While the city of Miami is preparing to host the Boston Celtics as the Miami Heat try to make it to the NBA Finals, The Jackson State Tigers and Florida A&M Rattlers were in Miami Gardens with the first press conference of the 2023 football season for the Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic.
The past two seasons, the winner of the game has determined both the SWAC Eastern Division champion and the SWAC overall champion with neither team losing another SWAC game between them during that time. Jackson State lumbered to a 7-6 win over the Rattlers in 2021 and blew out the Rattlers in 2022 to the tune of 59-3.
FAMU coach Willie Simmons and Jackson State football coach T.C. Taylor sat side-by-side and gave their outlooks for the season opener. Both stressed the importance of the interior line and the management of the excessive Florida heat in Hard Rock Stadium.
Jackson State football looks to keep the ball rolling
Temperatures for the visiting team’s sideline are up to 20-30 degrees hotter than the home team. The direct Florida heat, which neither team experienced in 2021 as it was a rainy day, left many players dehydrated and brought on cramps last year. Both coaches talked about the seriousness of managing hydration and the importance of depth in establishing a rotation of players.
Taylor is entering his first season as the Jackson State football coach after the departure of Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders. A former JSU player and highly successful coach in his own right, Taylor will be embarking on his first tour as head coach of the Tigers. It’s not something new to him as he has had success thus far in his career and has prepared to step into the expectations not only set by Coach Prime, but by the Jackson State alumni. He is well aware of the importance placed on the Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic.
“This game has huge ramifications and a lot of eyes are on that game in September,” Taylor said. “To me being part of this game for the last couple of years, it makes a lot of students, guys and gals that play the game say it’s okay to come to HBCUs. When they see this game and see the quality that FAMU and Jackson State is putting on the field, it makes it okay.”
Simmons is entering his fifth season in six years with the Rattlers. He went 6-5 in his first season taking over at FAMU, but has won nine games each of his subsequent seasons, with 2020 being a wash because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A classic that dates back to the 1930s
“It’s been stated time and time again how important this game is for the City of Miami Gardens, for South Florida, these respective HBCUs and HBCUs across this country,” Simmons said. “ As a product of HBCU grads, I know what an HBCU education can do. A lot of this focus is obviously on the football game, and we’ve talked about the ramifications of this game. The last two years the winner of this game has gone on to represent the SWAC in the Celebration Bowl. Unfortunately, that has not been Florida A&M. but those have been the only losses over the last two years in conference. Once again it’s a huge game…two great football teams, two great fanbases, two great bands, two great institutions overall and what better place to showcase everything that is black excellence than Miami Gardens over at Hard Rock Stadium.”
The showdown in the Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic is a return to one of the largest cultural events in the entire country. Founded in 1933, the first Orange Blossom Classic was played between the top colleges in HBCU football and annually constituted the Black National Championship in many circles. While the location moved, Miami’s Orange Bowl Stadium in Coral Gables, FL was the most consistent site.
Upon the reinvention and reinvigorating of the OBC in 2020, the event has returned several of the traditions previously hosted around the event. Most particularly is the Orange Blossom Classic Parade. Traditionally, the parade went through Liberty City and Overtown. The Florida A&M Marching “100” and the visiting team’s band would participate in a grand event which was an enormous part of black culture. Several alumni will admit that it was seeing the Marching “100” march down the streets of Miami that convinced them to choose the university.
Not to be outdone, Jackson State’s “Sonic Boom of the South” has been making their presence known in the OBC reboot. With the most animated drum majors in all of HBCU land, they lead in while the band bellows behind them. Complete with a Battle of the Bands and an unforgettable halftime show, the Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic has revived a classic forum for the promotion of HBCUs, while pumping much needed dollars into participating institutions. This year’s Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic is slated for Sunday, Sept. 3.
For more information on the Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic, please visit www.OrangeblossomClassic.com.