FAMU, Southern to resume longtime football rivalry
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Former NFL stars Ken Riley and Mel Blount just happened to be on the golf course this past weekend. Naturally they spent a lot of time talking about their days as college players.
It was a given those days would come up. They played during an era when Southern University and FAMU competed in what had become one of the top matchups in Black college football. Blount played defense for Southern, while Riley was quarterback for the Rattlers.
A few days before they met up on the golf course, both men got word that the series will resume next season. FAMU will host Southern at Bragg first on Sept. 12, then in 2020, go to Baton Rouge on Sept. 21.
“The two-year, home-and-home agreement with Southern University is a win-win for both schools,” said John Eason, athletic director at FAMU. “We are excited about the opportunity of playing one of the most recognized football programs among HBCUs. It represents our efforts to ignite our fan base with games they want to see.”
Reviving the series is part of an initiative by Eason to do away with money games and play more games at home. At the same time, Eason expects FAMU to have more control over gate receipts.
Riley, who not only played in the series and was a coach, was responsible for reviving the series when he was athletic director at FAMU in the 1990s.
He praised Eason and his staff for bringing back the game. It was a revenue generating game back in the years when he played and he expects it to do the same this time, Riley said.
“It makes a big difference when you have somebody who knows about Black college football and the atmosphere,” Riley said. “When you have those traditional rivalries, you don’t let that get away.”
The two teams first met in 1941. They continued meeting every year from 1946-2001 before the series was halted for the first time. They didn’t meet again until playing in either the Atlanta Classic for the MEAC-SWAC Challenge.
During the 1990, Riley fought to revive the series one more time.
“We said this doesn’t make sense, he said. “We’ve got a rivalry that has been going on forever. We reunited and it was very, very successful.”
“It was a matchup of the best against the best,” Blount said. “It was always important to play schools like Florida A&M, which had a great program and Grambling University. In fact, all those schools back in those day were powerhouses because the players weren’t able go anywhere else.”
Blount said the revival is even more important today because it keeps alive the value of HBCU football.
“It’s very important more so than ever now,” he said. “To restore the rival between Southern and FAMU is very important because you’re talking about two very popular historically Black colleges that were powerhouses back during segregation. I think it’s going to be intriguing to see the kind of support that we get from the community.”