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The 5th Quarter

FAMU and Bethune-Cookman: Who won the battle of the bands at Florida Classic?

The bands faced off to determine which one rules the Sunshine State

There’s always something at stake.

Since 1925, the Bethune-Cookman University and Florida A&M University sports teams and bands have taken the field to find out who reigns supreme in what has become the largest historically black college and university (HBCU) rivalry in Florida.

In 1978, the Florida Blue Florida Classic was created, and this year it showcased that rivalry for all to see. That first game drew 42,061 fans to Tampa. Nowadays, fans make their way to Orlando in droves for the football teams and their beloved bands, and attendance is now in excess of 1.9 million attendees throughout the Classic’s 40-year existence.

This year, Bethune-Cookman was looking to defend its seven-year winning streak against FAMU, while the school’s bands duked it out for bragging rights in the Sunshine State.

Fans started filing in as soon as doors opened at noon Saturday, two hours before the game’s start. By 12:30 p.m., B-C’s Marching Wildcats had already taken their places in the stands, while the Marching 100 made a grand entrance on the opposite side of the field, walking confidently out of the tunnel and setting the pace 30 minutes before the game’s 2 p.m. kickoff.

The Marching 100 appeased the home crowd with a pregame field show presentation, including the band’s playing of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (the “Black National Anthem”), followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The band remained on the field as Bethune-Cookman’s players swarmed the field, then gave a hearty welcome to their own players before making their way to the stands.

Bethune-Cookman wasted no time getting into the groove of things and getting the crowd hyped. Wherever there was an opportunity to strike first, the band began to play. But it didn’t take long for the Marching 100 to join the fun and get the crowd into the performances happening on the field and in the stands.

Nearing halftime, as both bands made their way from the stands to the field, nearly every seat in the lower bowl of Camping World Stadium was filled as other fans hiked to seats at the highest point of the stadium in anticipation of Saturday’s showdown. Although the bands were at Amway Center the night before, there are never too many times fans can witness a good band rivalry.

Since the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings began last year, the two bands have placed in the Top 10 in the HBCU Division I category in a majority of the biweekly rankings. This season, Bethune-Cookman has dominated the rankings, reigning No. 1 in every new ranking this season except one.

With 32 seconds left in the second quarter, a FAMU touchdown was enough to ignite the crowd right before the bands took the field. In Camping World Stadium, the Marching Wildcats were the first to entertain. The band came out of the tunnel jogging to get in place as McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald himself introduced the band to the crowd. The band members then ran onto the field to assume their positions, wasting no time getting the performance started with SWV’s “I’m So Into You” before transitioning to Lil Duval’s popular hit “Smile (Living My Best Life).” Moving into concert formation, the band began with Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle” before slowing it down with “Best Part” by Daniel Caesar featuring H.E.R., then finishing the set with his top single “Get You.” The Marching Wildcats brought things back up to tempo with crowd favorite “Let’s Go Wildcats” and launched into an energetic medley and dance breakdown before exiting the field.

By then, the Marching 100 had begun to fill the perimeter of the field before taking center stage. Cheers from the home crowd filled the stadium. Fans of the Marching 100 were ready to see “the band that Bethune-Cookman wants to be. A new era begins now,” the university’s announcer proclaimed.

The band opened with a diverse arrangement, including Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” before transitioning to the late Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” The band spelled “Soul” on the field to pay homage to the Queen of Soul. After Cardi B’s “I Like It,” the Marching 100 scrambled to concert formation before serenading the crowd with Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” Fans began to harmonize as the band loudly sang the song’s chorus. After settling to the middle of the field, the Marching 100 launched into Ella Mai’s “Trip.” The dance breakdown is what really got the crowd going, with the energy and prowess of a band confident it had won the battle, no matter who may or may not have agreed.

And even after the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats claimed a 33-19 victory over the FAMU Rattlers to keep their win streak alive, the bands were ready for one last showdown during the 5th Quarter. Both strong and mighty, this year’s performances were only a testament of what’s next to come.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.