|The return of the Marching 100 highlighted the night annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge. (NKeshi Free photo)|
ORLANDO-Years from now, the boxcore will say that Florida A&M University (FAMU) beat the Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) 27-10 in the MEAC SWAC Challenge. But that boxscore only tells part of the story of what was a weekend to remember.
Mississippi Valley State represented the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the FAMU represented for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). It was the third meeting between the schools, the first time that MVSU participated in the Challenge and the second time for FAMU.
While this was the ninth year of the challenge, there was an extra buzz in the air in 2013. This year marked the return of FAMU’s legendary band “The Marching 100.” The band emerged from a nearly two year hiatus in the wake of the Robert Champion tragedy. The FAMU faithful were on hand to welcome back the band.
Leading up to the excitement of Sunday’s game, Disney coordinated a complete line-up of activities for the entire weekend. The events were designed to educate, create awareness about the value and culture of HBCUs and celebrate individuals from each conference who have achieved excellence, while providing the family fun for which Disney is legendary.
Friday started off with the High School Career panel and the welcome reception/Kick-off Banquet with the presentation of the Walter Payton Achievement Award. FAMU defensive back Jonathan Pillow and Mississippi Valley State defensive back Kevin Eugene were the two recepients. The award, of course, is named Walter Payton, the second-leading rusher in NFL history and a alumnus of the SWAC’s Jackson State University. The reception was hosted by ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemelle Hill of the His & Hers Podcast. Afterward the players had a brief moment to have fun and let loose.
While the players were at the reception, the FAMU fans started arriving in the city. There was a faint buzz as Rattler Nation grew in numbers. Orange and Green flooded the streets and bars of Orlando. On Saturday the heat began to rise as Valley Nation descended on Orlando. The energy and excitement could be felt at the Pep Rally held in downtown Disney. When both bands stepped out the crowds went wild. The cheerleaders and bands showcased a small sample of what game attendees could expect on game day.
Out and about in the city, Valley fans were proudly displaying their horns and pitch forks and Rattlers car flags were flying everywhere. There was good-natured trash talking on both sides, both over the game and the halftime show. The famed battle of the bands is when each college showcases their best moves, best music selection, marching arrangement and the infamous female. For the MVSU they are called the “Satin Dolls” while the FAMU chooses to forgo a female dance line.
Sunday’s festivities kicked off in true HBCU fashion, with a tailgate. The Heart and Soul Tailgate pre-game party, to be exact. Each school had their own tent for alumni and friends to gather, reconnect and fellowship. In addition to the schools were various vendors selling shirts to promote the game, schools and fraternities and sororities as well. The smell of down home Southern cooking filled the air. Fried fish, french fries and various other grilled meats filled plates as far as the eyes could see.
When the bands arrived on the buses a roar went through the crowd of tailgaters, similar to waiting for the last school bell to ring in anticipation of a summer. The cheers and yells rose from the stands, and fell like a tide until the FAMU band played the National Anthem.
Then, it was gametime.
FAMU scored first putting a quick 7 points on the board. Valley attempted to responded with a score of its own, but was stopped short on fourth-and-goal. That stop seemed to take some of the confidence out of the Devils especially after a nice interception resulted in punting the ball back to FAMU. The Rattlers had a few mistakes of their own, including a missed field goal, but went into the halftime with a 20-0 lead.
Then came the moment for which everyone was waiting-The Battle of the Bands. MVSU performed their signature move to spell out the school’s letters M.V.S.U. and the school’s fight song, “Devil’s Gun” while the Satin Dolls gave the crowd plenty to admire.
Then the 100 took the field. They started off with a request for a moment of silence in honor of all those who were lost or victims of hazing and asked everyone to work together to eradicate hazing. The crowd was on its feet and many in the stands moved to tears watching the band perform. In homage to Disney, the band performed the “Mickey Mouse Club Theme Song” and created the famous Disney logo of Mickey’s image.
The Marching 100’s triumphant return was a chance for many to start the healing process and as was oft mentioned the start of a new era at FAMU. While FAMU would eventually win the game, both schools and conferences came out as winners.