College football, even more so than the NFL, is built on rivalries. Alabama vs. Auburn. USC vs. UCLA. Florida vs. Florida State. You get the picture.
The same is true in the world of black college football. The Southern vs. Grambling game has mushroomed all others thanks to the Bayou Classic’s television coverage. But other great rivalries come to mind: FAMU vs. Bethune-Cookman, FAMU vs. Tennessee State and Tuskegee vs. Alabama State to name a few.
But one of the best rivalries in HBCU football in terms of competitiveness and proximity is wildly underrated. For our money, there aren’t many better rivalries in HBCU or FCS football than the Battle of The Bay: Hampton vs. Norfolk State.
The two schools are separated by 15 miles of I-64, which depending on the time of day and year, could take you anywhere from under half an hour to over two hours to travel.
Both started in the CIAA, made the jump to Division I in the mid-1990's and have pulled off monumental NCAA Tournament upsets in the past fifteen years.
But in all rivalries, the differences are the fun part.
Hampton has the longer history academically—Booker T. Washington was a graduate of Hampton Institute—and athletically as the CIAA, the nation’s oldest conference for historically black colleges and universities, was founded on its campus in 1912. The private institution draws a large number of its student body from outside the Commonwealth of Virginia, and consistently has one of the largest endowments in the HBCU world.
Over the bridge in Norfolk, NSU has a slightly more urban feel, much like the city it resides in. The school originally started as a branch of Virginia State, and VSU graduates are sure to remind you of that, as they often refer to NSU as “Little State.” Through the years, its been known as more of a basketball school, but it has had success against its rival, owning the series by one game with a 26-25-1 record.
This year’s game adds even more intrigue thanks to new blood in the coaching ranks. Hampton made noise in December 2013 when it hired former NC A&T star Connell Maynor from Winston-Salem after he led WSSU to two CIAA titles and three consecutive seasons with playoff wins.
A year later, Norfolk State pulled a similar move, hiring Latrell Scott from Virginia State. Scott, who coincidently played at Hampton, was fresh off a CIAA Championship and a Division II playoff win of its own.
Maynor and Scott have some unique ties as well. Both men won CIAA and MEAC Championships as players—Maynor started his career with WSSU and Hampton played in the CIAA during Scott’s freshman year—and both have won CIAA Championships as coaches.
The two have never met on the field, but they were supposed to. Remember that infamous brawl that canceled the CIAA Championship in 2013? Maynor and Scott were the coaches for WSSU and VSU respectively.
"This is the 53 meeting, we’ve got 25 wins, they’ve got 26 wins, one tie,” Maynor said during the pre-game press conference. "In order to keep it a great rivalry we need to even it up so it will be 26-26-1 and that’ll be just great with me.”
And as for Scott, the Hampton alumnus says that while he appreciates the rivalry aspect, the most import thing for him is getting a win for his team.
"Right now I’m committed to Norfolk State University. I’m committed to this group of young men that I lead so the most important thing for my staff is that we have these guys ready to play."
As a famous philosopher once said “it ain’t where you from, it’s where you at.”