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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
History has the home field advantage

By Donald Hunt
Special to ESPN.com

If you've ever witnessed a football game at a historically black college or university, you know it's more than just football. It's an experience.

Over the years, black schools have produced some all-time greats who have gone on to NFL Hall of Fame careers -- including Jerry Rice and Walter Payton. And that level of play is paired with pageantry that only HBCUs can call their own.

But which stadium is the most memorable for black college football games? We asked four longtime sports journalists who have keenly followed HBCU football to tell us which venues provide home field advantage.

Bragg Memorial Stadium
Bragg Memorial Stadium, home of the Florida A&M Rattlers.

Bill Hamilton, sports information director, South Carolina State: "The HBCU stadium that sticks out in my mind is Bragg Memorial Stadium, home of the Florida A&M Rattlers. It's an awfully tough place to play. We didn't earn a victory against the Rattlers in Bragg until the Buddy Pough era. Although we had beaten [Florida A&M] in Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando, the breakthrough win at Bragg did not occur until 2002, when S.C. State prevailed 31-13, in Pough's first year as coach. The pageantry, including the FAMU band, was always outstanding at Bragg, and the fans were the most avid in all of the HBCUs."

Ed Hill, sports information director, Howard University: "I have visited and been a part of many stadiums, as both a reporter and as SID for Howard for 29 years. They all have their unique characteristics, but of those I have visited, the most memorable is Aggie Stadium at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C. It has never been dull there. The games have been exciting and thrilling, and oftentimes they have unexpected or shocking outcomes. The Aggie fans play a great role, as they are some of the most passionate and rabid fans anywhere.

Homecoming Game Field
North Carolina A&T's Aggie Stadium provides a real home field advantage.

"Once there was a close call on a fourth-and-short for N.C. A&T in Howard's territory. The Aggies' runner appeared to come up nearly a yard short in his efforts, but when the chain crew brought the markers over to measure, it somehow ended up gaining almost two yards beyond the original spot. The Aggies went on to score on that drive and pull out a close win in the bitter rivalry. When asked how that could happen, an official from N.C. A&T in the press box replied: 'Oh, that's just an Aggie spot.'"

Roscoe Nance, freelance sportswriter: "Game day at Tuskegee University's venerable Cleve Abbott Memorial Alumni Stadium is unlike game day at any other stadium in college football. Abbott Stadium was the first facility of its kind built on a black college campus when it was constructed in 1924, mostly with contributions from alumni. Today it is possibly the only facility where fans tailgate inside the stadium rather than in parking lots outside of it.

"Tailgaters set up tents on the hillside that overlooks the stadium; RV owners stake out space on the north and south sides of the stadium in areas where the Marching Crimson Piper Band and the football team practice. The scene, particularly during homecomingwhich attracts more than 30,000 fans to the 10,000-seat stadiumresembles a street festival. For homecoming, tailgaters begin staking out tent space on the hillside as early as Thursday for the game on Saturday.

Abbott_Stadium
Cleve Abbott Memorial Alumni Stadium was constructed in 1924.

"However, don't get the idea that the game itself is an afterthought. The Golden Tigers are No. 1 on the all-time HBCU victory list with 634 wins, and at Abbott Stadium they seldom lose. In fact, they have lost just twice on their home field since Willie Slater succeeded Rick Comegy as coach in 2006. Slater is 25-3 at Abbott Stadium, which is affectionately known throughout the SIAC as the Dust Bowl.

"The way Abbott Stadium is constructed gives the Golden Tigers a built-in home field advantage. It is nestled at the foot of a hill. Opposing coaches have said air doesn't circulate on the field because of the way it is situated, making the temperature on the playing field higher than it actually is. Also, the Dust Bowl isn't lighted, and all of the Golden Tigers' home games are played at 1 p.m. That is enough of a heat factor in itself, given the temperatures in central Alabama in the fall."

Michael Hurd, author and historian: "As for the stadiums, most of them are expanding, and I think that loses a lot of the feel of the black college football experience. I love the small ones, like Prairie View's Blackshear stadium and Livingstone's Alumni Memorial Stadium. Both say they seat about 6,000, but I think that might be a stretch.

"I really love being at Livingstone. Every time I go there, I can't help but think about the origin of black college football on a nearby field.

"In those smaller stadiums, you're close to the action and the communal feel of it all -- fish fries and BBQ grilling behind the main stands, the bands blaring in your ears, kids playing, people milling around and occasionally watching the game, but mostly socializing, which is really what black college games are about. To me, any of the smaller stadiums evoke the true spirit and culture of black college football. It's a pure experience."

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at dhunt37261@aol.com.