List of black college football classics

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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.[1] 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;[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] He was particularly proud of the success of the Bayou Classic, starting from its very first game with 76,000 patrons in attendance.[5] It also developed a national television audience on NBC.[6] 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,[7] Red River Classic,[8] Shreveport Football Classic,[9] and Port City Classic[10]).

Game formats[edit]

Football classics come in three different kinds of formats.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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[edit]

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.[14]

Recent black college football classics (those active since 2000, though this list may not be fully inclusive)[edit]

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,[15] although for part of that time (starting in 1949) the series was played in a classic format and known as the "Carolina Classic."[16] 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.[17]
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[18] 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.[18]
Biker's Classic Nashville, TN 2006 Annual game featuring Tennessee State.
BoomBox Classic Baton Rouge, LA & Jackson, MS 2010[19] Annual game between Jackson State and Southern. The series, which began in 1929,[20] was played in New Orleans, Louisiana in a classic format in 2002 and 2004 and known as the "Big Easy Classic."[18] 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.[20] 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,[21] although for part of that time the series was played in a classic format and known as the "Dixie Classic."[22] 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.[23] 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,"[24] 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.[25][26] 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[27] 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[3]) the series was played in a classic format and known as the "Turkey Day Classic"[28][29] (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.[30]
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.[31]
Detroit Football Classic Detroit, MI 2003[32] Formerly an annual game. The event was canceled after the 2006 season.[33]
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[34] 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.[34]
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[35] 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[36] from 1977–80.[37] It has featured Virginia Union and Bowie State or Virginia State.[36]
Gulf Coast Classic Mobile, AL 1974 Formerly an annual game featuring Alabama State. The event was canceled after the 2009 season.[38]
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.[39]
Las Vegas Classic Las Vegas, NV 2003 Game between North Carolina A&T and Southern. The game replaced the Silver Dollar Classic (see below).[40]
MEAC/SWAC Challenge Baton Rouge, LA 2005 Annual game held on Labor Day weekend. Televised on ESPN2.
Magic City Classic Birmingham, AL 1940[41] Annual game between Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The series, which began in 1924,[42] is the highest-attended HBCU football classic in the nation.[43][44]
Murk City Classic Baton Rouge, LA & Houston, TX. 2011[45] Annual game between Southern and Texas Southern. The series, which began in 1947,[46] 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[47] 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[10] 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.[10]
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[8] 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.[48]
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[49] 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.[50] The game was replaced by the Las Vegas Classic (see above).[40]
Southern Heritage Classic Memphis, TN 1990[51] 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.[52] For at least those two seasons, the game will replace the "Murk City Classic" (see above).
The Classic Charlotte, NC 2006[53] Game featuring Bowie State and Livingstone College.[53]
Turkey Day Classic Montgomery, AL 1924[11] 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,[11][54] 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[55] Annual game between Morehouse and Tuskegee. The series began in 1902.[55]
Two Rivers Classic Pembroke, NC 2009[56] Annual game between Fayetteville State and UNC–Pembroke.
Virginia Lottery Labor Day Classic Norfolk, VA 1991[57] Annual game featuring Norfolk State.
W. C. Gorden Classic Jackson, MS 2008[51] Annual game featuring Jackson State.
Wade Wilson Classic Cheyney, PA ca. 1970's Annual game, formerly played in Philadelphia,[58] featuring Cheyney.
West End Classic Salisbury, NC 2014[59] Annual game featuring Livingstone College.
Willie E. Gary Classic Jacksonville, FL 2001 Annual game between Edward Waters College and Shaw.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Billy Hawkins; et al., eds. (2015). "The Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Past, Present, and Persistence". Rowman & Littlefield (p. 150). 
