What is better for a football fan than a home game? The home crowd is like a crowd of best friends. Everyone gets along for three hours in support of people they don’t really know that well. They consume overpriced food, bonds are formed and in general, merriment ensues, win or lose.
To answer the original question, the only thing better than a home game is an away game with a large crowd of the opposing team’s fans. Just think about it for a minute: a small group of diehards huddled together in a corner of hostile territory watching the team they love and hating everyone around them not wearing similar colors.
Away fans are hilarious because they treat another stadium like it belongs to them. They behave as though they belong in whatever territory they’ve invaded. Obviously, the best course of action for the team is to win, but the bonding between fans is what most fans truly enjoy.
What’s my point? Florida A&M fans are some of the most well-traveled fans in collegiate sports. As a sports reporter, I’ve covered my share of Florida A&M away football games and the “sea of orange and green” is not an exaggeration. Rattlers will travel to any football game. The bigger the stage and potential after-party, the more fans come out.
The big stage, however, does not need to always be against a school that routinely smacks the football team around. The Miami Hurricanes are not even in the same subdivision of football, but for some extra cash and exposure, we play against them.
The Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision are kept separate for a reason. The FBS has more funds, scholarships, resources and closed-off stadiums. The FCS has, for the most part, none of these things.
Don’t misunderstand. There are plenty of successful, powerful FCS teams. They are capable of defeating FBS teams all the time. In recent years, the FCS has gone from pesky little brother, to little brother who can compete. The “FBS challenge” is a competitive matchup for teams like Richmond, Villanova and William and Mary.
Don’t even get me started on James Madison — for shame Hokies, for shame.
The point is, Florida A&M is not quite on that level yet. Why? Because as a football team, we shy away from other top FCS schools. We could be doing battle with the best teams of the FCS and I guarantee the money we make from getting blown away by the Hurricanes will be accounted for.
The Rattlers’ top game is this week against South Carolina State. The Bulldogs represented the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in the playoffs last season. They also defeated the Rattlers last year after Miami had already battered the team the previous week.
Winning against South Carolina State means the team will stay undefeated in conference play. In college football conference play is really all that matters. We don’t play Miami for the record, for the win or the loss. We play for the money involved in potentially filling a 47,662-seat stadium.
But here’s the issue: we fill giant stadiums and sell out crowds all the time. The Atlanta and Florida Classics are prime examples of this. Last year’s Florida Classic drew 59,418 people. An estimated 59 percent of those fans were in orange and green.
According to atlanta.net, 60,000 people went to the Atlanta Classic.
So let’s think about this for a minute. There are not even enough seats in Sun Life Stadium to let the Rattler fans in.
Florida A&M does not need Rattlers versus Goliath games. The “classic” games, the games with historical significance, the rivalries between black schools and the games where the Rattler faithful do not leave after the band dominates halftime are the games we need.
The Atlanta and Florida Classics are games of relevance to this community. Throw out the last two years, and Florida A&M has a streak of eight games decided by a touchdown or less against Tennessee State.
Everyone just plain loves when the Wildcats go down, be it by 10 or 50 points.
Defensive back Qier Hall said it best: “We feed off the crowd.” The crowd has to be engaged in waiting for more than just the band to come out and embarrass the Canes.
Over the summer, talks about the revival of the “Heritage Bowl,” a now-forgotten game between MEAC and Southwestern Athletic Conference schools, were a decent start. Giving up a championship bid is nothing short of lunacy, but bringing back familiar games against our brothers at other HBCUs is brilliant.
Let’s take on the best of the FCS, or at least the best of the HBCUs, before we go out and beat our fists against brick walls like Miami.