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Excitement for first Howard-Harvard football game extends to both campuses

Howard AD Kery Davis: ‘For us, it’s the most anticipated game of the season’

Just before the four-year football agreement between Harvard and Georgetown came to a close two years ago, Crimson head coach Tim Murphy initiated a search for another football opponent in Washington.

At about the same time, Kery Davis, who was hired as Howard University’s athletic director in 2015, mounted a mission to diversify his school’s athletic scheduling. “We wanted to play more like-minded academic schools and institutions,” Davis said.

It just so happened that two missions initiated 450 miles away from each other would intersect. The result: Saturday’s football game when Howard visits Harvard, HU vs. HU, in the first football contest between the two institutions.

With the “flava” representing a historically black football team about to step onto the Ivy League campus that’s home to one of the oldest football programs in the world, the excitement level attached to this game is extremely high.

“For us, it’s the most anticipated game of the season,” Davis said of Howard, which will have some students traveling by bus to attend the game and social functions attached to it. “This is value for our players and value for our school. There are a number of people who have attended both Howard and Harvard, so there’s a long, great relationship between the two schools.”

Some, including Davis, like to cite what they describe as an old newspaper article that they say indicates that Howard’s first year of football in 1893 was played with uniforms that were loaned to them by Harvard, which fielded its first team in 1873. Whether that story of one HU helping another represents truth or stands merely as an urban legend, there is currently a great deal of respect between the two institutions.

Howard University athletic director Kery Davis speaks during a news conference.

Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

During a meeting earlier this week, Murphy asked his players how many had family members who had attended a historically black college or university (HBCU). “We have guys on our team with connections to Spelman, Morehouse, Florida A&M, Alabama State, North Carolina A&T, and the list goes on and on,” Murphy said, as he listed the names of about a dozen Crimson players with HBCU ties. “They’re all very excited about playing this game because it means a lot to them on a lot of different levels.”

When Murphy asked for a replacement game in Washington, for his team, he credits Pat Henry, Harvard’s former senior associate athletics director who worked on scheduling, for making it happen. “My criteria was to play a D.C.-area school with strong academics, a great student body and strong alumni,” Murphy said. “[Henry] got back to me and she said, ‘What about Howard?’ My response was, ‘Brilliant.’ I thought that would be awesome.”

There was a similar response on the campus of Howard, which has been playing Harvard in basketball, meeting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this year (Harvard will travel to Howard on Dec. 22).

“It’s part of a strategy we’re undertaking in a number of different sports where we’re playing against Ivy League schools,” Davis said. “A lot of students that we’re interested in are also being recruited by the Ivy League schools, and as we make our schedules we want to say we’re peers in both athletics and academics.”

The announcement last October of the scheduling of the game generated immediate excitement for Tauheedah Baker-Jones, who is a second-year doctoral student at Harvard. Baker-Jones maintains lifelong bonds with Howard: She attended her first two years of college at Howard, met her husband there and has a daughter who not only is a freshman at Howard but also lives in the same dorm room that Baker-Jones occupied her first year on campus.

“This is more than football; this game has become larger than life. We have people from black alumni groups from other schools in the Northeast, including Yale, coming up for this game.” – Tauheedah Baker-Jones

“I was excited about the game because it brought back memories of my freshman year living in the Quad [Harriet Tubman Quadrangle dormitory], and the bonding experience I had living in the all-girls dorm,” Baker-Jones said. “To be there with so many black educated young women opened my mind to this world of black excellence. It was an amazing experience.”

Baker-Jones, a doctoral adviser for Harvard’s Black Student Union, is part of the committee that has worked with groups from Harvard and Howard to plan events this weekend.

Her daughter, Enoca Jones, will be among the busloads of students who will travel from Washington and be hosted in dorms by Harvard students. Besides a tailgate, there will be parties for students over and under 21, career panels featuring various companies and a tailgate.

“This is more than football; this game has become larger than life,” Baker-Jones said. “We have people from black alumni groups from other schools in the Northeast, including Yale, coming up for this game. The recreation office told us we sold more tailgate tickets in our third week than the school has ever sold.

“This will, by far, be the blackest event I will ever attend at Harvard.”

The game is not a one-time event. Harvard will travel to Howard for a football game in 2021, while the Bison will return to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a game in 2022.

“This is an event that we’re really excited about and a relationship that we want to continue to build,” said Davis, previously a senior vice president of HBO Sports before arriving at Howard.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.