Prime vs. Shine: A Spectacle in HBCU Sports History

On the eve of Bethune-Cookman University hosting Jackson State at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL for a Southwestern Athletic Conference East divisional showdown, I sat down and thought about what a dream scenario could’ve potentially been.

You know the generational conversations; the ones discussed in barbershops, sports bars, and on podcasts. The ones where you debate how things might have turned out if the events could’ve taken place:

  • 1987 Lakers vs 2001 Lakers
  • 1996 Bulls vs. 2016 Warriors
  • 1985 Bears vs. 2007 Patriots
  • 1999 FAMU Rattlers vs. 2002 B-CU Wildcats

As long as I can remember, these conversations have dominated the sports lexicon among fans. If we were to examine this through an HBCU lens, what could this game have been if a few things were different?

Yes folks, I’m talking about the “Brawl for it all in Duval.”

Or more eloquently stated, “Prime vs. Shine.”

For longtime fans and supporters of the university located in “The World’s Most Famous Beach,” the attention, swag, flash, and flair Jackson State head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders has brought to the SWAC is nothing new to the Wildcat faithful. They’ve seen this movie before. In fact, some would argue that B-CU and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Hall of Famer Alvin “Shine” Wyatt is the architect of HBCU flamboyant coaches. Long before it was popular, and quite frankly considered off-putting by his coaching peers, “Shine” as he is affectionately called, traded coach’s polos and khakis for leisure suits and alligator boots. And while he was definitely the epitome of style, there was plenty of substance there as well.

In his 13 years as head coach of Bethune-Cookman, Wyatt became the all-time winningest coach in school history, amassing a record of 90-54, earning wins against legendary coaches such as Joe Taylor, Bill Hayes, Oliver “Buddy” Pough, and his school’s interstate rival Florida A&M and coach William “Billy” Joe. He also captured two MEAC Titles (2002, 2003), one conference coach of the year award (1998), one Heritage Bowl appearance (1998) and two NCAA FCS Playoff appearances (2002, 2003).

He also placed several players in the NFL such as Rashean Mathis, Nick Collins, and Eric Weems. Wyatt would depart the Wildcat program in 2009 as arguably the greatest coach in school history.

11 years later, it appeared HBCU football had found a reincarnation of Wyatt when Jackson State announced it was hiring Deion Sanders as its 21st head coach of their football program. Known for his flashy style both on and off the field as a player, “Prime Time” as he was affectionately called, is widely considered the best defensive back in the history of the NFL and was enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2011.

In just one calendar year, Coach Prime guided the Tigers to their first SWAC championship since 2007, received the Eddie Robinson Award as the season’s top FCS head coach and currently has his Tigers at a perfect 5-0 and a Top 10 ranking in FCS standings. In the process, he also managed to flip the 2022 #1 high school recruit in Travis Hunter away from his alma mater Florida State to Jackson State, much to the chagrin of several college coaches across the country and watch his son, Shedeur Sanders, win the Jerry Rice Award, given to the best freshman player in FCS football.

So, in a perfect world, what would a matchup between Shine and Prime look like? Well first, aside from the game being played on the field, the pre-game press conferences would be must-see TV. I can only imagine the witty banter between the coaches prior to the game. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing either of them during a media scrum, the quotes that would have been given would have forever been etched in history. Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, Sanders would certainly have his camera crew following him around all week (courtesy of his relationship with Barstool Sports) documenting each step of preparation before the game.

Not to be outdone, Shine would have had the CatEye Network chronicling everything from his team running wind sprints on the beach before dawn to him grabbing some wings from the legendary Bethune Grill near campus (if you know you know).

On gameday, while Prime would likely opt for a JSU hoodie and sweats, you better believe, no matter the weather, Shine would come out of the tunnel donning a mink coat, accompanied by a white leisure suit with oversized gold belt buckle, or an officially licensed B-CU branded one piece jumpsuit. There’s no doubt the following Monday they both would have been featured on ESPN’s Get Up, First Take, Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption amongst other shows on competing networks.

