Morehouse's quarterback Byron Ingram, left, is sacked by Howard's defender Corey Berry in the 2011 AT&T Nation's Football Classic at RFK Stadium. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“Last year’s victory over Morehouse was a huge win for us and was a catalyst for a great season for us,” Howard head football coach Gary Harrell told “With this year’s Classic being the season opener for both teams, the energy and level of play is going to be that more intense.”

The 2011 Nation’s Football Classic – the first meeting between Morehouse and Howard in 14 years – left Morehouse’s Maroon Tigers with something to prove. Howard defeated Morehouse on the field and at the podium. They won the football game, 30-27, and crushed Morehouse in the inaugural Mordecai Wyatt Johnson – Benjamin E. Mays Student Debate, or “The Game Before the Game

“Every win gives us a little more confidence,” said Rodney Hill, a senior defensive lineman from Reading, Pa. This is his fourth year playing for Howard.

“With this game being the first game of the season, we need to win it so we build momentum,” Hill said. “Right after we play Morehouse we play Rutgers, and we need all of the momentum we can get.”

After defeating Morehouse at last year’s classic, Howard went on to win its homecoming game against another longstanding rival, North Carolina A&T University, and defeated Hampton University in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game shortly afterward. This last accomplishment was significant as the Howard-Hampton “Who is the real HU?” beef is intense.

That relationship is a sharp contrast to the friendly rivalry between Howard and Morehouse/Spelman College. It runs deep, mainly because the schools are often compared to one another. Both are popular historically black schools in predominately black cities and tote long lists of notable alumni, and the students and alumni take pride in being considered the best.

“It’s very important for us to win any game, but this one is the Nation’s Classic, so it’s special,” Hill said. “We just have to go out there and play our hardest so that we can come out with a win against them. These two schools are the cream of the crop, and it’s another chance to prove our dominance over them.”  

Last year, that need to prove whose school is best resulted in the Nation’s Classic Football Trash Talk Facebook page. Initially, it was a chance for students and alumni to show a little school pride and do some harmless trash talking in the process, but soon things got ugly. The more popular the page got, the more toxic the comments became.

This year, things are calm – for now. There’s a little lighthearted banter on the official Nation’s Classic Facebook page, but nothing more than “Go Howard!” and “Maroon Tigers bout to chow down on some Bison!”

Other events surrounding this year’s game include the AT&T Kickoff Rally at the 9:30 Club, an HBCU alumni mixer and a fan festival sponsored by AT&T and Pepsi. There also will be a presidential symposium Thursday at Howard’s Blackburn Center. The event will focus on youth voter participation; science, technology, engineering and math jobs; and interpersonal relationships.


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