The Florida A&M Rattlers and Alabama State Hornets have played 42 times and you won’t believe the series record. FAMU’s 23-10 win over the Hornets evened the series record at 20-20-2. It doesn’t get any more parallel than that. ASU and FAMU first met in 1909, some 114 years ago. It was early in the turn of the 20th century.
Most of the battles occurred while the teams were in Division II, with Alabama State and FAMU being in the SIAC. When the teams both moved up to I-AA in 1978, they played less frequently as the Rattlers moved to the MEAC, allowing for fewer opportunities to play.
The thrilling game at Bragg Stadium on Saturday was the epitome of not only HBCU football but college football at its best. Many Alabama State fans made the short trip to Tallahassee in force. Last year, a large FAMU contingent traveled to Montgomery for another thrilling game that came down to the wire. The distance between Montgomery, AL, and Tallahassee, FL is just 211 miles. That underscores FAMU’s move to the SWAC to save on travel costs. Previously the closest school to FAMU was Daytona Beach, FL (Bethune-Cookman) at 256 miles. Though B-CU will always be FAMU’s arch-rival, the FAMU vs ASU game is gaining momentum to be the next biggest thing.
The game was a near sellout crowd
Ken Riley Field at Bragg Memorial Stadium was near capacity as the Hornets and Rattlers squared off with SWAC Eastern Division ramifications on the line. With the game in the balance until the final seconds, not a soul left the stadium until the final horn. The outcome was not really determined until with 3:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, FAMU linebacker Isaiah Major picked off a pass and rumbled into the end zone.
The short distance also allows another key feature in the HBCU realm to be a part of the activities. The ASU Marching Band was in full force for the halftime battle against the Marching “100.” It was as electric a halftime as you will see. Both bands getting after it, the formations, the dances…the world-famous “ Honeybees.” The game presented much to cheer for.
The coaches recognize the importance of the rivalry
While head coaches Eddie Robinson Jr. (ASU) and Willie Simmons (FAMU) both have much respect for each other, there is no doubt that they each understand the importance of the rivalry game.
“It’s gonna be a great rivalry. The schools are not too far apart, so it’s something that we got to keep working at. We gotta get a ‘W’ to make it a real rivalry,” Robinson said.
FAMU’s Simmons echoed the sentiment. “I try to be as politically correct as I can in many situations, but when the (SWAC) commissioner (McClelland) walks up and says, hey, this is the conference championship here you know, coach Robinson and I obviously have a lot of respect for one another. But, we know the magnitude of the game. Whoever wins this game, it really has a two-game lead in the division,” Simmons said.
Both teams were ranked in the Top 3 of the SWAC Eastern Division
In the preseason polls, the Rattlers were picked to win the Eastern division followed by Jackson State and ASU. This could set a precedence for the importance of the games annually if the teams are predicted to be in the upper ranks of the division. In essence, while it is one of the most visually appealing games, it also has conference standings advantages or consequences depending on which side of the coin you are on.
With FAMU’s entry into the SWAC in 2021 and the ability to rejuvenate a natural geographical rivalry between ASU and FAMU, it means a boost in the importance and relevance of the matchup. Alabama State’s in-state. Rival of Alabama A&M will never be replaced. FAMU’s in-state rival of B-CU won’t wither. But, a bonus rivalry that is picking up steam is when the Rattlers face the Hornets.