Most memorable Florida Classic Moments

In less than 24 hours, the Florida A&M Rattlers and Bethune-Cookman Wildcats will meet in the 33rd Florida Blue Florida Classic.  The contest has grown into one of the premier HBCU showcases attracting over one and half million fans since its inception in 1978.  The two teams have combined for eleven (11) conference titles during that same timeframe and have created many memorable moments in this annual showdown.

Players and coaches from both teams will surely seek to create their own magical Florida Classic moment when the two teams square off Saturday at 2:00 in the Citrus Bowl.  FAMU coach Earl Holmes, who is a former Rattler player, was asked about his favorite Florida Classic moment at today’s Kickoff Luncheon.  Coach Holmes replied “ask me that same question after tomorrow’s game”.  With that in mind, here are some of the most memorable Florida Classic moments.

Memorable Florida Classic Moments

1978 – Florida A&M trailed BCU 17-0 at halftime but rallied to a 27-17 victory.  Rudy Hubbard’s squad went on to win the 1-AA (now FCS) National Championship that season.

1994 – BCU QB Tony Kerrin connected with Morris Nobles on a 2 yard TD reception in the corner of the endzone to give the Wildcats a 27-24 lead with :47remaining in the contest.  BCU went on to win by the same margin and coach Cy McClairen earned his first victory over the Rattlers as a head coach.

2003 – Daytona Beach native and current Chicago Bear, Eric Weems, scored 3 touchdowns and helped the Wildcats rally from a 28-10 halftime deficit. The final touchdown was set up by a fake punt attempt on 4th and 17 with less than 2:00 remaining in the contest.  A FAMU player was flagged for pass interference on the fake punt and BCU was awarded an automatic first down.

Later in the drive quarterback Allen Suber avoided a sack, rolled to his right, and hit Weems who beat triple coverage just beyond the pylon with 9 seconds remaining in the game. BCU prevailed 39-35 in front of the largest crowd (73,358) in Florida Classic history.

2004 – Florida Classic fans were treated to the first overtime in the history of the series;  Wildcats fans were treated with a 58-52 win.

FAMU’s Ben Dougherty (QB) and Roosevelt Kiser (WR) had career days in that contest.  Midway through the third quarter, Dougherty connected with Kiser on a 66 yard TD reception and extended FAMU’s lead to 45-24.

Head coach Alvin Wyatt then made the decision to move former NFL All-Pro defensive back Nick Collins from safety to cornerback with the assignment of blanketing Kiser.  The move proved to be very effective for the maroon and gold.  The FAMU passing game was severely limited as a result of the coaching decision and the Wildcats outscored FAMU 34-7 from that point forward.  Rodney Johnson’s 15 yard touchdown run in overtime sealed the victory for BCU.

Coach Wyatt was so overcome with emotion that he fainted (due to dehydration) and had to be carted off by medical personnel.

Not only was the 2004 victory the first overtime win in Florida Classic history, it was also the first time that BCU secured three consecutive victories over its arch-rival.

Joe Taylor resigns immediately

Florida A&M head coach Joe Taylor has coached his final game for the Rattlers.  Taylor originally announced he would retire at the end of the season, but after meeting with FAMU athletic director Derek Horne on Wednesday, the legendary head coach decided to retire from the coaching ranks effective immediately.

Former FAMU standout and current defensive coordinator, Earl Homes, will serve as the interim head coach when the Rattlers face North Carolina Central for homecoming this week and in next week’s end of the season showdown against Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic.

Joe Taylor’s 233 career wins ranks him third all-time amongst HBCU coaches.  His .648 winning percentage during his FAMU tenure ranks him ahead of noteworthy FAMU coaches Rudy Hubbard (.630) and Ken Riley (.561); and virtually ties him with Billy Joe (.651).   Under his leadership, FAMU shared the 2010 MEAC conference crown with Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State; the Rattlers received recognition in 2009 for having the MEAC’s most significant APR improvement; the football program was stabilized after coming off of NCAA probation; and ESPN College Gameday broadcasted their first ever telecast from an HBCU campus.

Despite his on the field and off the field accomplishments in Tallahassee, Taylor never seemed to live up to the expectations of the Rattler faithful.  Taylor is 0-5 against FAMU’s historical rivals Howard, Southern, Tennessee State, and Bethune-Cookman since the middle of last season.  

I have no insight on the inner-workings of the FAMU athletic department, nor am I suggesting that coach Taylor was the best man to advance FAMU football.  Having said that, Joe Taylor is by all accounts a genuinely great man and he is a legendary HBCU football coach.  He earned the right to receive a more dignified ending to his illustrious career.  Unfortunately for him, he was not giving the honor to bow out gracefully.

Godspeed Coach Taylor.  Thank you for your contribution to HBCU football and for shaping the lives of hundreds of young men.