MIAMI — If the crowd was any indication, it will be difficult to replicate Florida A&M’s influence on the Orange Blossom Classic.
A sea of orange and green filled most of the aqua seats at Hard Rock Stadium. Sounds of glee bounced off the walls any time the Rattlers made a big play. The drums of the Marching 100 boomed at every intermission.
The Rattlers played their last game at the Orange Blossom Classic on Sunday afternoon for the foreseeable future, beating the Jackson State Tigers 28-10. FAMU has been a large part of the OBC since its inception, anchoring the game for 45 consecutive seasons from 1933-78 as well as most recently since the classic returned in 2021. The loss of the FAMU, however, raises questions about the classic’s future, especially when many Rattlers say they won’t attend next year’s event.
“They need to cancel it,” FAMU alumnus Marcus Myrck said of the OBC. “Nobody from JSU came.”
It doesn’t appear that Sunday’s crowd didn’t quite match that of 2021 or 2022, which brought out roughly 36,000 fans and 40,000, respectively. At this point, the official attendance has not been released. The vast majority, however, appeared to be Rattlers fans. Granted, Tallahassee is a lot closer than Jackson, Mississippi, and Deion Sanders’ departure to coach the University of Colorado likely had something to do with the lack of JSU fans, but there’s still something to be said about school pride, said FAMU graduate Ciara Carr.
“Now that he’s gone,” she explained, “it’s like y’all not gone support your school anymore?”
Carr added that she won’t attend the OBC in 2024 because her Rattlers weren’t playing. Asked what will be lost with FAMU’s absence, she said the entire culture will be different.
“Look at our side versus their side,” she quipped at the start of the third quarter with the score 28-0.
Not everyone agreed that FAMU’s absence will mean the end of the OBC. Cynthia Wimberly, who has one daughter at FAMU and another at Bethune-Cookman University, said she would still attend the classic. She recommended replacing FAMU with another Florida HBCU like B-CU or Edward Waters.
“I don’t think Miami should let it go,” Wimberly said. “I think you got just as many Wildcats here and because it’s the first one, you might get some old heads who will want to come out and support.”
Still, the reality is FAMU is by far the biggest HBCU in Florida. More than 10,000 students currently attend FAMU, according to its website. Estimates of B-CU’s student population vary but the spring 2023 enrollment report puts the number around 2,400. The latest data from Edward Waters estimates their student population to be just more than 1,100. Edward Waters is also Division II while FAMU, Jackson State and other Southwestern Athletic Conference schools are Football Champisonship Subdivision schools. In other words, replacing FAMU will not be easy.
“In terms of the amount of students that go to the school, nothing will replicate” said FAMU grad Navael Fontus. “Ain’t nothing topping us.”
“We’re moving forward,” Bulluck-Major told Sports Illustrated in July. “ The Orange Blossom Classic is here to stay, and we’re excited about what the future holds… There will be schools they’re going to be pleased with. Schools that we know travel well and have a good following. I believe we’ll be good.”