For the record, the top college football teams on any level at one time included teams like Alcorn State, Grambling, Southern, Florida A&M, and Tennessee State. These teams were not just good they were among the very best. They didn’t get to play Ohio State, Notre Dame or USC, but know that coaches like Woody Hayes not only respected these teams, but visited their football camps and on occasion came to watch them play. These and other black college teams like them would today be considered dynasties. Back then a black college championship meant more because winning it really did mean you were one of the best teams in the country bar none.Too little is said about FAMU’s former Coach Alonzo S. “Jake” Gather. I grew up down the street from a recreation center named in his honor and among the families of some of the outstanding assistant coaches and players like Bobby Lang, Robert Mungen, Willie Galimore, and Hewett Dixon. I remember as a small boy watching Bob Hayes, Ken Riley, Claude Humphrey and Ed “Too Tall” Jones of Tennessee State. Yes, on a rare occasion in the latter stages of black college football greatness I got to see Eddie Robinson and Doug Williams, Alcorn’s Marino “The Godfather” Casem and Steve McNair, Mississippi Valley State’s David “Deacon” Jones and Jerry Rice, Tennessee State’s Joe Meritt and Joe Gilliam, just to name a few.
Integration in the 60s and 70s relocated many of the great players who once attended black colleges and turned the none HBCUs into financial meccas. Unfortunately, we now hear too many stories about players whose heads are swollen with ideas of glory or fame, but whose lives are ultimately overtaken with financial burdens and responsibilities many of them are never taught how to handle. The great coaches of the black college past and most of the great players never received that kind of money or fame, the spoils of the game that corrupts so many. They gave to the game, and many of us who followed them, more than they ever took.Many of us live vicariously through teams like Alabama A&M, Tennessee State, Bethune Cookman, and South Carolina State, hoping they’ll revive the days of greatness where we can say that “our schools” are among the best in the country. Understand that Jake Gaither only lost 36 games his entire tenure and very few if any legitimately won as many games as Eddie Robinson. With remembrance of such a great past we pressure current coaches to repeat the famed past with high percentage winning records. A 6-5 or even 8-3 season won’t do.
Thus, it is important that today the undefeated Tennessee State Tigers and Alabama A&M Bulldogs keep on winning. Other MEAC and SWAC conference upstarts of late like Howard University, North Carolina Central, University of Arkansas Pine Bluff and Bethune Cookman, must also understand that it is not just about being the best HBCU. For us older guys that’s not good enough. We feel like something has been taken away from us or at least denied us. Yes, it is hard to compete against the financial meccas, but if you’re black you’re use to overcoming. So in spite of any financial challenges, the expectations for black college football, given history, are still high.