​​Tradition, Pride and Emotions Sum Up Turkey Day Classic

News Date
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By Hazel Scott/ASU

Packed stadiums. Spirited pep Rallies. Intense banter. The joy of bragging rights. There’s nothing like watching collegiate sports all day long during Thanksgiving.

For communities across the country, college sports rivalries are powerful events. Friends from across town become bitter enemies, if only for a few hours. Shops and businesses sport school colors to show their allegiance. The school fight song echoing through the rafters feels even better than it usually does.

Few college football teams celebrate their holiday football games as big as Alabama State University does when the Turkey Day Classic (TDC) rivalry rolls around. The annual game is a Thanksgiving tradition that attracts more than 26,000 spectators and includes a parade featuring floats and more from all over the South.

This year, ASU welcomes in-state rival Tuskegee University back for the 97th Turkey Day Class Game, which will be played on Thursday, Nov. 25, at 2 p.m. in The ASU Stadium. The Hornets will face off against the Golden Tigers in one of the nation’s oldest HBCU football classics.

The last time the two teams faced each other in the Turkey Day Classic was in 2012. This will be the 90th time the two teams will battle it out on the football field in the Classic.

"I am excited about the return of the ASU/Tuskegee Turkey Day Classic,” said ASU President Quinton T. Ross, Jr. “While the game itself never stopped, there is a difference in the atmosphere when the Hornets and the Golden Tigers face off on the gridiron. I have many fond memories of the Turkey Day Classic from my time as a student. It's a great opportunity not only for rivalry but also for the reunion of alumni and friends on both sides. I truly believe the Turkey Day Classic is the G.O.A.T. -- Greatest of All Time!”

Rivalry History

Noted historian and ASU alumnus, Joseph Caver, who wrote the book “From Marion to Montgomery: The Early Years of Alabama State University, 1867-1925,” said that the first football game in Alabama State University’s football program’s history was played in 1901 against Tuskegee in Tuskegee, Alabama. The two teams played consistently until 1909 when that game ended in a dispute.  The schools didn’t play again until 1914. The same year, ASU and Tuskegee founded the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The rivalry continued each year after until the football series moved to Thanksgiving Day in 1924.

There have been breaks in the tradition over the years. A debate over Tuskegee taking part in the game caused a lapse from 1970-1985. Tuskegee did not participate in the TDC in 1986, 1987, 1991 and 1992. The rivalry was reclaimed in 1993 and continued Turkey Day Classic 2012 at the new ASU Stadium.  After almost a decade, the rivalry was renewed​ in 2021.​

“One of the most memorable Turkey Day Classics starts with Muhammad Ali, one of America’s greatest boxer and civil rights icon, attending the Turkey Day game on November 24, 1966.”

Caver remembers that day in 1966 because he was there as an awe-struck 13-year-old eighth-grader handing out Turkey Day Classic game day programs with his boy scout troop.

“My biggest regret about that day is that I didn’t ask for his autograph when he asked for a program – I was too spellbound,” Caver said.  “Ali was in Montgomery after visiting Tuskegee Institute earlier that week, a part of his black college tour throughout the South that he’d take between fights that year.”

Caver said the game has not been played consistently each year like the Magic City Classics. “The Turkey Day Classic has had many breaks in the rivalry.”

Caver noted that in the 1930s, during the Depression, the ASU/Tuskegee rivalry not only gave African Americans a blooming sense of community, but the revenue from the game helped pay the salaries of faculty and staff at both ASU and Tuskegee.

“The game was very important during the Depression period for survival of both schools. Of course, we had the Bama State Collegians raising money too to keep ASU open.”  

Importance of the Rivalry to ASU Sports Program

ASU Director of Athletics Jason Cable said rivalries are a huge part of college football and matter for bragging rights among the teams and on the recruiting trail.  He is convinced that in Alabama the ASU/Tuskegee football rivalry is one of the best in the state.

“This rivalry is very important to ASU’s sports program. It’s the battle of two of the most prestigious HBCUs in the state of Alabama. I think people set their calendar surrounding the contest, and I think it produces bragging rights for the next year.  So, when you talk about community involvement, it brings two institutions together, not only during the game but also over a week and even over a year looking forward to the next contest,” Cable said.

Gameday is electrifying, Cable noted.  Rivalry fans wear the color of their schools with shakers in hand. And each game sparks memories and debates for years to come.  It’s the passion that drives the fans and football teams.

“To begin with, college games, such as The Turkey Day Classic, attract a crowd of alumni and fans who have invested more than just the price of a game ticket; they’ve spent what many consider the best four (or more) years of their lives at their alma maters.  Then add to that mix the students’ enthusiastic show of support for their teams, and you have an energetic rivalry game,” Cable said.  

Cable added that the ASU Hornets are ready for the Turkey Day showdown. “We are excited about the rivalry and we just want the best Hornet to win. Our guys are very much alive and ready to take part in the rivalry. If you can’t get up for this game, given the magnitude of its history, you don’t have a pulse.”

Rivalry Important to Alumni

Cromwell Handy, ASU’s Director of Alumni Relations, said alumni come from across the country to attend the Big Game on that one special day.  

“The Turkey Day Classic is a traditional bond between two of the most important historically black colleges and universities — Alabama State University and Tuskegee Institute. It is one of the oldest classics among HBCUs,” he said.

Although ASU recently began a new tradition of moving Homecoming away from the Turkey Day Classic, Handy explained that in many alumni’s hearts and minds, Turkey Day is still their Homecoming.

“Turkey Day Classic and Homecoming go hand-in-hand in their minds. The alumni have looked forward to this time of the year for so many years. The Turkey Day Classic is an opportunity to come together with friends, cousins, family members and intertwining families of alumni of the two universities to share this special day – regardless of who wins,” Handy emphasized. “It’s a time when faculty, students and alumni get together and show their school pride and take part in tailgating and other festivities.”

Handy noted that the ASU/Tuskegee rivalry was important to the Mighty Marching Hornets band members when he was a member from 1975-79.   

“Back in my day, the Turkey Day Classic game was considered a crossover game for first-year band members. You wouldn’t be considered a full member until you made it through the season (four months) and finished that half-time performance at the Turkey Day game. It was considered the game that you crossed over to officially become a Mighty Marching Hornet. That’s why it meant so much,” he added.

Handy, who is a proud Hornet, said he married a Tuskegee alumna who eventually received her master’s from Alabama State University.  “Cynthia is able to claim both schools. So, during the rivalry game, she tells me ‘I will win regardless,’” a chuckling Handy said. 

Handy said it’s even more important today to encourage tradition, particularly as it relates to historically black colleges and universities.

“Alabama State University and Tuskegee University are on the frontline when it comes to being the top in the country — when it comes to tradition. I thank God for tradition,” he emphasized.  

For a complete 2021 Turkey Day Classic schedule, visit https://www.alasu.edu/turkeydayclassic