Head coaches Clarence McKinney (TSU) and Eric Cooley (PVAMU).

Texas Southern football coach Clarence McKinney insists he was in attendance as a fan for the first Labor Day Classic matchup between the Prairie View A&M University Panthers and the Tigers of Texas Southern University at the Astrodome in 1985.

But it wasn’t until this past spring when the rivalry game was forced to shift to March due to the pandemic that the Houston native realized in addition to bragging rights and a chance to get an all-important SWAC win, the victor took home the trophy. McKinney had the displeasure of watching the Panthers celebrate with the sizeable trophy on The Hill, commemorating their sixth straight victory in the rivalry.

The Prairie View-TSU Labor Day Classic renews for the 36th year and kicks off the football season for both programs on Saturday night (7 p.m.) at BBVA Stadium.

“We are excited about having the opportunity to play for the trophy, but not only are we excited about playing for the trophy of the Labor Day Classic, but Coach (Eric) Dooley knows this is our first conference game and it gives you a chance to become a leader within the (West Division) of our conference,” McKinney said during Monday’s kickoff luncheon. “So we are playing for a lot. I think it’s going to be a great football game and what better way to start the season than with TSU-Prairie View. Go Tigers.”

While the Tigers still own a lead in the series, this rivalry has been all PVAMU in recent years with the Panthers having run off six straight victories. That means McKinney, who is in his second year, hasn’t experienced a win in the series year although his Tigers lost by only a point in a dramatic ending this past spring.

TSU’s Clarence McKinney and PVAMU’s Eric Dooley.

“It’s very important because it gives the team a tremendous amount of confidence going into the next game and the remainder of the season,” said McKinney, who is still looking for his first victory on the field as head coach of the Tigers. “But one game doesn’t make a season.”

Having a healthy back and forth, however, does add to a rich rivalry. It seems that TSU is closing in on the divide with PV coach Eric Dooley acknowledging as much.

“I do give (TSU) credit, but I like our football team. I like the guys we are bringing back and what we’ve been able to accomplish throughout the fall camp,” Dooley said.

Both Dooley and TSU athletic director Kevin Granger agree that the proximity of the two schools has made this rivalry both special and unique. The rivalry often cuts through family and close friend lines.

“I always tell people this is probably the greatest rivalry out there because many times husbands and wives, one of them attended Texas Southern and the other attended Prairie View, you have sisters and brothers,” Granger said. “Many times someone has degrees from both universities. So this is a rivalry like no other.”

Dooley found himself in one of those divided homes during the recent recruitment of a student-athlete. The mom was a Prairie View graduate. The dad was a graduate of TSU.

Dooley successfully landed their son.

“My biggest thing to (the dad) was we are going to get you to wear that purple and gold this year because your son is at Prairie View,” said a smiling Dooley. “It’s just a family affair and everyone is going to be around and you know some guys have played against each other in high school as well, or they were teammates and now on opposite teams. It’s just a family affair.