Howard and Hampton. Hampton and Howard. It seems you can't have one without the other.
Friday night the two teams will meet at RFK Stadium in Washington DC for the AT&T Nation's Football Classic in the latest edition of what has become known as "The Battle of The Real HU."
Since being founded just after the Civil War, both institutions have always maintained an elite status academically in the HBCU realm. The two teams have always competed fiercely on the gridiron as they have for elite students, first in the CIAA and now in the MEAC.
The two teams were fierce rivals dating back to the early 1900's, when the two schools, along with Lincoln, were often regarded as all-black versions of Yale, Harvard and Princeton on the gridiron.
The rivalry continued on a regular basis for most of the last century before a brief hiatus in the late 80's and early 90's. Since Hampton joined the MEAC in the mid-1990's, however, this game has seen a resurgence in popularity.
Hampton (1-1) has dominated the series for most of its MEAC run, but Howard (0-2) has won the last four games to put the all-time record at 47-43-1 since the series began back in 1908. Switching the game from the end of the season to the start in RFK Stadium with the Nation's Classic Brand only raises the stakes.
"This rivalry, right now so much is on the table because its early in the year," Howard coach Gary Harrell told HBCU Gameday. "Usually this game is in November, the weather is bad and the students don't really get to enjoy the magnitude of this game."
The MEAC isn't the only conference with a big-time rivalry match-up this week. SWAC heavyweights Southern and Jackson State are set to battle in a game that is known as much for its competition in the stands as on the field.
Every year Southern and Jackson State are among the most-respected and admired marching bands, not just in the SWAC but in all of college football. JSU's "Sonic Boom of The South" and Southern's "Human Jukebox" are sure to keep the tunes coming long after the final whistle in what should be an epic "Fifth Quarter" as has come to be expected. Throw in Southern's "Dancing Dolls" and JSU's "Prancing J-Settes" and there's plenty of eye candy to go along with the soulful sounds of both bands.
On the field, this game has given us some of HBCU football's greatest legends, including Jackson State's Walter Payton and Jackie Slater as well as Southern's Mel Blount and Aeneas Williams.
While there may not be any future Pro Football Hall of Famers on the field, there will be the SWAC's two best receivers- Southern's shifty Willie Quinn and JSU's big-target Daniel Williams.
Southern will be the heavy favorites, but Jackson State's Williams and quarterback Lamontiez Ivy are due for some offensive fireworks soon.
Payback in Tuskegee
While the MEAC and SWAC can be found pretty regularly on national television, the same can't be said for their Division II counterparts, the CIAA and the SIAC. Saturday a national audience will get to see two of HBCU football's D2 heavyweights go at it as Winston-Salem State visits Tuskegee.
This meeting will make three in as many years as WSSU won the last two in Cleveland and Winston-Salem, respectively. But it is Tuskegee who will find itself as the favorite entering Saturday as it faces a WSSU squad that has already lost as many games as it has in any season since returning to Division II in 2010.