In four years, some say that’s just what the Ford Detroit Football Classic has become, a genuine football classic in the mold of down-South extravaganzas such as the Bayou Classic.
The Michigan Chronicle talked with Detroit-area folks who say they’ve been to virtually all the classic match-ups in the last few years. They helped us compile 10 reasons you don’t want to miss Flordia A&M vs. Delaware State, the 2006 edition of the Ford Detroit Football Classic.
Reason 10: Happy Feelings – The Post-Game Performance of Frankie Beverly & Maze — After the “Joy and Pain” of smash-mouth football, fans don’t have to budge from their seats. The excitement continues with Frankie Beverly & Maze. Detroiters can bask in tunes such as “Southern Girl” or “Mandela.” Maze in Detroit has always been a good fit, even before “Silky Soul,” the band’s tribute to Marvin Gaye.
Reason 9: People Watching – Folks who don’t care for football often participate in the time-honored sport of people watching. It’s just fun to see the extended-family view of Detroit. You’ll see mothers, fathers, grandparents and toddlers. Fraternities such as Omega Psi Phi or sororities such as Delta Sigma Theta will try to one-up rivals with steps, color-coded clothing or all-around coolness.
James McDonald III, a 1985 graduate of Howard University, said the game definitely feels like a reunion: “It’s a chance to renew friendships. At the first Classic, I saw friends I hadn’t seen since high school.”
Don’t be surprised by some fans stepping out in their Easter Sunday best or middle-aged men squeezing courageously into college gear they wore a bit more comfortably 20 years ago.
Reason 8: Ford Field – Take a bow, Detroit. Ford Field is considered one of the world’s top stadiums. The last Ford Field game before this one was a little spectacle called the Super Bowl. Most regulars say there’s not a bad seat in the house. For the Classic, the stadium undergoes a subtle, soulful makeover. The atmosphere winds up being part Black church, part funky pep rally and part back-slapping family reunion.
Reason 7: It’s the Economy, Man – OK, the Classic can’t duplicate the economic impact of the Super Bowl. But this game provides big-time economic muscle for a city that – let’s face it – can use all the money and good press it can get. Lennon Martin, who graduated from Tuskegee University in the 1970s, said he believes the economic gain for the city is great.
“There’s no doubt about it, people are spending money,” said Martin. “I also believe this is one of the safest times to be downtown. Everybody is just getting along and having fun.” Fans wind up spending money in restaurants, heading to the jazz festival or visiting casinos.
Reason 6: A Largely African American Detroit Should Have A Thriving Black College Classic – There are thriving Classic games in Indianapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, and more than two dozen other cities. Detroit, with its great venue (see reason #8) and large population with ties to Black colleges, needs to have a Classic event. It’s shocking that, for many years, one of the largest, Blackest cities in the U.S. – Detroit – didn’t sustain a long-running Classic.
Reason 5: FAMU and Delaware State Are Storied HBCUs – By almost any standard, Florida A&M University (FAMU) should be considered one of the most important Black colleges in the land. After all, Detroiter Jabari Prempeh – director of the Alumni Council of the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund – said FAMU has the largest single campus of any HBCU. He added that it awards more bachelor’s degrees to African Americans than any other college, and it has been touted as a top university in magazines ranging from U.S. News and World Report and Black Enterprise.
Delaware State may not have the name recognition of FAMU, Howard or Hampton universities, but it certainly shouldn’t be considered “Dela-where?” State. The Hornets have a sterling reputation of rising up and spanking bigger schools. It also is renowned for strong nursing and education programs.
Reason 4: Electrifying Football — It’s a cliché to say fans flock to these football games for something other than football. But don’t underestimate the football. Several pro players performed in the Detroit Football Classic. As if trying to upstage the bands, HBCU teams play high-energy, big-play football. Crunching backfield hits and jarring sideline pops draw more than a few “oohs and aahs” when viewed on Ford Field replay screens.
Reason #3: Youth Shall Be Served — The game is a great way – and, for some, the only way – to get a glimpse of HBCUs. Young people will see college students, graduates and opportunities. Marketing possibilities for the schools are unsurpassed, and most local alumni associations use the games to generate scholarship funds for deserving students. Alabama State, for example, raised thousands of dollars for students in its two Classic appearances, according to Midwest Alabama State Alumi Director Bertha Poe.
Reason 2: Black College History 101 — Delaware State and FAMU represent African American history and the story of Black colleges. Some say their struggles and triumphs should be encoded into every African American’s DNA, whether they went to an HBCU or not. Gloria McDonald, president of the Detroit chapter of the Howard University Alumni Association, said even those who attended non-HBCUS should realize they share in the history. They would not have had the opportunity to study elsewhere minus the foundation of HBCUs, she said.
“At one time, HBCUs trained virtually all the doctors, ministers, lawyers and other professionals,” said McDonald. “Black colleges are just so special. Of course, we know there’s the networking and the nurturing, but there’s so much more.”
Reason 1: Those Dramatic, Stadium-Rockin’ Bands – James McDonald summed up the reputation of the bands: “At the start of that first Ford Football Classic, the stadium was half full. As the game went on, it started to fill up. For half-time, the stands were absolutely full.”
These days, bands are adding oldies and even gospel to the mix.
FAMU graduate Prempeh says fans can get a sneak preview of the FAMU band practicing at Southfield High on Friday, Sept. 1, at 1 p.m.
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