HBCU football started in 1892 and has been a staple of the southern region of the United States since the early 1900s. For many people, HBCU football was the equivalent of the Negro Leagues in baseball. The players and teams used to tour parts of the country to bring their talents and their games to displaced members of the southern Black community. This included places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Throughout the years of HBCU football, numerous players and coaches have been a part of the NFL. The HBCU programs also gave young African-American student-athletes the opportunity to earn their college degrees. This allowed them to enter the workforce and rise to executive levels in journalism, business, athletics, and the medical field. Without the HBCU athletic programs, those opportunities would have been lost.
HBCU football is known for their traditions and one of their most famous traditions is their bands. These bands do more then just play songs. They dance, they move, they provide music and in general they put on an entire show. This tradition first started in the 1940s through the work of Dr. William Foster. Dr. Foster was the Florida A&M Band Director, and it was his vision of entertainment that helped get this tradition started, although sadly, most HBCU schools will not give credit to Dr. Foster for his innovation.
Today, HBCU football continues to thrive despite the increase in the integration of African-American athletes playing at non-HBCU schools. A high level of talent remains at the HBCU schools and many continue to contribute to the success of their NFL teams.
One successful HBCU program, the Grambling State Tigers has helped set the bar for HBCU excellence. In 1942 Grambling was known as the “Un Team” in reference to their complete dominance. They went 8-0-0 and did not allow a single point to be scored against them. (They are the last NCAA team to accomplish this feat.) The very first HBCU player to get signed to a contract by the NFL came out of Grambling. His name was Paul “Tank” Younger, and he signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1949 for $6,000 as a free agent. Another successful program is Tuskegee University which holds the All-Time leader in victories with over 585 of them.
Notable players to come out of HBCU programs and go onto successful NFL careers are: Walter Payton (NFL Hall of Famer), Jerry Rice (NFL Hall of Famer), Michael Strahan (NFL Hall of Famer), Ken Houston (NFL Hall Of Fame Defensive Back), and Mel Blount (NFL Hall Of Fame Defensive Back).
The HBCU schools also have a strong tradition of bowl-game appearances including the Yam Bowl, Prairie View Bowl, Pelican Bowl, Pecan Bowl, and the Heritage Bowl. Today, many HBCU schools play in rivalry games attracting thousands of fans to the games. The games hold many traditions and for some rivalries, the popularity has led to the game being moved to large stadiums across the country. The HBCU Dream Bowl will look to build on these proud traditions and to help raise awareness for the HBCU student-athlete on and off the field.