2024 CAA Football

The Real HU: Behind The History Of The Hampton-Howard Rivalry

The Real HU: Behind The History Of The Hampton-Howard Rivalry

The Real HU is one of college football's oldest rivalries, but more than that, the annual Hampton-Howard series is part of American history.

Sep 2, 2022 by Kyle Kensing
The Real HU: Behind The History Of The Hampton-Howard Rivalry

College football rivalries played for Muskets, Little Brown Jugs, Paul Bunyan and other assorted awards are the norm. Hampton and Howard play for institutional identity. 

OK, so perhaps that's a little dramatic. But the winner in the 114-year-old series stakes claim to being The Real HU for the next year. Given the importance those two letters carry in 20th Century history and beyond, that's no small boast. 

Hampton and Howard meet in 2022 for the 97th time since 1908 and in their 96 previous meetings, have produced plenty of meaningful moments reflective of our nation — if not predictive. A Howard University Journal article following Hampton's 8-6 win in 1913, which snapped a four-year Howard winning streak in the series, foreshadows the toxicity of sports hot-take culture. 

What is meant by speech? By speech we mean the ordinary conversation of our daily lives; we mean the words we say to our room-mates, class-mates, and acquaintances. We are too apt to think of this form of speech as something which will take care of itself, but experience proves that it does not take care of itself. We know that a single word spoken without intent to injure can bring discord to the family, turmoil to the business world, and enmity between friends. We do not mean malicious lying nor sentiment prompted by venomous envy. We mean words used carelessly, or as we say, inadvertently. in the course of daily campus and room conversations without intention of either pleasing or injuring. Keeping in mind then, the far-reaching influence of the spoken word, let us see to it that we eliminate as far as possible, all careless criticism and reproach from our conversations. Remember that a wound inflicted by a word is no less painful nor lasting than a wound inflicted by the prick of a knife or the thrust of a sword. This comment is occasioned by a remark, which the writer heard as an aftermath of the Howard-Hampton game, criticising some of the players. In discussing the game let us cease attempting to attribute our defeat to the negligence of any one or more members of the team. Remember that every single member of the team gave his best effort in defending the honor of Howard, and where is the man who could give more?

A fair point, though instructive as to just how much beating Hampton meant to Howard students even in 1913. The rivalry's only intensified in 109 years since thanks to the ingredients necessary for any great rivalry: proximity, familiarity and classic games. 

Both programs play rivals that are physically closer: Hampton with Norfolk State, Howard with Morgan State. But the Hampton-NSU rivalry began in 1963, and while Howard-Morgan State first met in 1899, The Real HU has 10 more installments. 

Proximity in this rivalry is less about physical proximity than the recruiting ties of each school. Hampton coach Robert Prunty said his roster has a number of players from the DMV every year. Likewise, Howard attracts a variety of recruits from the Tidewater Region. As two of the real football hotbeds on the East Coast, that's not surprising and it enhances the rivalry. 

As for classic games, look no further than 1994. After a hiatus of eight years, the two met at RFK Stadium with Howard sporting a 14-game winning streak and coming off winning a share of the Black National Championship. 

Hampton hit the Bison hard out of the gate, rolling up 21 first-quarter points. The Pirates didn't score again as Howard mounted a furious comeback effort, pulling to within 21-20 in the closing minutes and regaining possession. Hampton's defense bowed up, forcing and recovering a fumble with 30 seconds left to preserve the win; the Pirates capped that season as Black National Champions. 

Going back exactly a half-century to another installment played after a hiatus speaks to The Real HU's role not only as a great rivalry, but a touchstone of American history. 

The layoff between meetings in 1944 was only one year, the result of intensified combat overseas during World War II. The number of college-aged men enlisted in the Armed Forces, coupled with universities using their campuses in assorted roles in the war effort, left few schools able to field teams. 

As a direct result, Army emerged as the national powerhouse of the war years. Coincidentally, the tide of the war turned in June 1944 when an Army football alum, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, oversaw the invasion of Normandy. 

By Armistice Day of that year, the end was in sight. The Army and Navy football teams played in a highly anticipated matchup Nov. 11, 1944, played before 70,000 fans in Baltimore by decree of Pres. Franklin Roosevelt. It wasn't hardly the only game of consequence that day, however. 

Hampton and Howard met on Armistice Day '44. Neither were particularly good that season — Hampton was winless coming in and Howard had just one victory to its credit — but the meaning of the contest transcended their records. 

A parade of U.S. Naval Training trainees commemorating the holiday, signifying the end of World War I, preceded a game played on the precipice of World War II's end; a war that, despite the detestable segregation of the military that continued into 1948, both Hampton and Howard held ties to the effort. 

Hampton Institute president Dr. Malcolm MacLean, speaking at a conference in 1941, railed against discrimination in the military. Dr. MacLean argued that the growing stranglehold of fascism around the world could only be defeated if the United States Armed Forces faced its own prejudices. 

Pres. Roosevelt commended the Hampton president in a letter, and that same year, enacted the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice — which Dr. MacLean would later play a part in. 

Hampton and Howard were also two of four HBCUs that the Office of War Information documented to showcase universities' contributions to the war effort. 

Fast-forward more than 60 years, and the president was no longer sending letters to the president of Hampton; he was speaking there, and discussing The Real HU's' history in his remarks. 

Like the Army-Navy Game, The Real HU has come to have the involvement of the White House. Howard alumna and Vice President Kamala Harris performed the honorary coin toss before the 2021 edition. 

So much of college football's history is the history of America. The Real HU, beyond being a passionate rivalry, stands as one of the true chapters in college football that emphasizes the game's place in American culture.