College football is full of traditions and they’re great … as long as you’re on the right side of them.
South Carolina State trailed Clemson, 73-0, last week before rallying for a 73-7 defeat. But the Bulldogs fared better than some fellow Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference brethren recently. Last season, the Florida A&M Rattlers were smoked by Ohio State, 76-0. In 2012, Savannah State opened the season with visits to Oklahoma State and Florida State, who combined to score 139 points while yielding none.
The practice of pitting black colleges against powerhouses has its benefits, though, namely in the large checks that are cashed. Howard University, in the midst of three-game series with Rutgers, is receiving a total of $1 million total for its trouble. The Bison put up a respectable effort last week in falling to the Scarlet Knights, 38-25, after suffering a 26-0 defeat in 2012.
A more-pleasant tradition resumes Saturday at RFK Stadium, when Howard faces Morehouse College for the fourth consecutive year in the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic. The rivalry between the schools, two of the nation’s preeminent Historically Black Colleges & Universities, dates to 1923, with Howard leading the all-time series, 24-10-2.
For Howard coach Gary “Flea” Harrell, it’s his first game in D.C. since the 2012 season finale, a 41-34 victory against Delaware State at Greene Stadium. He took a leave of absence last year for undisclosed personal reasons and he’s anxious to resume his rebuilding project.
Before Harrell led his alma mater to a 7-4 mark in 2012, his second season on the job, Howard’s last winning record was in 2004.
“We started three years ago on the ‘Road to Redemption,’” Harrell said during the MEAC’s media day. “Now I want to get on the ‘Road to Glory.’”
His players don’t have to look far to see the good old days. Along with his teammates from the 1993 Bison team that went 11-0 during the regular season and won the black national title, Harrell will be inducted into Howard’s athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 26. He was a standout wide receiver at 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds and he still holds team records for receptions in a career (184) and game (13).
The quarterback in 1993 was Jay “Sky” Walker, the ESPN announcer who’s also a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates. Much of Harrell’s fate as a player was tied to Walker, like much of the coach’s fate this season rests with the current QB.
Senior Greg McGhee, a four-year starter, is the reigning MEAC player of the year and was the voters’ choice for the conference’s 2014 preseason honor. He wears No. 7, following in the tradition of Walker and Ted White, Howard’s offensive coordinator/quarterback coach. White, who played for Bison from 1995-98, is the MEAC and Howard’s all-time leader in passing and total offense.
McGhee needs 2,569 yards of total offense to break White’s MEAC record in that category (9,845).
“I think he has next-level potential,” White told HBCU Sports Nation. “Just getting the opportunity to work with (Vikings rookie) Teddy Bridgewater this summer, Greg has done a great job. His arm strength is great. His decision-making is great. His leadership skills are great. I think he has a good opportunity to get a chance to play in the NFL.”
Harrell, an undersized underdog who spent time with the New York Giants, sees the same potential in McGhee. “If he gets into a camp with anybody who understands the game of football and knows talent, and sees how this guy works and throws the football, there’s no doubt in my mind that he will be playing on Sundays.”
First, there are 10 more Saturdays for McGhee and the Bison (0-2), who opened with a 41-0 loss at Akron. After facing Morehouse, Howard opens conference play Sept. 20 against Morgan State at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J, where the longtime foes will battle in the 42nd annual New York Urban League Football Classic.
Time will tell if D.C.’s newborn showcase can grow into an established HBCU gem like the Magic City Classic, Bayou Classic, Florida Classic or Atlanta Football Classic. This is the last season for the Howard-Morehouse match-up; new opponents will be announced for next year’s game, which is organized by Events DC.
“Building the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic has been a labor of love,” Event DC’s Erik Moses said in a statement. “The pageantry, camaraderie and competition we’ve seen each year has been everything we’ve expected and more. It has been a pleasure to kick off this classic with two schools that feature a shared narrative and passionate rivalry on and off the field.”
That’s a tradition worth keeping. And building on.