The Florida Classic is set to return this Saturday after a one-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This will Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University’s 76th meeting all-time, and the in-state rivalry still manages to have a build-up of excitement heading into the game.
The Florida Classic debuted in 1978 when both Florida A&M’s athletic director, Hansel Tookes, and Bethune-Cookman’s athletic director, Tank Johnson, agreed on a matchup between the two universities to be played at a neutral site. The decision came after a long search for the right venue to host the game permanently, trying out locations all over Florida, including Doak Campbell Stadium, Daytona International Speedway before finally settling on Camping World Stadium in Orlando in 1997. The rivalry had become so popular that the attendance at games exceeded both teams’ home stadium capacity.
According to floridaclassic.org, the Florida Classic is now the nation’s largest football game between two HBCUs, surpassing the Bayou Classic between Grambling State and Southern in New Orleans.
It is more than just an ordinary regular season game; it holds bragging rights among other significant factors.
“It’s the last game of the season, so it really characterizes your year,” said Vaughn Wilson, former All-American punter for Florida A&M and a former, long-time employee in FAMU’s athletic department. “So many of our families [between the two schools] are intertwined that you end up hearing about it from your relatives for the next 364 days.”
The Florida Classic has averaged nearly 50,000 spectators at its games over the past five meetings as well as generating an exceptional estimated revenue ranging from $700,000 to as high as $30 million. The rivalry game is not only an action-packed contest on the gridiron, it also features a battle between the bands, B-CU’s Marching Wildcats and FAMU’s Marching 100, which is something Rattlers certainly look forward to.
“The battle of the bands is like the cherry on top for the classic,” said Daija Nickerson, a third-year agribusiness major at FAMU. “It’s definitely a tradition that is just like tailgating, all a part of FAMU’s experience.”
Finishing the regular season strong means a big emphasis is put on the last regular season game this Saturday.
“If you go through and lose one or two games this season and lose the classic, it’s an awful season, you have to live with the results until the following year,” Wilson said Vaughn.
Fans are expected to have a joyous time as they cheer on their fellow Rattlers in hopes of ending a nine-game B-CU winning streak. However, FAMU leads the all-time series, 50-24-1.