Well it’s football season again, and the Golden Bulls are taking the field for their 124th season on the gridiron. The first Biddle University team was organized in 1890, when a group of interested men on campus organized a team led by captain L.B. Ellerson. Two years later football became the first major sport at Biddle, and nearby Livingstone College and their own newly formed team was challenged to a game. In what would become an historic day, December 27, 1892, the two teams played the first football contest between two black colleges, which Biddle won 5-0. I know that’s more like a baseball score, but that’s not a misprint; the scoring was a bit different back then. The teams played two 45 minute halves on the snowy front lawn of Livingstone’s campus in Salisbury, and hundreds of spectators traveled on foot, by horse, and by mule and wagon to see the match. Biddle scored the first touchdown (worth five points) and was attempting to score another when they fumbled the ball. A Livingstone player scooped up the ball and ran for a touchdown, but the Biddle team argued that the ball was already out of bounds and that the falling snow had covered the field’s markings. The referee, who was also somehow the coach of the Livingstone team, agreed with the visitors and Biddle held on to win. The Livingstone player who recovered the (non) fumble was William J. Trent, who went on to become the president of Livingstone for 33 years and had the school’s gymnasium named after him.
The football program was banned at Biddle soon after, because it was deemed too rough of a sport. In 1911, the students petitioned faculty to lift the ban, and in 1912 the football competition between Biddle and Livingstone was renewed. The game was played in November and became an annual event known as the Turkey Day Classic, renamed the Commemorative Classic in 2009. We had some pretty good teams in those years; the 1916 squad not only finished the season undefeated, but didn’t allow any teams to score on them. 1916 was also the first time that the Biddle team was called the Golden Bulls; Benjamin Harris, a student in the class of 1917, sketched the first bull mascot that year.
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) was organized in 1912 with Hampton, Howard, Lincoln, Shaw, and Virginia Union as charter members, and Biddle (by then Johnson C. Smith) did not join until 1928. On November 25, 1938, the Golden Bulls clinched the championship in the North Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Association by beating the North Carolina A&T Aggies 18-12. Coached by Eddie Jackson, that year’s team featured talented freshmen Kenny Powell, Jack Brayboy, and Choo-Choo Jackson. In an era where football players had amazing nicknames, “Choo-Choo” wasn’t alone. The list of Biddle players from around this time includes “Turkey” Russell, “Gums” Baker, “Bruiser” Malone, and “Jackhammer” Brooks.
“Jackhammer Brooks”, “Sugar” Dowling, Eddie McGirt, and Kenny Powell
The first JCSU player to turn professional was tight end Pettis Norman, who graduated from Smith in 1962 and was drafted by the AFL’s Dallas Texans in the 16th round. Norman opted to play for the nearby Dallas Cowboys instead, and manned the tight end position for them for more than a decade. Known for his toughness and blocking, he started in Super Bowl V and split time with fellow tight end Mike Ditka when he joined the team in 1969. Norman began the tradition of great Cowboys tight ends that continues to this day, and in 1977 he was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame.
Another player inducted that year was Eddie McGirt, who went from being an all-CIAA fullback under Coach Eddie Jackson in the 1940’s to head coach of the Golden Bulls from 1959-1977. Coach McGirt, affectionately known as “Cut,” is credited with lifting the struggling Bulls to a respectable season in his first year, and for the rest of his tenure JCSU ranked near the top of the CIAA standings. He retired having won 118 of 191 games at Smith, and even coached the university’s basketball team from 1959 to 1962. His teams won one championship and two divisional championships, and were runners-up twice.
When the Golden Bulls take the field now, they are continuing a rich tradition of great teams that have been a part of history. We won the very first black college football game, and hopefully we will keep winning!
GO GOLDEN BULLS!!!