The centerpiece of any Homecoming weekend on most American college campuses is the football game when returning alumni pack the stadium next to faculty, students and boosters to cheer on the team.
This fall, Florida A&M University takes that time-worn tradition a step further, making its storied football program the centerpiece of the 2009 Homecoming Gala. The theme is “Blood, Sweat And Tears,” Great Moments in FAMU’s Gridiron History with Special Tribute to Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes.
Bob Hayes, the track and football legend who was enshrined in the National Football League’s Pro Football Hall of Fame, this summer, is the honoree with the coaches and players of five of FAMU’s outstanding football teams — 1959, 1969, 1977, 1978 and 1979 aggregations.
Rattler Football – A Brief Overview
Football at Florida A&M University began in 1899 at the intramural level, reaching varsity status in 1906. It eventually blossomed into a veritable gridiron superpower which would win over 500 games, bringing back 12 national championships and 35 conference crowns to Tallahassee.
More than 100 Rattler football players have captured All-American honors. Most of them advanced to play in the various professional football leagues in the United States and Canada.
Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes – World Champion in Two Sports
One of those Rattler football professional alumni was Jacksonville, Fla. native Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes, a star athlete from Gilbert High School who used his world-class sprinter’s speed to become an enduring legend in not one, but two sports.
Hayes, who lettered in track and football at FAMU between 1961 and 1964, set world records in track in the sprints in 1962 and 1963. He turned in dazzling performances at 100 and 220 yards and later at 100 and 200 meters.
Hayes captured five national track sprint titles all between 1962 and 1964, setting four world records and tying one other during his scintillating career, which culminated on the ultimate stage – the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games – where he won two gold medals.
The powerfully-built Hayes sailed to victory in the 100 meter final in a badly chewed up lane one, winning in a record time 10.0 seconds – a record which stood for six years.
But it was his anchor leg in the 4x100 meter relay that will forever be remembered as one of the greatest single performances in Olympic history. Hayes took the baton several meters behind and outclassing the field to lead the Americans to victory with a split timed at between 8.6 and 8.8 seconds.
He went on to fashion a Pro Bowl, record-setting career in the National Football League as a receiver and return specialist, utilizing his blazing speed to account for 71 touchdowns and more than 7,100 yards receiving on 371 catches.
His speed helped revolutionize the staid old NFL, ushering in the zone defense era during his 11-year career (1965-75). His career was highlighted by a Super Bowl victory with the Dallas Cowboys in 1972.
Hayes, who died at age 59 after a long illness in 2002, was posthumously enshrined in the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 8.
He is the only sports performer to ever be crowned a world champion in two sports.
FAMU Football’s “Fab Five”
As mentioned earlier, five of FAMU’s football teams are being recognized for their singular achievements in a given year:
1959 – 10-0-0 • 50th Anniversary of their National Championship Season
The 1959 Rattler Football team, under the leadership of Hall of Fame legend coach Jake Gaither, compiled a perfect 10-0 record 50 years ago, outscoring their opponents by a wide margin, 411 to 71.
The Rattler Defense was so dominant, that they shutout the first three teams they played in 1959, and only three teams managed to score more than a touchdown in a game, resulting in a 7.1 point-per game allowed average.
Led by All-Americans Curtis Miranda and Clarence Childs, the Rattlers averaged 41.1 points per game, scoring 50 or more points four times, capping their championship run with a 28-7 win over Prairie View A&M (Tex.) University, in the Orange Blossom Classic.
1969 – 8-1-0 • Winners of First-Ever Interracial Deep South Game
The final season of the Jake Gaither Era was the 1969 campaign, and the Rattlers sent the-then future Hall of Fame coach out in style with an 8-1-0 record.
But the capstone of that farewell season came in the next-to-last game of the year, when the Rattlers trekked to Tampa, Florida to take on the University of Tampa in FAMU’s first-ever football game between a historically black college and a predominately white school in the Deep South.
Despite facing a Spartans’ team loaded with future NFL star players, many who had transferred from major schools, Gaither’s charges prevailed thanks to a talented crew, of their own, led by future pro stars Hubert Ginn and Glen Edwards, along with All-America linemen Horace Lovett and Jimmy McCaskill, in a 34-28 thriller in the old Tampa Stadium.
1977 – 11-0-0 • Nation’s Only Undefeated Team
The 1977 Rattlers finished the season as the nation’s only undefeated team – 11-0-0 – on any level of play in college football, earning them the Black College National championship, and jump-starting a winning streak, which would grow to 17 games the following season.
Even a snub from heralded ABC Television Network broadcaster Keith “Whoa Nelly” Jackson, who said the Rattlers’ season didn’t compare to the accomplishments of major college teams, couldn’t diminish the glow of the last perfect season in FAMU Football history.
Utilizing a rock-solid defense, which limited opponents to a little over 10 points per game, while their option offensive attack averaged nearly 30 points per game, FAMU turned in a dominating performance.
That 1977 season was the first year of a three-year run by the Rattlers under Rudy Hubbard, which would witness a scintillating 30-5 record compiled with two national titles and a pair of milestone victories.
1978 – 12-1-0 • Winners of First NCAA Division I FCS Championship
FAMU followed the undefeated season in 1977 with a near-perfect encore in 1978, as the Rattlers compiled a 12-1 record, capping off the campaign with a national championship.
The Rattlers rode a 12-game winning streak into the 1978 season and by Week Six, the run had become the nation’s longest string at 17 games, before longtime nemesis Tennessee State escaped Tallahassee with a controversial 24-21 victory.
Determined to erase the bitter taste of that setback, the Rattlers would regroup and embark on a seven-game victory march, which resulted in an NCAA title.
Led by the nation’s top-ranked defense and a punishing ground attack, FAMU pulled off a thrilling comeback win against Bethune-Cookman University, 27-17 in the first Florida Classic; a smashing 31-7 romp past Eddie Robinson’s Grambling Tigers in the Orange Blossom Classic; a 15-10 first round playoff escape against SWAC champion Jackson (Miss.) State; and the climatic 35-28 title game win over Massachusetts in the Pioneer Bowl.
1979 – 7-4-0 • Upset University of Miami, 16-13
In 1979, injuries spoiled a potential championship season, as the defending national champs bolted to a 5-0 start before finishing 7-4.
FAMU came into the season armed with a boatload of veterans off their 1978 team, including future College Hall of Fame guard Tyrone McGriff, a three-time All-American (1977, 1978, 1979), and were ranked No. 1 for most of the first month of the season.
However, the singular highlight of this campaign came in week four, when the University of Miami came into Doak Campbell Stadium thinking the Rattlers would be an easy mark.
Instead, the Hurricanes found themselves in a battle as the Rattlers dueled them toe-to-toe for four quarters, using a hard-hitting defense and the option ground game to keep the Boys from Coral Gables off balance all day.
Vince Coleman’s 34-yard field goal with three minutes and 49 seconds left staked FAMU to a 16-13 lead, but the defense saved the day, slamming the door on UM after the ‘Canes had driven inside the 10-yard line, forcing a game-tying field goal try on fourth down which missed, igniting a celebration for the ages.