While it is tough to predict the outcome of the game, as Jackson State boasts a potent offense vs the always formidable Wildcat defense during Wyatt’s tenure, the true winners would’ve been the fans and supporters of both schools and HBCU’s in general. The game itself would have been one of those “you had to be there” affairs, where, as the years go by, the legend of the story grows larger and larger.

While that certainly will not be the case on Saturday as current Wildcat head coach Terry Sims is the complete antithesis of Wyatt in more ways than one, sometimes it’s nice to sit back, smile and think about what could have possibly been.

After all, a guy can dream.

Best HBCU Home Field Advantage–Rankings and Poll

Home field advantage is as much a part of college football as marching bands and drunken co-eds. LSU’s Tiger Stadium, University of Florida’s “Swamp”, Clemson’s “Death Valley” and Ohio State’s “Horseshoe” provide some of the more well-known home field advantages in all of sports.  But you don’t have to play in an 80,000 seat arena to enjoy the benefits of a home field.

There are a host of smaller venues, including some HBCU home sites, that have proven themselves very tough on opposing teams.  Granted, playing in front of your home crowd does not guarantee victory, but you have to like your chances if you play your home games in these friendly confines.

Here’s a look at the best home field advantages in the world of HBCU football.

Honorable Mention:

*** O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium is a charming, picturesque venue nestled on the grounds of North Carolina Central University.  But don’t get it twisted.  Playing in O’Kelly-Riddick is no walk in the park for the opposition.  In fact, the CIAA contingent that contributed to this poll thought so much of O’Kelly-Riddick that they lobbied vehemently for Central to be included in the Top 5 home field advantage ranking and not just an honorable mention selectee.

O’Kelly-Riddick’s greatest advantage comes from the closeness of the fans.  “They’re right on top of you and in your ear the whole game” one former CIAA player told me.  He went on to describe how one of his young teammates was harassed by a particular NCCU fan from pre-game warmups until the final whistle.  No wonder that “young buck” had his worse collegiate game that day.

*** Grambling State’s home games may not be as well attended as some of the other schools on this list, but the folks that congregate at Eddie Robinson Stadium on Saturday’s sure make their presence known.  Robinson Stadium is one of the largest FCS on-campus stadium in the country.  The Tigers have enjoyed 13 undefeated home seasons and a .758 winning percentage at Robinson Stadium since it opened in 1983.

The stadium is in the middle of nowhere which in itself creates a sense of isolationism for visiting squads.  Couple that with the lore of Grambling State football, the passion of their fans, and the quality of football the G-Men play and it’s pretty simple to see why playing at Robinson Stadium has proven to be such a difficult task for opponents.

*** If there were no extra weight given for recent success, North Carolina A&T’s Aggie Stadium would have made our Top 5.

A&T fans are amongst the most passionate and rabid in all of FCS athletics. The Blue Death Valley, Aggie Pride and of course the GHOE (Greatest Homecoming on Earth {sorry Howard}) all take up residence in Aggie Stadium.  Visiting teams can expect the unpredictable at Aggie Stadium.  Just a season ago, a very good Bethune-Cookman team suffered a horrible defeat at the hands of NCA&T and were held to a putrid 5 yards of rushing offense during the process.  It’s no coincidence that game was played in Aggie Stadium.

The Top 5

SU vs JSU at Mumford Stadium

#5—Southern University’s A. W. Mumford Stadium

Yeah I know SWACOs.  One could argue that Mumford is deserving of the #1 ranking.  But like A&T, Southern’s recent hard times resulted in Mumford falling a little lower in the rankings.

SU routinely ranks in the Top 25 in FCS home attendance and unlike some HBCU fans; Jaguar fans are active and loud from the zero quarter to the fifth quarter.  The Human Jukebox, the Dancing Dolls, 20,000 plus screaming Louisianans all make Mumford a special place to call home.

