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Florida A&M Homecoming Honors Their History

Robert P. Stephens II | 11/7/2009, 10:05 a.m.

The date was November 29 1969 when the first college interracial college football game took place in the south between the Rattlers of Florida A&M and the University of Tampa Spartans. It was important that the two races proved that they could co-exists in the arena so that future contests could be scheduled. It was only two years prior to the game that Tampa was the scene of race riots which had affected the city.

The Rattler fans sat on one side and the Spartan fans sat on another, as both cheered wildly for their teams. One of the most important aspects of the game was that it went on without any problems.

Spartan head coach Fran Curci told the New York Times," There's going to be a riot," Somebody is going to get hurt, " but this was a historical game and it had to be played, " he said.

" I had the feeling that it was a game that we had to win " said defensive end and now pastor Bennie Johnson.

" We thought that we were as good as Florida St. and the University of Florida, but those opportunities were not available to us" said teammate Melvin Rodgers.
In 1967, Coach Gaither had started a dialog with several members of the Florida Board of Regents about the possibilities of playing a white school. He finally found a taker in Fran Curci. The game featured more than a dozen players who were eventually drafted into the NFL, was well as three who went on to win Super Bowl rings.

Ironically, shortly after this historic game took place, it took less than a decade for black high schools to be raided by the very schools that they were denied entrance to. The University of Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Auburn and others started to heavily recruit black players.

By the way, Florida A&M finished 8-1 that season, beating the University of Tampa in what was considered one of the most entertaining games that season. The final score was Rattlers 34, Tampa 28. The University of Tampa stopped playing football in 1974.