The Florida A&M and Southern rivalry goes back years, but in terms of the combined strength of their programs and national prominence, the late 1990s might take the cake.
HBCU Gameday interviewed three of FAMU’s famed RAC Boys as part of the lead up to Wali Pitt’s “The Original Gulf Coast Offense: The Mad Bomber and the RAC Boys,” a documentary on the HBCU Gameday platform. Jacquay Nunnally, Cannion Lamb and Demetrious Bendross spent over an hour with the Gameday crew talking about their time at FAMU, including the rivalry with SU.
“The whole thing about pride and being the best black college…It’s a pride thing,” Cannion Lamb told us.
Starting in the 1995 season both Southern and FAMU were at or near the top of black college football for almost the rest of the decade. Each time they matched up, usually in late November, there was much buildup and anticipation. And for good reason as the buildup to the games and atmoshpere around them were just as good as the players and coaches who put on a show for fans in Baton Rouge and Tallahassee as well as Atlanta.
1995: Southern Sweep
FAMU and Southern came into their Nov. 4 matchup ranked no. 1 and no. 2 respectively in Black College Football. The game was played in the old Georgia Dome and it set the tone for the new era of this then-50 year old rivalry led by coaches Pete Richardson of Southern and Billy Joe of FAMU.
This game is often considered the birth of Billy Joe’s Gulf Coast Offense, mainly out of necessity. Southern came out of the gate strong with a 21-7 lead early, leading Joe to put in Mario Allen at quarterback. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns, helping the Rattlers tie the game at 28 at halftime and keeping things knotted in the third quarter. Southern was just too much, though as an Allen interception helped close the lid on the Rattlers hopes for that game in a 52-38 win for the Jaguars.
But there would be another matchup between the two teams. This was the era of the Heritage Bowl, where the SWAC champ and a MEAC representative (usually its second-place team as the winner took on the playoff bids most years) met up in Atlanta for a game that generally decided the “mythical black college national title.” Basically it was the Celebration Bowl before the Celebration Bowl.
FAMU badly wanted another piece of Southern, and it made no attempt to hide it.
“We may meet Southern again in the same place,” star receiver Robert Wilson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I want Southern again.”
And that’s just what Wilson and Co. got.
The two teams met again on Dec. 29, 1995. Southern’s senior quarterback Eric Randall completed a decorated career with a solid win over FAMU as his team once-again withstood a furious late comeback attempt from Mario Allen and Earl Holmes’ Rattlers to claim a 30-25 win.
“We came here a couple of years ago and there was some debate about who was No. 1,” Pete Richardson said. “There’s no doubt now.”
At least not until the next season.
1996: Almost Made For TV
FAMU entered the game 7-1 overall, fresh off an 83-21 win over Morgan State. Southern came in to the game 5-3 and one of the worst passing games in the SWAC. All signs pointed to a FAMU win even though it had to travel to Mumford.
The game was supposed to be televised, but a conflict between ABC and Southern AD Marino Casem kept it off the air. ABC went on to cancel its contract with the MEAC and SWAC.
The TV audience missed out on an entertaining game. Oteman Sampson threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns, but it was not enough to end FAMU’s skid to their SWAC rival. His counterpart, Marcus Jacoby, had a big game to lead SU to a 21-17 upset of FAMU. Jacoby was the first white quarterback in Southern’s history.
1997: An Unexpected Easy Homecoming Win
Usually a homecoming opponent is someone you expect to beat rather easily, or at least that’s what many people think it should be. Florida A&M decided to take the opposite route, inviting SU to Bragg for its big game.
“No coach likes to play a tough homecoming game,” Billy Joe told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I don’t know one coach that would love that situation. I’m in that class as well. I would love to have an easy homecoming game.”
The Jaguars came into the game a perfect 8-0 thanks to its run offense (280 yards per game) and run defense (78 yards allowed per game). It was rated as the fifth best team in Division I-AA football. FAMU was a solid 6-2, but again the home team found itself to be the underdog.
And once again, the home team pulled off a suprising win, and this time it wasn’t even close. FAMU gripped the game from the start and never let go, coming up with a 33-3 win. Sampson stepped up big time with a 370 yard, three touchdown performance to take down the previously unbeaten Jags in front of 33,441 fans. Freshman Jaquay Nunnally caught all three TDs.
1998: The Shootout at Mumford
FAMU 50, Southern 48
This game might have been the climax of the rivalry between the Jaguars and Rattlers.
The game was back-and-forth action from the Zero Quarter (when the bands arrived) until the end of the Fifth Quarter as the Marching 100 and the Human Jukebox were in their prime just as their correllating football teams, both of which were fighting for conference titles and the postseason.
Pat Bonner and the RAC Boys came into that game on a roll, racking up prolific numbers at record-breaking pace. That Saturday in Baton Rouge was no different as he threw for 469 yards and three touchdowns. But it was a 10 yard pass from Bonner to Cedric Benson that set up Juan Toro’s game-winning field goal.
I could write more on the game, but just watch “The Original Gulf Coast Offense: The Mad Bomber and The RAC Boys,” and keep it moving.
Watch Out For Part III of our FAMU-SU Series: “The Embarassment Game.”