In 1933 at the Orange Blossom Classic, “the granddaddy of all modern Black College classics,” FAMU defeated Howard 9-6. It was the first year that the classic took place and these two teams began a tradition that lasted 68 years. FAMU defeated Howard three times thereafter in 1974, 1996, and 1998 in the same game. Now, as member institutions of the MEAC conference, the teams compete regularly.
The series will continue this Saturday afternoon as FAMU travels to Howard.
Anticipation heightens among players as the team seeks its first win of the season. The game has added meaning for Renaldo Russell, a 21-year-old agricultural business student from Washington, D.C. A member of the team since 2004, Russell has witnessed the competition between the schools.
“Howard is considered our out-of-state rivalry. It is never in the media, but it is intense.” Russell considered attending Howard initially, but chose FAMU because of “it’s rich tradition in academics and athletics.”
Black Enterprise magazine recently voted FAMU as the No. 1 university for black students and Howard was ranked No. 2. Franchesca Taylor, a junior business administration student from Mobile, Ala., agreed that competition exists between the schools. “Howard has always been deemed as the Ivy League of HBCUs, but now we are recognized as being in the same arena. We are academically superior.”
Denethia B. Sellers, assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation, said the rivalry is healthy for both schools. “Howard and FAMU are the premier HBCUs. I recognized the rivalry as a student of Georgetown,” Sellers said. “We’re fighting for the position of number one to see who is most prominent. It is good for school spirit, notoriety, and publicity.”
FAMU wide receivers coach Gary “Flea” Harrell said he does not get any extra satisfaction as a coach.
“It gives the guys some extra motivation.”
Harrell said a fight between FAMU and Howard players in the locker room at the 2003 game added fuel to the rivalry. Harrell played for the Bison from 1990-1993 and coached there from 2002-2004. As an athlete he had an increased desire to win. “A lot of my friends played for FAM [U] so it made me want to play better.” He remains prideful of his alma mater and does not feel it is unfair to Howard’s team to now coach for FAMU. He said he doesn’t know any coaching secrets, but is familiar with some of the Bison players.
Joe Claiborne, a junior sports medicine student from Detroit, is a defensive back for the Bison. “It is in the spirit of competition that this rivalry is able to exist,” he said. “FAMU is in for a rude awakening if they think they can walk over us.”
Claiborne said the tension between the schools can sometimes go too far. “Last year there was an issue with the band and they threw bottles, but that was excessive.”
With FAMU as the No.1 school for blacks and Howard trailing a close second, it does not seem the fight for the top will end any time soon.