classic format in 1947 and between 1952-54 and 1956-57 as part of the Prairie View Bowl series.|
|Las Vegas Classic||Las Vegas, NV||2003||Game between North Carolina A&T and Southern. The game replaced the Silver Dollar Classic (see below).|
|MEAC/SWAC Challenge||Baton Rouge, LA||2005||Annual game held on Labor Day weekend. Televised on ESPN2.|
|Magic City Classic||Birmingham, AL||1940||Annual game between Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The series, which began in 1924, is the highest-attended HBCU football classic in the nation.|
|Murk City Classic||Baton Rouge, LA & Houston, TX.||2011||Annual game between Southern and Texas Southern. The series, which began in 1947, was later informally dubbed a name by fans that was never officially adopted by the participating schools; perhaps to counteract that name, the series will be formally christened as the "Texas State Fair Football Showdown" for at least the 2018 and 2019 seasons (see below).|
|Nation's Football Classic||Washington, DC||2011||Annual game, formerly between Hampton and Morehouse College, and now between Hampton and Howard.|
|New York Urban League Football Classic||East Rutherford, NJ||1971||Annual game, formerly known as the "Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Football Classic," held at MetLife Stadium.|
|Palmetto Capital City Classic||Columbia, SC||2001||Annual game featuring Benedict College.|
|Port City Classic||Shreveport, LA||2001||Formerly an annual game that, since 2010, had featured Grambling State, and was held on Labor Day weekend. It originally featured Southern and was part of the revived Louisiana State Fair Classic series, before moving to early September the following year.|
|Prince George's Classic||Bowie, MD||2004||The first PG Classic was played by Alcorn State and Howard. The second was played by Morgan State and North Carolina A&T. Subsequent games (2006, 2007, and 2008) featured Bowie State as the home team.|
|Red River Classic||Shreveport, LA||1981||Formerly an annual game that featured Grambling State and a SWAC opponent. The 1999 and 2002 games were part of the revived "Louisiana State Fair Classic" series. The event was cancelled after the 2003 season.|
|Red River State Fair Classic||Shreveport, LA||1922||Annual game that, since 2015, has featured Grambling State, and is held during the State Fair of Louisiana. The game was formerly known as the "Louisiana State Fair Classic" and, more recently, the "Shreveport Classic," and originally featured Southern.|
|Rivalry Classic||Charlotte, NC||2003||Annual game between North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State.|
|Silver Dollar Classic||Las Vegas, NV||2002||Game between Grambling State and Tennessee State. The game was replaced by the Las Vegas Classic (see above).|
|Southern Heritage Classic||Memphis, TN||1990||Annual game between Jackson State and Tennessee State held at the beginning of football season at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.|
|State Fair Classic||Dallas, TX||1925||Annual game that, since 1993, has featured Grambling State and Prairie View A&M, and is held during the State Fair of Texas. The series was also played in a classic format between 1959–61 as part of the "Louisiana State Fair Classic" series. This game was formerly known as the "Al Lipscomb State Fair Classic."|
|Steel City Classic||Birmingham, AL||2000||Annual game between Miles College and Stillman College.|
|Texas State Fair Football Showdown||Dallas, TX||2018||Special game to be held between Southern and Texas Southern on the third weekends of the 2018 and 2019 Texas state fairs. For at least those two seasons, the game will replace the "Murk City Classic" (see above).|
|The Classic||Charlotte, NC||2006||Game featuring Bowie State and Livingstone College.|
|Turkey Day Classic||Montgomery, AL||1924||Annual game between Alabama State and Miles College and held on Thanksgiving Day. This game is sometimes referred to as the first black college football classic with 1924 considered its inaugural year, but it likely did not adopt the "Turkey Day Classic" name initially as it was not played on Thanksgiving Day until 1932. This game is not to be confused with the old Turkey Day Classic that featured Johnson C. Smith and Livingstone College (see the Commemorative Classic above).|
|Tuskegee-Morehouse Football Classic||Columbus, GA||1936||Annual game between Morehouse and Tuskegee. The series began in 1902.|
|Two Rivers Classic||Pembroke, NC||2009||Annual game between Fayetteville State and UNC–Pembroke.|
|Virginia Lottery Labor Day Classic||Norfolk, VA||1991||Annual game featuring Norfolk State.|
|W. C. Gorden Classic||Jackson, MS||2008||Annual game featuring Jackson State.|
|Wade Wilson Classic||Cheyney, PA||ca. 1970's||Annual game, formerly played in Philadelphia, featuring Cheyney.|
|West End Classic||Salisbury, NC||2014||Annual game featuring Livingstone College.|
|Willie E. Gary Classic||Jacksonville, FL||2001||Annual game between Edward Waters College and Shaw.|
- Celebration Bowl
- Black college football national championship
- SWAC Championship Game
- Honda Battle of the Bands
- Pioneer Bowl
- List of NCAA college football rivalry games
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