Not your average rivalry
Rivalry week let you down?
Cameron Crazies driving you crazy?
Then travel to the historic West End of Atlanta for the Backyard Brawl between Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, one of the most unique and closest rivalries in the nation.
The close proximity of the two campuses makes this rivalry one of a kind. Where one campus ends, the other starts. Students can also cross-register for classes in each university and wind up in lecture halls with a rival.
There are no Cameron Crazies at this rivalry game, and Dick Vitale isn't screaming on the sideline. Instead, you will find dogged fraternities barking, boisterous marching bands, dancers shaking everything their momma gave them and swaggeric fans flowing onto the floor. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks also could appear courtside for the big game. At halftime, you might even get a performance from your favorite rapper. Oh, and there's a basketball game going on too.
This is HBCU basketball.
"Money can't buy what you will see here, it's not just the game," Morehouse men's basketball coach Grady Brewer said. "In black college ball, everyone is competing against each other. The band, the cheerleaders, the crowd."
Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, located in the Atlanta University Center in west Atlanta, are both Division II historically black universities founded in the South, but that's where the similarities end.
"The rivalry is there for football, basketball, track, marbles, tiddlywinks, whatever you want," Brewer said.
"I remember back when I played basketball at Morehouse, during this rivalry week you better not go over on the other side of the street to Clark, especially with a Morehouse jacket on. You might have some trouble there."
The rivalry was known to incite campus brawls, but students are more composed now. However, crowd squabbles are not out of the ordinary at the rivalry match.
To add to the rivalry, Clark can't fit the 6,000 fans for the game in its home gym and must play both the home and away game in Morehouse's palatial Forbes Arena, which was built for the 1996 Olympics.
In basketball, Morehouse has owned the rivalry's best record (26-16) since 1988, when Clark College merged with Atlanta University to become the current Clark Atlanta University. Like the institutions, the two basketball coaches also sit on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Brewer, whose father worked as a painter at Clark Atlanta University, comes from a long lineage of Clark Atlanta graduates but rebelled to become a Morehouse man over 30 years ago. Clark Atlanta coach Darryl Jacobs is a smooth-talking Jersey kid who rode into town five years ago to take over an ailing Clark Atlanta squad.
"I could not let that domination continue," Jacobs said. "I just knew I had to change the whole culture."
Jacobs' animated coaching style and confidence-laced stride brought an attitude to CAU that carried the team from last place in the conference five years ago to first place last season. CAU is currently ranked ninth in the NCAA Division II South region. Morehouse remains unranked.
"I thrive in this environment because I'm competitive," Jacobs said. "Our academics and athletics speak for themselves. We don't need to say much."
Morehouse, an all-male school established in 1867, boasts alumni like Martin Luther King Jr. and Spike Lee. Upon enrolling, Morehouse places a fictitious crown above each young man's head, which the university says helps him grow to become a Morehouse man.
"If you find yourself walking around the [Atlanta University Center] and see a young man in a suit, he might be a Morehouse man," said one Morehouse student.
"If you see a man walking around with drive and determination in his eyes, he's probably a Clark Atlanta man," said Marcus Kendrick, a Clark-Atlanta senior.
At Clark, from the first day of orientation students learn to "find a way or make a way." Clark doesn't boast famous alum like Lee, but Clark students always mention that Lee had to take mass media courses at Clark to receive his degree.
As a coed university, Clark also has what Morehouse never had: girls. Females make for a more well-rounded collegiate experience at Clark, but also add gasoline to the rivalry fire. A lot of the animosity between the universities stems from the opposite sex.
"The only reason a Clark girl might date a Morehouse guy is because we're all taken," said Julius Sudds, a Clark Atlanta senior and starting forward.
Though the rivalry boils over for big games, once students matriculate they share a common bond as graduates of HBCUs. Their legacy as institutions created to educate blacks, in historical times when they could go nowhere else, binds the universities after graduation.
"Clark is like our little brother," said Ravenell DuPree, 2007 Morehouse grad and athletics staff assistant. "You will beat up on your little brother, but you won't let anybody else mess with them."
Clark Atlanta University won the first matchup on the hardwood this season and dropped the second. In the short term, bragging rights belong to no one. Like the cavernous rift that exists between the universities, the season series is split.
The sibling rivalry in the West End continues. And, well, there's always football season.