Football might be returning to Hale Stadium, but Tennessee State is kicking off the 2012 season that has become a tradition of its own.
TSU coach Rod Reed and Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor met at LP Field on Thursday to promote the 14th annual John Merritt Classic. The teams will open the season on Sept. 1 at LP Field, where the Tigers have played their home games since leaving their on-campus stadium at Hale in 1998.
Last year, the John Merritt Classic, named after the legendary TSU coach who won four national championships, drew a season-high crowd of 25,209.
“We have worked hard to get FAMU up to Nashville and then for us to go down to Tallahassee,” athletic director Teresa Phillips said. “We’ve done that, so now we are excited about the game and looking forward to it.”
The teams last met in the Atlanta Classic in 2010 with TSU edging the Rattlers 29-18. That snapped Florida A&M’s seven-game winning streak over the Tigers and was the last time TSU played in the Atlanta Classic.
“The importance of the game isn’t playing in the Atlanta Classic. It is about the rivalry,” Reed said. “The opportunity is here on Sept. 1, and I know both teams will be up for the challenge.”
TSU, coming off a 5-6 season, returns to Hale Stadium for the first time in 14 years on Sept. 15 against Austin Peay. Renovations of $1 million were made to the 58-year-old stadium to host three home games — besides the John Merritt Classic only Homecoming will be played at LP Field — in honor of the school’s centennial celebration.
Whether the Tigers will return to Hale after the 2012 season is uncertain.
“We had an eyesore on our campus in Hale Stadium,” Phillips said. “We needed to deal with it, and one of the benefits is to have the opportunity to play games in our own community this season. The Hole looks a lot better, and now the student-athletes don’t have to ride a bus to a home game.”