On December 27, 1892, just two days after Christmas, Livingstone College and Biddle College, which eventually changed its name to Johnson C. Smith University, played in the snows of Salisbury, North Carolina. According to historian T.M. Martin, the men of Biddle spent two years studying and practicing the sport of football, and in 1892 they challenged the men of Livingstone, whose team was formally organized in the fall of that year.
As documented in both schools’ newspapers, team members purchased a regulation football and uniforms. The players also equipped their street shoes with cleats, taking them off after practice. The young women of the school industrial department made their uniforms for the first game.
The teams played two 45-minute halves played on Livingstone’s front lawn. W.J. Trent scored Livingstone’s only touchdown on a fumble recovery. By then the snow had covered the field’s markings and Biddle argued that the fumble was recovered out of bounds. The official ruled in Biddle’s favor, allowing them to keep the 5–0 lead that they had established early on and giving the visitors the victory.
Now 123 years later, the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl is a new Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) Championship that will be aired live from the Georgia Dome on ABC to kick off the college bowl season. Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champion Alcorn State University will face Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference (MEAC) champion North Carolina A&T State University on December 19, 2015 in Atlanta.
John Grant, Executive Director of the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, says “this game demonstrates the commitment that we (EPSN, Conferences) have to bring into fruition this kind of experience on this type of platform to make this a reality in a way that is not just about football but educating the nation on the value that HBCUs have and the talent they are producing all across the country to make America the kind of country that it is.”
HBCUs were for many years the epicenter of black college football. “We now have something to play for that not only puts them into the post-season but also creates an economic environment that has viability for them in that post-season play,” says Grant. “The nationally televised platform further enhances the opportunity for recruiting not just for athletes, but more importantly for students.”
Jim Crow segregation forced the development of separate teams and leagues for black players. It was not until the late 1950s, and late 1960s in the deep south that African American football players were welcomed on white campuses. The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl will feature the tradition, legacy, and pageantry of HBCUs.
“I’m excited to witness my North Carolina A&T Aggies play in the first ever Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl,” says Terrence Jenkins, North Carolina A&T alum and American actor and television personality. “Not only is this an exciting opportunity for HBCUs as a whole, but especially for my alma mater being able to receive national exposure.”
Exposure both academically and athletically is a major focus for all parties involved in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. ESPN is working with the 100 Black Men of Atlanta to manage the game’s ancillary events, which include a youth symposium, robotics showcase, college and job fair, fan experience, and more. “This bowl game brings awareness to the product or human capital that HBCUs bring to the world,” says John Grant. HBCUs are adding to the diversity of our nation and that every institution contributes something to the viability of America, and HBCUs are making those contributions as well.”