HBCU greats laud the Celebration Bowl

When Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams says a game has the potential to be big, people tend to listen.

So it was a strong endorsement when Williams, a Grambling State legend, declared the recently announced Celebration Bowl to be “one of the best things that could happen to historically black colleges.”

In the historic first Celebration Bowl on Dec. 19, the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) — both Division I black college conferences — will face off in a contest to determine a national black college champion. The inaugural game will be televised by ESPN live from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, joining the annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney, held on Labor Day weekend each year in Orlando, Fla., as a nationally televised HBCU football game.

“I certainly think the game is good for black colleges as a whole, from an athletic side [and a] publicity side, and to give historically black colleges something to hold onto,” said Williams, now a personnel executive for the Washington Redskins.

Williams, a former All-America quarterback at Grambling, played for the late Eddie Robinson from 1974 to 1978. After an 11-year NFL career, during which he led the Washington Redskins to a 1988 Super Bowl victory and won the MVP award, Williams had two coaching stints at GSU, taking over as Grambling’s head coach in 1998, when Robinson retired with a career 408 wins. Williams was honored as a MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legend in 2010, along with author Omar Tyree (Howard), U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Zeita Merchant (Tougaloo), Kellogg's Senior Vice President of Global Nutrition/Corporate Affairs Celeste Clark (Southern) and former NFL linebacker Robert Brazile (Jackson State).

Williams isn’t alone in his belief that the Celebration Bowl can make great waves for black colleges. Robert Porcher, another HBCU legend, believes that the new postseason bowl will increase the visibility of black college football programs. Porcher himself has vivid memories of the Heritage Bowl, played from 1991to 1999 featuring the MEAC and SWAC facing off at the end of the regular season.

“It’s good to see the conferences playing again for the championship,” said Porcher, who added that the national attention will also help with recruiting.

A product of South Carolina State, Porcher was a big-time player in the MEAC. In 1991, while playing for the Bulldogs, he was named the Division I-AA Defensive Player of the Year. The Detroit Lions drafted him in the first round of the 1992 NFL draft, and he played 13 years in the NFL, appearing in three Pro Bowls.

“I think any time you have two very well established and historic conferences like the MEAC and the SWAC play each other, you’re going to have a lot of viewers,” said Porcher, who, in 2011, was named a MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legend alongside Ken Houston (Prairie View A&M); Larry Little (Bethune-Cookman); Vice Admiral David Brewer III (Prairie View A&M); and Nikki Giovanni (Fisk University).

“The high school players have an opportunity to see schools that aren’t necessarily on television [and] it gives the coaches from these schools an opportunity to market their programs.”