Wednesday, May 4, 2016

That time FAMU nearly made it in college football's top level, but the timing was all wrong

TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- You don't really know what the high point was until after the fact. You don't really know where the peak was until you've begun to come down.

With 16 years of hindsight, we can pinpoint Florida A&M's modern peak. On December 11, 1999, the Rattlers led Jim Tressel's Youngstown State by 11 points with eight minutes to go in the Division I-AA (now FCS) semifinals. They had the ball at the Penguins' 4. In that moment, the future was green and orange.

Under Jake Gaither from the end of World War II until 1969, the Rattlers were one of the two anchors of Black college football alongside Eddie Robinson's Grambling. Nine years after Gaither's retirement, under former Woody Hayes assistant Rudy Hubbard, they won the inaugural Division I-AA national title in 1978. They were storied and celebrated.

As with most of the HBCU universe, FAMU saw its talent level slide in the post-segregation era. After going 23-1 in 1977-78, they wouldn't win more than seven games in a season for nearly two decades.

Then Billy Joe showed up.


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