TAMPA — For more than two decades, Les Miller has ached for a resuscitation of the Florida Classic in Tampa.
Though a USF alumnus, the Hillsborough County commissioner annually attended those late-autumn football clashes between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman. The fierce alumni pride, the choreographic dazzle of the marching bands, the smell of smoked meats wafting through the parking lots — all remained palpable in his memory.
"We lost it (after the 1996 season) on a bitter taste and a bitter note," Miller said. "I was not happy with the way we lost that, so I've been working hard" to get the game back.
The toil came to fruition Thursday, when a variation of the old Classic — the FAMU Tampa Football Classic — was formally announced. FAMU will face another historically black college, Tennessee State, on Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.
The programs have combined for 22 black college national titles.
"I'm gonna try to bring this back every year if we possibly can," Miller, who owns an honorary doctorate from FAMU, said after Thursday's news conference in a stadium lounge area. "You talk about a happy camper, that is me."
The old Florida Classic left Tampa for Orlando amid low attendance, feeble sponsorship dollars and negative publicity. A collaboration among the county, city and Tampa Bay Sports Commission helped spawn this rebirth of sorts, with the county's Tourist Development Council providing a $150,000 ante.
"I thought the day would never come that I'd be able to stand up here as mayor and say the Classic is back," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "Well, the Tampa Classic is back."
A handful of ancillary events, including a kickoff luncheon, battle of the bands and a "FAMU FanFest," also are scheduled. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com. More details on the game can be found at tampafootballclassic.com.
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.