HBCU Rivalries: Norfolk State vs. Hampton University
Virginia has a rich and vibrant HBCU history. It's also home to one of the more visceral rivalries in Black College Athletics: the Battle of The Bay.
If you're from Hampton Roads (aka the 757, bka the seven cities), you already know what it is.
There's a rich and storied legacy of HBCU athletic excellence in the state of Virginia. Whether it's Richmond, Petersburg, Southern Virginia, or the Tidewater area, the presence of historically Black Colleges and Universities have left their indelible footprint on the sports of the state. More so, the culture surrounding these rivalries are a point of attraction and pride all by themselves. There's one rivalry that stands out as the de facto mono y mono grudge match in Virginia's Tidewater area; Hampton University vs. Norfolk State University. Most HBCU fans know the rivalry by another name:
The Battle Of The Bay
Hampton University and Norfolk State University are similar in the sense that they're both part of the rich HBCU landscape that the state offers. Hampton is private; Norfolk State is public. Both are in extremely close proximity to each other, being separated by a short drive through the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel across the mouth of the James River. Finally, both schools and their students, alumni, and general supporters are passionate about their institutions, as well as what the Battle of The bay means to the greater Tidewater area. Arguably, there's no bigger rivalry in the region. That includes schools like Old Dominion, William & Mary, etc. When the Battle Of The Bay is taking place, all eyes in the region are on THAT match-up.
Both schools have been involved in playing the football version of the rivalry since 1963, with a grand total of 54 games being played from 1963 to 2017. The Spartans lead the series record 28 to 26, with one lone tie coming in 1989. The game itself has everything that normally comes with a tried and true HBCU fall football experience. From the Tailgating, to the halftime pugilism between Norfolk State's "Spartan Legion" and Hampton's "Marching Force", gridiron portion of this rivalry is like one big party with goal posts attached. The battle of the bands by itself is a spectacle by itself, often consisting of a separate Battle Of The Bands event the night before the actual game.
On the basketball court, the rivalry is just as intense. In some eyes, the hoops rivalry is among the best in HBCU basketball, given the proximity of the two schools, and their own individual storied program histories. The rivalry goes back to their membership in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Rick Mahorn, Ralph Talley, and Bobby Dandridge are some of the more notable names associated with the game. The competition on the court has stood the test of time, as well as moves from NCAA Division 2 to Division 1. If there's a unique game day HBCU hoops experience to be had, the hard court version of the Battle Of The Bay is definitely among the best there is. Both programs have also had their share of success at the Division 1 level, with both programs leaving an indelible mark of the NCAA basketball tournament. Norfolk State upset #3 seeded SEC squad Missouri in 2012 behind future NBA player Kyle O'Quinn. Hampton had their own upset moment in the tournament in 2002, beating a highly regarded Iowa State squad in the first round.
All in all, the rivalry between Hampton and Norfolk State is as rich of a sports experience there is in the state, and possibly one of the best in all of HBCU sports fandom. If you're not familiar with this rivalry, or the HBCU experience at large, there couldn't be a better introduction to the joys of the black college sports experience than taking in an edition of the Battle Of The Bay. If and when the specter of COVID-19 is under control, taking in a Hampton vs. NSU match up (on either the gridiron or the hardwood) should be on the list of any HBCU fan or enthusiast.
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