It is not just a football game; it is one of the biggest rivalries in black college football, The Walt Disney World Florida Classic. In the Florida Citrus Bowl, in Orlando, the Rattlers take on the Wildcats of Bethune Cookman University in the largest-attended football game between two historically Black Colleges in America.
After a tough loss to Hampton on the road last weekend that brought their season to 3-7, the Rattlers will conclude the season with the Florida Classic. This year will mark the 28th Florida Classic.
The rivalry got its name, the Florida Classic, in 1978 when the Rattlers turned a 17-0 halftime deficit into a come-from-behind and was victorious with a 27-17 final score. However ,the rivalry itself goes back to 1925 with FAMU winning 25-0. Bethune Cookman University, then Bethune Cookman College at the time, had its first win a year later, 12-0, in 1926.
So what does this 82-year-old rivalry really mean? No one can better tell you the meaning of this rivalry than the players themselves.
Each year the game brings in thousands of dollars and over 70,000 spectators, and according to Dannel Shepard senior linebacker from Cincinnati, Ohio the rivalry has national appeal.
“It beats the Atlanta Classic, it beats any classic I have been to,” says Shepard, “I compare this rivalry to the Ohio State and Michigan State rivalry.”
As a senior, this is Shepard’s last chance to hit the field in the classic and bring a win back to the field. He said that next year’s Florida Classic, his participation would consist of being a fan in the stands.
While Shepard will experience his last Florida Classic, freshman quarterback from Titusville, Fla. Eddie Battle will hit the field in Orlando to experience his first.
“I haven’t been in a big rivalry game since high school,” Battle said. “This game is big, it’s huge.”
Coach Carter plans to play both Battle and senior quarterback Leon Camel but he was tight lipped about which quarterback would start. Battle says that playing in this game he will have to deal with pressure to win for the players that will play in the rival game for the last time.
“I want to send the seniors out with a win, seeing that win means a lot,” Battle said.
Camel from Belle Galde, Fla. had to watch the last two Florida classic games from the sidelines. Last year a pulled groin muscle left him to call plays from the sidelines and the year before he had a broken leg. Camel says that it doesn’t matter when you went to FAMU this game is a big one for the fans, and for the players it is even bigger.
“It’s the last game and it’s a classic so it’s like our super bowl,” Camel said. “A lot of us won’t get a chance to play in the NFL, so I’m just going to treat it like the biggest game I have ever played.”
Even with a losing season, Coach Carter believes a win in the Bethune Cookman rivalry would take away some of the sting.
“This game takes preference over all others,” Carter said. “It generates energy and excitement in the state and between the two historic institutions.”
Even if the Rattlers had ended 2007 with a winning season, Shepard says a loss would take away from all the wins.
“When you lose this game no one want to talk to you, the people at your school look down upon you and you have to wait a whole year to have the love and respect that you had a the beginning of the year,” Shepard said.
Nov. 17 marks another page in the rivalry book between the two schools.
The battle will get underway at 3:30 pm and will be televised live nationally from the Florida Citrus Bowl on ESPN Classic.