By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The historical significance of the football game played between Livingstone College and Johnson C. Smith University on Dec. 27, 1892 cannot be overstated and should never be forgotten, WBTV anchor Steve Crump said Friday night.
Crump, an award-winning journalist who has earned six Emmys and is known as much for his documentaries as he is for being a television news anchor, gave the keynote address during The Commemorative Classic Hall of Fame Banquet in Grimes Lounge on the JCSU campus.
The Commemorative Classic game is being played at 4 p.m. today in Memorial Stadium.
Crump spent the latter part of his speech Friday reading headlines – some from as far back as 1926 – about the 1892 game that gave birth to Black College Football. Most of them were from African-American newspapers like The Chicago Defender, but the last one he read was from The Washington Post and said, “Classic Honors Pioneers of Negro Football.”
Crump, who has interviewed Muhammad Ali and covered Super Bowls, The NBA Finals, The Final Four and The Kentucky Derby, said he doubts famous sports analysts like ESPN’s Chris Berman or Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw even know about The Commemorative Classic.
But he said Black College Football has grown into big business, in large part because of the first game played between Livingstone and Smith. To illustrate his point, Crump referenced The Bayou Classic, the annual contest between Grambling State University and Southern University that’s always played the Saturday after Thanksgiving in the Louisiana Superdome. Last year the event drew more than 200,000 fans and pumped an estimated $30 million into the region’s economy, Crump said.
“Despite all of the fanfare and press attention of other classics, we celebrate the reality that it started right here with these two schools,” he said.
Crump challenged the players from both teams to never lose sight of why they’re in college. A Louisville, Ky., native, Crump said he’s a huge Kentucky Wildcats fan but thinks the media missed the story a few years ago with respect to the team.
“Much was said, written and reported when Coach John Calipari bragged to the media that four of his kids would leave early for the NBA draft,” Crump said. “There were lots of headlines, but a key point missing in all of that bravado was the fact that four young African-American men would exit school without getting their college degrees. Now we’ve seen people like Isaiah Thomas and Shaquille O’Neal who return and finish their academic requirements, but in far too many cases once they’re gone from campus they just don’t go back.”
Crump finished his speech by saying he hopes the people in attendance at today’s game realize they’re “watching more than a game. They should realize they’re part of an American sports legacy.”
Before Crump’s speech, Livingstone Coach Daryl Williams acknowledged the Blue Bears haven’t had a winning season in more than a decade but said the squad plans to reverse that trend beginning today.
“We want to start defying the odds by running the race much faster than we ever have before,” said Williams. “I thank our players for buying into the system we have and for respecting the process, and I thank my coaches for their support.”
After Williams spoke, Johnson C. Smith Coach Steve Aycock said he and Williams are proud to be part of the legacy spawned in 1892. “I take my hat off to Coach Williams and his staff for trying to turn the program around at Livingstone,” Aycock said. “This is an opportunity for JCSU’s football team to turn the corner this year. This year we’re looking to do bigger and better things.”
After Aycock spoke, Reginald Beam of Coca Cola Consolidated gave out “1st In Excellence” Student-Athlete awards to Kenneth White and Andrew Alexander. White, of Livingstone, has a 3.5 GPA. Alexander, of JCSU, has a 3.9 GPA.
After the student-athlete awards and Crump’s speech, Alfred “The Great” Tyler and Tim “The Human Bomb” Beamer were inducted into the Hall of Fame for Livingstone and JCSU, respectively.
Tyler played quarterback for the Blue Bears and in 1966 led the nation’s small colleges in passing, throwing for 2,499 yards and 29 touchdowns. He is Livingstone’s all-time leading passer with 4,630 yards, and his 54 passing touchdowns are a school record. Beamer was a running back for the Golden Bulls and in 1970 during his junior season he played all 10 games, rushed for 790 yards off 142 carries and caught 35 passes for 745 yards and eight touchdowns.
Closing remarks were given by Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr., who thanked Crump for the history lesson, and Dr. Elfred Anthony Pinkard, executive vice president and CEO of Johnson C. Smith University, who reminded everyone the contest between Livingstone and Smith is more than just a game.