I'm talking about the Classic, specifically The Florida Classic, fought between Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) and Bethune-Cookman University (BCU). The game's held in the Citrus Bowl stadium in Orlando the weekend before Thanksgiving, and there's a great deal of pride and bragging rights as the prize to be contested over by these two historically black colleges.
Back in 2001, a coworker challenged me to go to the Classic, joking that I'd be the only white person there. Not being one to resist a challenge like that, I immediately went online and bought the last available ticket. To give you an idea of where I sat that night, I was in Row GG, and there is no Row HH (if you want to sit higher, rent a blimp).
But the place was packed to capacity (70,000+), and I thoroughly enjoyed the party; the tailgating all around the stadium, the great food, the game (fought with a great deal of passion), and the rivalry between the two schools' bands, FAMU's Marching 100 and BCU's Marching Wildcats.
I've tried my hardest to be at every game since then.
This year marked the third year in a row for me, and this time I decided to do the thing right. Rather than drive there (two hours in traffic) and drive back afterward (three hours in traffic), I rented a hotel room within walking distance of the stadium, and enjoyed my weekend.
On game day I started off, shrugging away advice that the neighborhood wasn't safe. Not safe? The place was crawling with police, and the general sense of good-fellowship and bonhomie is such that I had nothing to fear. I smiled and waved at FAMU fans (their team's the Rattlers, and I have a thing for snakes), and waved at the Wildcats fans.
It isn't every day you see people showing up in evening gowns and suits for a football game, but a lot of people want to give the event a sense of occasion.
My seat was in the southeast corner, in a direct line with the south goal line and high enough that I could see the whole field without getting a nosebleed. Having forgotten a hat, I bought a FAMU ball cap along with the obligatory T-shirt (I have a good collection of Classic T-shirts now).
And now, the bad news ...
FAMU couldn't seem to do much right; after one particularly good runback after a kickoff, the ball carrier decided to reach for that last little bit of yardage, and fumbled the ball away. Four turnovers on the night, and BCU went on to win the game, 34-7. One guy outside the stadium afterward asked me how the game was (a lot of people can't get in, so they're there to party outside).
I told him it was like chewing my own foot off.
But I'll go again next year. FAMU's Marching 100 will be performing at the Super Bowl next year, and Orlando was estimating that this one weekend pumped about $30 million into the city economy.
Better luck next year, FAMU! Go Rattlers!