HBCU Football History

On December 27, 1892, the journey to The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl and its trophy began when the first Black Intercollegiate football game was played between Biddle College (now Johnson C. Smith University) and Livingstone College. On the snowy front lawn of Livingstone College in North Carolina, the teams played for nothing more than the love of the game. The young women of Livingstone’s industrial department made the players’ uniforms and equipped their street shoes with cleats. The two teams put their money together to purchase a regulation football. The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl trophy is a symbol of the Heritage, Legacy, Pageantry and Tradition of HBCU football that was started on that day. The trophy commemorates the inaugural game, its players: J.W. Walker (captain), W.J. Trent (manager), R.J, Rencher, Henry Rives, C. N, Garland, J. R. Dillard, J.B.A. Yelverton, Wade Hampton, Charles H Patrick, and J.J. Taylor, F.H. Cummings, and those who continue the tradition of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) Football.

In 1976, Morgan State and Grambling State played in the first college football game outside the Western Hemisphere. ESPN’s The Undefeated recently wrote about this historic event – learn more here.

A total of 27 Pro Football Hall of Famers played their college football in the MEAC or SWAC. A full list can be found below.

MEAC

Marion Motley (South Carolina State) – 1968
Roosevelt Brown (Morgan State) – 1975
Len Ford (Morgan State) – 1976
David “Deacon” Jones (South Carolina State) – 1980
Willie Lanier (Morgan State) – 1986
Art Shell (Maryland Eastern Shore) – 1989
Larry Little (Bethune-Cookman) – 1993
Leroy Kelly (Morgan State) – 1994
Elvin Bethea (North Carolina A&T State) – 2003
Harry Carson (South Carolina State) – 2006
Bob Hayes (Florida A&M) – 2009
Shannon Sharpe (Savannah State) – 2011

SWAC

Deacon Jones (Mississippi Valley State) – 1980
Willie Davis (Grambling State) – 1981
Willie Brown (Grambling State) – 1984
Ken Houston (Prairie View A&M) – 1986
Mel Blount (Southern) – 1989
Buck Buchanan (Grambling State) – 1990
Lem Barney (Jackson State) – 1992
Walter Payton (Jackson State) -1993
Charlie Joiner (Grambling State) – 1996
Jackie Slater (Jackson State) – 2001
John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) – 2002
Emmitt Thomas (Bishop) – 2008
Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) – 2010
Michael Strahan (Texas Southern) – 2014
Aeneas Williams (Southern) – 2014