HBCU Football Classics

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Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Football Classics are more than just a football game. These games are a celebration of school spiritrooted deep in tradition, bringing rival schools together each year for special event. Unlike bowl games, the HBCU Classics take place during the regular football season and festivities include concerts, tailgates, battle of the bands, parades, and other social events, all while embracing the culture and history of HBCUs. 

“HBCU classic games are important because they allow black people and others who attended a historically black university to come together and celebrate their school’s history, share and showcase their traditions, and celebrate the historical relevance of each university,” explained Terrell Briggs, former Grambling State University cheerleader. “The history of these universities runs deep and those who attend take great pride in their school. There is an overwhelming sense of community and camaraderie at HBCU Classic games that allows both schools to come together and celebrate their school’s heritage and battle it out on the football field, in the stands between the bands and the dancers, and on the sidelines with the cheerleaders, using a style and unique flavor to produce an experience unlike any other.”

In honor and celebration of Black History Month, here’s a look at some of the history and culture behind four of the largest HBCU games.  

Southern Heritage Classic – Memphis, TN

“The Southern Heritage Classic described in one word would be ‘culture’. From the aroma of the food that fills the air to the game itself, you see the presence of your culture and it being celebrated in all events throughout the weekend. The Classic is all about embracing all walks of life, regardless of your background, as we only see one love.” 
– Britney Holder, Former Tennessee State University Cheerleader & Current TSU Assistant Coach 

  • Schools: Jackson State University vs. Tennessee State University 
  • Played Since:1990 
  • Fun Fact: One of the largest tailgates at a college or bowl game 
  • Fun Fact: Legendary Memphis DJ, Tom Prestigiacomo, has been the only announcer for the Southern Heritage Classic 

Bayou Classic – New Orleans, LA

“I would describe the atmosphere of Bayou Classic as nothing short of electrifying. From the crowd to the sounds of the marching bands battling throughout the game, the atmosphere is exhilarating from start to finish. Once you stop, look around, and take a moment to take it all in, it almost gives you a surreal feeling.”
 Taylor Williams, Southern University Cheerleader 

  • Schools: Grambling State University vs. Southern University  
  • Played Since:1932  
  • Fun Fact: Nationally televised since 1991
  • Fun Fact: The two-part Battle of the Bands is the most well known and well-attended activity outside of the game; both schools’ bands perform the Friday night before the game and cap off the battle of the bands during the game’s halftime show

Magic City Classic – Birmingham, AL  

  • Schools: Alabama A&M University vs. Alabama State University; the two largest historically black universities in the state 
  • Played Since:1924 
  • Fun Fact: Largest HBCU event in the nation, attracting nearly 200,000 participants, and the largest event held in Birmingham  
  • Fun Fact: Includes a parade kicked off by the world-famous Ronald McDonald float and performances by both schools’ cheer and dance teams 

Florida Classic – Orlando & Tampa, FL 

Being a college cheerleader and representing my illustrious institution for 4 years was an amazing experience for me. I grew up watching the Turkey Day Classic between Alabama State and Tuskegee and fell in love with HBCU cheer watching Grambling and Southern at the Bayou Classic when my older cousins were a part of their cheer squad. It was so surreal going to FAMU and being a member of the Co-Ed team because I was finally a part of the rich HBCU culture that I had always admired. HBCU cheerleading brought me some of the best friends I’d find and college and give me memories that’d I’d have to cherish forever.
– Evelyn Ross, Former Florida A&M University Cheerleader

  • School: Bethune-Cookman University vs. Florida A&M University 
  • Played Since:1925 
  • Fun Fact: Has seen over 2 million spectators since its inception  
  • Fun Fact: During halftime of the 2002 game, both bands performed shows that were almost 45 minutes long, which is almost triple the NCAA halftime allowance of 30 minutes; the halftime show was once described as “the reason to go to the game” since it was so popular and well-received 

“HBCU Classics are what make the HBCU experience what is. They are unique opportunities to encompass the entire HBCU experience into one weekend. From step shows to battle of the bands to the football, these weekends create everlasting memories.”
– Coach Taylor Stewart, Former Grambling State University Cheerleader & Current Head Coach at Southern University

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