  2. ^ "Twenty-seven Tigers Leave Tonight to Play Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday: Two Universities Meet for 22nd Time at Pelican State Fair—Donahue Shifts Line Because of Injuries—'Nubs' Freeman to Back Up Line in Game This Week-End". Baton Rouge State-Times (p. 16). October 27, 1927. 
  3. ^ a b "Annual Turkey Day Classic: Livingstone College vs. Johnson C. Smith University (Biddle) (ad)". Pittsburgh Courier (p. 18). November 19, 1927. 
  4. ^ Eddie Robinson With Richard Lapchick (1999). "Never Before, Never Again: The Stirring Autobiography of Eddie Robinson, The Winningest Coach In The History Of College Football". St. Martin's Press (p. 160). 
  5. ^ Eddie Robinson With Richard Lapchick (1999). "Never Before, Never Again: The Stirring Autobiography of Eddie Robinson, The Winningest Coach In The History Of College Football". St. Martin's Press (p. 174). 
  6. ^ Trey Iles (April 11, 2013). "Bayou Classic to be broadcast on NBC for at least the next three years". Retrieved April 26, 2017. 
  7. ^ "Sugar Cup Classic Set at Shreveport". Baton Rouge State-Times (sec. C, p. 3). June 27, 1967. 
  8. ^ a b "Grambling, Alcorn to clash in Shreveport grudge match". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate (sec. C, p. 3). September 12, 1981. 
  9. ^ Scott Gremillion (October 5, 1992). "SU's win a tale even Dickens would've liked to tell". Baton Rouge Advocate (sec. D, p. 1). 
  10. ^ a b c "Southern Yearly Results". Retrieved October 7, 2016. 
  11. ^ a b c Eric N. Moore. "Black College Football Classic Games: A taste of the HBCU athletic experience". Retrieved January 14, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Cats May Be Served Wild Boar". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate (sec. C, p. 7). November 8, 1958. 
  13. ^ "Prairie View Bowl Games". Retrieved December 4, 2016. 
  14. ^ "HBCU Classics Football Schedule 2016". July 11, 2016. Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  15. ^ "North Carolina A&T vs North Carolina Central". Retrieved January 7, 2017. 
  16. ^ "N. C. Eagles Beat A. & T. In Carolina Classic". Jet (p.50). December 10, 1953. 
  17. ^ "Aggies, Eagles meet in Durham with MEAC championship on the line". November 16, 2016. Retrieved December 4, 2016. 
  18. ^ a b c Joseph Schiefelbein (October 14, 2004). "SU players excited about playing in Superdome". Baton Rouge Advocate (sec. C, p. 3). 
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  20. ^ a b "Jackson State vs Southern (LA)". Retrieved January 14, 2017. 
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  24. ^ Jackson, Miss. to Lose Capital City Classic in 2012
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  26. ^ "Soul Bowl Football, Soul Food and Soul Music all at Maritime Park Saturday, Oct. 18". Retrieved January 7, 2017. 
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  28. ^ "Homecoming: Johnson C. Smith University Vs. Shaw University (ad)". Durham Carolina Times (p. 2). October 19, 1940. 
  29. ^ Michael A. Travis, ed. (1977). "The Bicentennial Football Classic: Historical Brief". Golden Bull (p.55). 
  30. ^ Michael A. Travis, ed. (1977). "Bicentennial Football Classic". Golden Bull (p.52). 
  31. ^ Murrell, I.C. "Little Rock Lions: Alcorn State extended weekend includes fundraiser." Pine Bluff Commercial, July 1, 2015. Retrieved March 26, 2016.
  32. ^ "Ford Detroit Football Classic". Ebony (v. LX, no. 11, p. 135). September 2005. 
  33. ^ Bill Shea (June 25, 2007). "Organizers schedule next football classic for 2008". Retrieved April 19, 2017. 
  34. ^ a b Herbert L. White (August 3, 2012). "JCSU relaunches McGirt Football Classic: Home opener includes scholarship launch". Retrieved April 16, 2017. 
  35. ^ Cassandra McAboy (February 11, 2016). "FAMU, Tuskegee to play 'Fifth Quarter Classic' in Mobile". Retrieved April 16, 2017. 
  36. ^ a b "Overview". Archived from the original on June 9, 2004. Retrieved October 19, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Gold Bowl Games". Retrieved October 19, 2016. 
  38. ^ Vince Lennon (February 12, 2016). "Tuskegee, Florida A & M headline Mobile’s 5th Quarter Classic". Retrieved April 16, 2017. 
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  40. ^ a b Nick Christensen (September 15, 2003). "Southern makes trek worthwhile". Retrieved April 16, 2017. 
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  50. ^ Victoria Sun (September 23, 2002). "Fans embrace black college FB". Retrieved April 16, 2017. 
  51. ^ a b "JSU 2010 Football Media Guide" (PDF). (p. 5). 2010. 
  52. ^ Luke Johnson (October 8, 2016). "'This is a major deal:' Southern to play Texas Southern in 2018–19 Texas State Fair Football Showdown". Retrieved October 16, 2016. 
  53. ^ a b "HBCU Calendar: 2006–2007". Ebony (vol. LXI, no. 11, p. 206). September 2006. 
  54. ^ Noell Barnidge (October 11, 2006). "Classics an integral part of black college football". Retrieved January 14, 2017. 
  55. ^ a b "Tuskegee vs Morehouse (GA)". Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  56. ^ "Two Rivers Classic". Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  57. ^ Matt Michalec (October 8, 2014). "Labor Day Classic to Return in 2016: Spartans to Play ECSU in 2016, VSU in 2017–18". Retrieved April 17, 2017. 
  58. ^ Chris Morkides (September 18, 1998). "Cheyney Bringing The Wilson Classic To Its Home Field". Retrieved October 7, 2016. 
  59. ^ "Livingstone's Second West End Classic A Success". October 1, 2015. Retrieved January 8, 2016.