SCSU’s Oliver C. Dawson

#4—South Carolina State’s Oliver C. Dawson Stadium

South Carolina State’s Dawson Stadium is one of the best places to catch an HBCU football contest.  The fun starts outside of the stadium at the MEAC’s best tailgate party.  Inside the stadium, you will find one of the most knowledgeable and loyal group of fans in the HBCU world.

Bulldog fans know when to inject life into the stadium; and when they do Dawson produces a “roar” that is as good as any in FCS football.  Oh by the way, the Bulldogs are 19-3 at Dawson over the last 5 years.  Pretty good huh?

#3—Florida A&M’s Bragg Memorial Stadium

If you call a Rattler fan arrogant or obnoxious, you’re more likely to receive a thank you than a rebuttal.  They are a deeply loyal and passionate bunch who don’t seem to have an issue reminding us all of the rich history of FAMU athletics.   On game day they’re extremely boisterous and fully engaged. 

 The fans alone provide enough of a boost to give FAMU a great home field advantage.  When you add in the Florida humidity and a 400+ piece band that has its own cult following into the equation, Bragg Stadium becomes all the  more difficult to tame.

Mississippi’s Veterans Memorial Stadium

In 1997, Jackson State set an NCAA FCS attendance record when they averaged 38,873 fans at home games.  JSU fans don’t show up just to be seen either.  They are loud, rowdy, and very much a part of the game.

The Sonic Boom is a high intensity, “aggressive” band that amplifies the already hostile environment of Mississippi’s Veterans Memorial.

Between the lines, Jackson State owns a .780 winning percentage at Veterans Memorial.  Many teams cannot sustain that type of excellence for a 5 year period.  JSU has been doing it since they began playing their home games at Veterans Memorial in October of 1967.

The combination of diehard fans, an “in your face” band, and a football history that is steeped in tradition makes Veterans Memorial worthy of receiving the #2 spot in our ranking.

The Dust Bowl

#1—Tuskegee’s Abbott Stadium

Tuskegee’s Abbott Stadium -affectionately known as “The Dust Bowl”- is one of the most unique places to play football in the country.  Abbott (originally called Alumni Stadium) was constructed in 1924 and was the first of its kind to be erected on an HBCU campus.  To give you some perspective regarding just how much history Abbott Stadium has seen, many of the Tuskegee Airmen were still running around in diapers when the Golden Tigers played their first game at Abbott against Atlanta University.  But age isn’t Abbot’s only unique characteristic.

Abbott is one of the only stadiums in the country in which the tailgate occurs inside the stadium (on the hillside). There is also a seemingly out of place barn roof (referred to as “The Shed”) standing over the home-side stands. But when you consider the stadium has no lights and that all home games kickoff at 1:00 in the afternoon, it makes sense to offer fans some sort of protection from the Alabama sun.  Players on the field are afforded no such luxury.  Not only is the playing surface hot, but the stadium’s design inhibits air from circulating freely, hence the term “The Dust Bowl”.

Tuskegee has been an absolute beast on the field.  The Golden Tigers own 8 Black College Football National Championships, 28 SIAC Championships, as well as the title of “The Winningest Team in HBCU History” with 630 victories.  More recently, Head Coach Willie Slater boasts a 25-3 home record at Abbot Stadium.

Now that you know how we feel, tell us what you think.  Choose your Top 3 HBCU home field advantages.  The poll closes the week of July 4th.

Hail Wildcats

Football: Lindy’s ranks BCU football #14 in its first Preseason Poll

We are roughly three months away from the start of the college football season.  This is right about the time when your favorite bookstore’s magazine section become inundated with college and professional football preview publications (which don’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but they are awfully fun to look at and to fuss over…but I digress).

Lindy’s was the first to release their preseason FCS Top 25 Poll earlier this week and the Cats debuted at #14 in Lindy’s rankings.  Two other HBCU’s joined BCU in Lindy’s  Top 25 rankings; Grambling State at #23 and Jackson State at #25.

The Cats open up the 2012 season against Alabama State in Orlando in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge on Sunday, September 2nd.