The Hampton-Howard football rivalry dates back to 1908 and has fluctuated back and forth over the last four decades. Hampton leads the all-time series with a record of 49-42-1 and the Pirates are seemingly putting some separation between themselves and the Bison as far as resources, players and competitive stature of the program is concerned.
(Photo Credit: meacswacsports.com)
This match-up, which had a home in RFK Stadium in the '90s, has been a series of runs, with the Bison dominating play throughout the '70s until Hampton began to upgrade its university in every aspect from sports to educational offerings.
“It wasn't a rivalry at that time,” said former Hampton Pirate alumni Calvin Hewitt. "Hampton was D-II, Howard was D-I. Different caliber of player at Howard. And Hampton football wasn't that good at the time. And definitely not on the level of a Grambling, Southern, or Central State. When I was there (88-92), there was little interest in a mid-level D-II team, who played a boring brand of football with no pro prospects.”
Howard was a member of the MEAC since 1970, so it had a 25-year head start on Hampton, which didn’t join the Division I ranks until 1995. The squads only played three times in the '80s, with Hampton winning once.
(Bison star Billy Jenkins played in Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams)
“It changed when I left Hampton in the mid-90s,” Hewitt said of Howard’s football dominance over Hampton. “President Harvey wanted Hampton to be D-I. He built a new stadium. That's when Hampton sports started to take off. They had a new coach and he started bringing in players and upped the workout routines. I remember, either my senior year or a year or so after I left, one of my boys on the team pointed out a new player. A transfer from a Big 12 Conference school. That's when it was like, 'Oh Hampton is trying to get serious.”
That new coach was Joe Taylor, a 2016 inductee into the MEAC Hall of Fame. Taylor is the winningest coach in Hampton University football history, and is third all-time in wins by HBCU coaches, behind only John Merritt (Tennessee State) and Eddie Robinson (Grambling).
At Hampton, Taylor was 136-48-1 (.735), and he snatched for four Black College National Championships (1994, 1997, 2004, 2005) and five MEAC titles with postseason appearances in the NCAA Div. I FCS playoffs (1997, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2006).
(Photo Credit: hamptonpirates.com)
After joining the MEAC, the Pirates posted 14 straight wins over Howard from 1997 through 2010, but the games were action-packed, high-quality and the centerpiece of an HBCU experience that included festivities, performances by elite urban artists, a “Battle of The Bands,” joint dinners and competitive academic exchange between the rival schools.
Erik Moses, senior vice president and managing director of Events DC, Sports and Entertainment Division, says that was the culture they were trying to recapture when introducing the two HU’s as newly-packaged, but very familiar opponents in the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic in 2015.
“The battles between Hampton and Howard in RFK Stadium during the early '90s were instant classics, Moses said. “Giving this type of rivalry a rebirth is what we had in mind when conceptualizing this event.”
Howard upped the ante and won four games in a row against Hampton from 2011-2014. Some of those games were HBCU classics, with Howard winning on the road in double-overtime in 2013 and narrowly escaping with a 30-29 victory in 2014. Howard swept D-II Morehouse in the first four Classic games beginning in 2011.
(Photo Credit: howarduniversity.com)
But the game and The “Battle For the Real HU” took on another dimension when Hampton beat Howard in the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic, featuring the two rivals last season.
The Pirates won 37-19 in a conquest that flexed the program’s steady improvement under Connell Maynor, who assumed the head coaching reigns prior to the 2014 season.
Before coming to Hampton, Maynor compiled a 45-6 record at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) from 2010 to 2013, winning two Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championships and advancing to the NCAA Division II National Championship game in 2012.
He knows how to build a program and, despite Hampton’s 54-21 opening season loss to a higher-caliber Old Dominion team, has the Pirates in line to do some work in the MEAC this season. He was 3-9 in his first season, but got Hampton to 6-5 in 2015 and one or two more wins is a real possibility this season.
Hampton will certainly be favored against Howard on September 17th, in this year's AT&T Nation’s Football Classic, but that won’t stop the Bison from pulling out all the stops.
(Photo Credit: dailyprogress.com)
“I understand the significance in battle for the real HU,” Bison Coach Gary Harrell said. “It goes deep when it comes to alumni, when it comes to the history, the tradition. Both presidents, here at Howard and also at Hampton, have great pride. They love their university, and they want to be the best, so we’ve got to make sure we give our alumni, our fan base the opportunity to have those bragging rights.”
Howard went 1-10 last season. If they manage to win just a single game again this season, they’d surely want that “W” to be against Hampton.
The AT&T Nation's Football Classic® is a black college football game held annually at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Now in its sixth year, the 2016 game features Howard University against Hampton University and will be played on Saturday, September 17.