South Beach is full of venom and tigers this Labor Day weekend.
The Florida A&M Rattlers and Jackson State Tigers are facing off in the long-awaited, resurrect- ed Orange Blossom Classic at the Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday in Miami Gardens. Kickoff is at 3 p.m.
The last time the teams played each other was in 2018, with Jackson State taking a 18-16 win over FAMU.
Not only is Sunday’s game the first Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) game for the season for both teams, it’s also FAMU’s first official game in the conference. FAMU officially left the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) last July. The Rattlers’ rival, Bethune-Cookman University, followed them shortly after.
“We are very excited about playing Florida A&M in the 2021 Orange Blossom Classic,” said Jackson State University Vice President and Director of Athletics Ashley Robinson in an official press release.
“It’s going to be a great way to officially welcome FAMU into the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Our student-athletes are going to love the experience of playing in Miami. This continues to prove that the Jackson State brand is amongst the strongest in the nation.”
43 years later
FAMU president Dr. Larry Robinson called the return to South Florida “fertile ground” for Rattlers.
“This marks our return to an area that has been a fertile ground for Florida A&M University. It’s been a major source for outstanding students and athletes coming to FAMU for many, many years,” said Robinson during a kickoff press conference in May about the game. “I believe this classic represents a tremendous opportunity, not just for Miami Gardens and South Florida, but for both institutions.”
Although it has been three years since the teams last played one another, the last game of the Orange Blossom Classic was in 1978. The classic started in 1933, when FAMU was looking to get more nationwide visibility in the football world, according to HBCU Gameday. Legendary FAMU head football Jake Gaither moved it to Miami in 1947.
FAMU head football coach Willie Simmons said, “Every game is a new game.”
‘It’s a celebration’
“We’re going to prepare this game to be our very best on Sept. 5,” Simmons said during the SWAC media day back in July. “That’s all we’re focused on and if we do that, we think we’ll be just fine. The past has no bearing on what we think will happen this coming season.”
On Jackson State’s side, head coach Deion Sanders (known as “Coach Prime’’) is equally ready for the showdown. And most importantly, showcasing HBCU football players, who normally might not get exposure.
“You’re going to see some draftable athletes, I promise you that,” the former Florida State University and NFL player said. “This is not just a game. It’s a celebration. It’s an opportunity for us to put our players on stage.”