Emotions Run High in Football Rivalry

Charles E. Sutton | 9/6/2012, 3:38 p.m.

Thousands of Howard and Morehouse alumni and supporters converged on the parking lots at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Southeast last Saturday afternoon to participate in a host of activities that accompanied the second annual AT&T Nation's Football Classic.

Revelers arrived days before by car, train and airplane. On the campus of Howard University in Northwest and in the streets of the District, alumni joined students to backslap, rally and cheer in support of their team. The celebrations got underway on Friday evening with a variety of parties, and fans hosted tailgate parties all day Saturday.

"Everybody I run into is talking about this game," said Kimbrough Adams, 20, a Morehouse junior from Houston. "My boys from Howard have been talkin' trash about this all year long. We decided in the spring that I would come up to D.C. with some of my Morehouse fellas and kick it with them. It's Howard and Morehouse. It's always one huge trash-talkin' party."

The trash talking didn't stop at the football game as alumni bantered back and forth about their schools' academic tradition. Howard hosted "The Game Before the Game": Mordecai Wyatt Johnson -Benjamin E. Mays Student Debate, on August 31 at Cramton Auditorium. The spirited competition featured students from Howard who call their school "The Mecca" and Morehouse students who refer to their school as "The House."

Morehouse President Robert Franklin said the weekend's events are an effort to showcase the best of black athletic and academic achievement.

"There have been some high-profile attacks on historically black colleges and universities recently [and] the need for them and their viability," Franklin said. "This gives us yet another opportunity to display all that we are about."

Saturday's football game highlighted an event-filled weekend as arguably two of the most prestigious black universities played in the second annual AT&T Nation's Football Classic on September 1. Howard and Morehouse met in last year's game and revived a gridiron rivalry that was abandoned nearly 16 years ago.

Football classics have a long tradition among historically black universities as HBCUCONNECT.com lists 44 classics that will be played during the 2012-13 college football season. Doug Williams, former Washington Redskins quarterback and Super Bowl XXII MVP, is currently the head football coach at Louisiana's Grambling State University. Williams said that classics have provided an opportunity for black colleges to entertain large audiences. As a college quarterback at Grambling, Williams played in the inaugural Bayou Classic in 1974.

"The Grambling Stadium wouldn't hold 76,000 people, and Southern Stadium wouldn't either, so we had to play someplace that was large enough to accommodate the people who wanted to see the game," said Williams, 57.

The rivalry between the Howard Bison and the Morehouse Maroon Tigers fizzled in 1997, but Erik Moses, senior vice president of Events DC, the organizer of the Nation's Classic, said he expected a hard fought, well-attended game.

And that's exactly what the crowd got.

"These two schools are both prestigious," Moses said. "They compete with each other all the time and we thought that would make for a great rivalry on the football field."

Even Morehouse's sister school, Spelman College, joined in the trash-talking tradition. Carrie Davis, a 1999 graduate, made the trip to the District from Miami, Fla. Although she has never had any interest in sports, she couldn't resist taking a jab at her school's rival. "I don't really care about the game itself, but it does give me a platform where I can talk smack with the best of them," she said.

Howard graduate Leonard Grimes appreciates a good verbal spar with Morehouse fans, but keeps it civil and clean. "We love coming over here to talk smack to the Morehouse students," said Grimes, 40, a Baltimore resident. "We have constant verbal exchanges all in good fun. We try to keep the comments above the belt because we're just poking fun. No one is out to offend anybody."