While it took 40 years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to admit Ken Riley, it took less than a year for a proposal from Florida A&M VP/AD Tiffani-Dawn Sykes to be approved by the FAMU Board of Trustees allowing the field at Bragg Memorial Stadium to be named after the legend.
Saturday’s game against the University of West Florida was the first played in the facility with its new moniker. Where the Rattlers play is now officially Ken Riley Field at Bragg Memorial Stadium. The depth to the naming might even escape those responsible for actually approving it.
Jubie Bragg was a pioneer in HBCU athletics. He graduated from Tuskegee and spent his life fostering athletics programs at the existing black colleges. Starting in the early 1900s, he was appointed athletics director at Florida A&M, though FAMU had no intercollegiate sports and only a few intramural sports.
He would be head football coach at FAMU. He had an affinity for young men and women playing sports and had a special drive for tennis. He is known to have taught the game to both men and women and was one of the few black people in the world with a tennis court in his yard. He would leave to help stabilize Jackson State University’s football program and return to end his career as FAMU football coach. Bragg Stadium bears the name of one of the most historic figures for the development and growth of HBCU football.
Riley was a player from 1965-1968 for Jake Gaither. He was a three-time SIAC Champion, leading the team as quarterback. He would then embark on a 15-year journey in the NFL. He played all seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals, where upon retirement, he ranked fourth in interceptions and still ranks fifth today. He was finally enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton in August.
As a FAMUan, he did about as much as one individual could. He was a Rhodes Scholar nominee for his academic excellence. He was an All-SIAC player. After playing professionally, he came back to FAMU in 1986 and in 1988 he would win FAMU’s first MEAC Championship. He later became athletics director where he accelerated FAMU athletics. While he was AD, the Florida Classic grew to its peak of 73,000 patrons. No other individual can match what Riley did at FAMU from start to finish.
Riley’s family carries the baton of his legacy at Florida A&M and beyond
His wife of 51 years, his sons and daughters and a host of family members came to campus for the special event. FAMU President Dr. Larry Robinson held a private reception for the family on the night before the game and a pre-game reception for them at the Lawson Center. At pregame, the official announcement of the naming of the field took place. To top that off, Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey, who was at the game, presented a proclamation deeming Sat. Sept. 16, 2023 as Ken Riley Day in Tallahassee.
FAMU head coach Willie Simmons stayed out with the family in pregame to ensure that his respect for Riley was noted. In his postgame speech, he acknowledged Riley. “A very exciting time here to win a game at home, but more importantly to win our first-ever game on Ken Riley Field,” Simmons said. “This week of emotions was a lot for me personally. As a head coach I am trying to honor Ken the best way possible, what he meant to this program. Not only as a player, but as a coach and also as an athletic director and just an overall ambassador. We definitely wanted to honor him the right way.”
Florida A&M would shake off a sluggish first half, tied 3-3 with UWF to score 28 points in the second half for the 31-10 victory. The Rattlers move to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the SWAC eastern division. This week will be another major test for the Rattlers as the Hornets of Alabama State come into Tallahassee. The game will be Florida A&M Sports Hall of Fame weekend with a 6:00PM kickoff.