In fact, it is arguably the greatest rivalry in Black College football.
Whoa….. I know, I know. There are a litany of great HBCU rivalries. Southern University-FAMU, TSU-Grambling, and Southern-Grambling. Alabama State-Tuskegee is a longtime rivalry which will be renewed in 2017, and Hampton University vs. Howard are just a few more. However, not all of the rivalries carry the historical tradition of TSU and FAMU, which each have incredible football legacies.
First, let me tell you my criteria for a great football rivalry, which may very well be different from what you consider to be a great rivalry (which is perfectly fine).
A rivalry is when two tradition rich, power programs, play each other. Often times, there are major implications to who wins and loses the game. Those two points have to be the focal point of any significant rivalry.
And the rivalry can’t be one way. Back in the day Vanderbilt claimed the University of Tennessee as its big rivalry. But UT beat the hell out of Vandy every year. That is not a rivalry. That’s an annoying fly getting its ass crushed. Ohio State-Michigan is a rivalry. For years that game often had Big 10 and national, ramifications. They had great coaches in Woody Hayes (OSU) and Bo Schembechler (Michigan).
TSU and FAMU meet that criteria. TSU leads the rivalry 29-24. They each have a great history, fielded championship teams, and great players who excelled in college and the pros. In the prime of Black College football (1950-80) TSU and FAMU, along with Grambling University, Southern University and Jackson State University were the premier Black College football programs. TSU and FAMU were led by hall of fame coaches Jake Gaither (FAMU) and John Merritt (TSU), who were larger than life personalities.
Pagentry would be another factor, and that means two of the HBCU’s most legendary bands, TSU’s Aristocrat of Bands, and Florida A&M’s Marching 100. The Aristocrats and the Marching 100 are world renowned bands with a loyal followings. They are part of the reason these games have been played in front of tremendous crowds over the years.
The one, and really only downside of the TSU-FAMU rivalry, is it doesn’t have the longevity. The two schools have gone years without playing each other due to mostly political infighting from past presidents. TSU’s decision to join the OVC limited its scheduling of HBCU rivals as well. However, not even those issues are enough to take away from the richness and greatness of one arguably the HBCU’s best rivalry.