HBCU Legacy Bowl to spotlight Black college players for NFL scouts

The Black College Football Hall of Fame announced this week that they will host the HBCU Legacy Bowl, a post-season All-Star game to be held in New Orleans that will give HBCU football players a better chance to showcase their skills for NFL scouts.

“The HBCU Legacy Bowl means opportunity and exposure for HBCU players and coaches,” said Doug Williams, a co-founder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame, in a press release. Williams, the first Black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl with the Washington Football Team (formerly known as the Redskins) in 1988, is a Black College Football Hall of Fame inductee. Before his time in the NFL, Williams starred as a quarterback for Grambling State University. “We’re excited to have this in New Orleans, especially during Black History Month.”

Doug Williams. Photo by Elise Amendola, Associated Press

The game will be played the first Saturday after Super Bowl LVI. That Super Bowl is slated to be played on Sunday,Feb. 6, 2022 which would put the date of the HBCU Legacy Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.

The game will be played at Tulane University’s Yulman Stadium and will be broadcast live by the NFL Network. The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Tulane University are also partnering in the effort to hold this game that will showcase HBCU players for NFL scouts, a showcase opportunity HBCU players have rarely gotten for decades.

Adding to the pagaentry of the Legacy Bowl is the fact that the game will be the last event in a celebratory week of HBCU and Black culture.

“HBCUs are a bridge to equality,” says BCHS co-founder and inductee James “Shack” Harris. “We thank the NFL for their support and in sharing our commitment to lifting up others.”

James Harris, no. 12. NFL Photos, AP.

Harris, also a former star Grambling QB, became one of the first Black quarterbacks in professional football, playing for teams in the AFL and NFL. He later became a respected NFL executive for multiple teams.

Over 100 HBCU players are expected to be invited to participate in the Legacy Bowl.

The Black College Football Hall of Fame was created in 2009 by Harris, 73, and Williams, 65. Harris was the first Black quarterback to start a season in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. He played with Marlin Briscoe, the very first Black quarterback to ever start an NFL game with the Denver Broncos, but who later converted to wide receiver when opportunities to play at the quarterback position dried up.

Walter Payton, who became an NFL Hall of Famer and Chicago Bear legend, is seen in this photo, date unknown, taken during his collegiate days at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger/AP)

HBCUs were once fertile ground for NFL scouts, particularly before PWI (predominantly white institutions) integrated their football teams. The NFL Hall of Fame is bursting with HBCU alumni, including Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton, 49’ers great Jerry Rice, Raiders great Willie Brown, New York Giants legend Michael Strahan, four time Super Bowl champion Mel Blount (Steelers), Shannon Sharpe (Broncos and Ravens), and countless others.

HBCUs, however, have witnessed their gridiron prowess diminish greatly as the vast majority of the country’s top-ranked Black high school football players started being recruited by and atending schools that once refused to allow Black players on the team.

For perspective, the SEC, which many consider the most dominant conference in college football today, is made up largely of players who, decades ago, would have only been able to play for Florida A&M, Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, Hampton, Grambling, the two TSUs (Texas Southern University and Tennessee State University), and other HBCUs.

The Legacy Bowl is intended to address some of the issues often underfunded HBCU football programs have to help their students into the pro ranks.

Though the HBCU impact on pro football has lessened, HBCU alumni are still making names for themselves at the professional level, like Antonio Hamilton (South Carolina State; Kansas City Chiefs), Terron Armstead (University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff; New Orleans Saints) and Darius Leonard (South Carolina State; Indianapolis Colts), among others.

In a 2016 interview with The Undefeated, Williams said the NFL and its scouts needed to pay more attention to players out of HBCUs.

“I know, since I’ve been in the administration part of it, that some of these scouts are inclined to give a guy at an FBS school who has not played at all more of an opportunity than a guy who’s played four years at a historically Black college. I think what we have to do is don’t judge the school. We’ve got to start judging the player. It’s all about opportunity.”