Cover Story: Historic college football game

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Counting down the hours until a game that carries a 117-year rivalry.  The Livingstone Blue Bears in Salisbury taking on Johnson C-Smith's Golden Bulls.  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson explains how these two black colleges are taking their history in North Carolina...and pushing it to the national level.

The first time these two teams faced off.... 18-92.  They've played some games since then.

But Saturday, a big piece of history is about to play out.  And it could also have a great impact on their future.

It's the granddaddy of black college football games.. Livingstone and JCSU.

And as organizers like to say-- were it not for these two.. there would be no other black college football games.

It starts with the painting of the field.. getting it ready to play America's favorite pastime.

But you might be surprised to know some of the history of the game we all celebrate.. can be traced to here.

To a tiny college campus in Salisbury.. Livingstone College.

"I want to describe it as The Classic. There are other classics but without this contest there would be no other classics," says Livingstone College's State Alexander.

The marker in front of the college says it all.

On this spot.. on a snowy day two days after Christmas in 1892.. was played the first black college football game in the nation.

Livingstone and Charlotte's Johnson C. Smith University.. then called as Biddle College.

The game-- called the Commemorative Classic.

Featured as the starting point of a book that traces the history of black college football written by nationally known sportswriter and author Michael Hurd.

"Before Biddle and Livingston no there were no black colleges participating in college football," says Hurd.

Hurd.. who is the foremost authority on the subject says black colleges.. born in the late 1800s after the Emancipation.. were intent on educating.. not sports.

It would be almost 25 years after Princeton met Rutgers.. the first intercollegiate football game in 1869.. before black colleges would take up football.. and to think it began here and now the game is just a part of it.

"It's part fashion show you know. It's part R & B concert because of the bands. It's part church.. but it's family."

And the tradition continues here this weekend.

Harold Thomas Livingstone College Class of 1958.   He says, "It's a big game. I just hope we win because it's here. And I hope people will attend the game because it is worthwhile. It's good to have a rivalry."

Livingstone and Johnson C. Smith's history.. while it goes back 117 years.. not every year they've played against each other.

But now recognizing the history.. the two schools are committed to embracing the tradition.

"We're going to continue this Classic year after year. And build upon it so that it becomes a major national event," says State Alexander.

The Commemorative Classic is Saturday afternoon at one o'clock at Livingstone College in Salisbury.

Next year the Classic moves to the 20-thousand seat Memorial Stadium here in Charlotte.

Bigger venue.. and organizers hope a bigger event..

Recall their first meeting.. two days after Christmas in the snow?

That was more by necessity than any other thing.

Livingstone kids.. it was said.. couldn't afford to leave campus during the Christmas break.. so they organized a football game to have something to do.

Final score.. 5-to-0.  Touchdowns were worth 4 points.