For the last five years, the Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) football programs have begun the college football season with a game on Labor Day weekend in Atlanta.

That same organization will, also for the fifth time, welcome in the college football bowl season with the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl scheduled for Dec. 21 at noon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The game will be a gridiron clash between the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina A&T Aggies and the Southwestern Athletic Conference titleholders, the Alcorn State Braves, with the winner taking the HBCUs crown.

Celebration Bowl Executive Director John Grant, who helped launch the HBCUs championship game in 2015, said although one of these teams will walk away with the championship trophy, not only Atlanta but Georgia will be the real “winners” from an economic standpoint.

“With the game being played just days before Christmas, it will help fill what would be a time in Atlanta when no conventions are taking place which, if not for this game, would result in vacant hotel rooms (and) partially filled restaurants and nightspots,” he said. “In addition, the eyes of the nation will be focused on Atlanta and Georgia as we have two (NCAA) Division I HBCUs teams meeting.

“We expect it will bring more than $25 million to the city as we are looking for attendance to be 34,000.”

As college football celebrates its 150th anniversary this season, the Celebration Bowl serves as a reminder of the HBCUs’ history. According to the bowl’s website, the first black intercollegiate football game was played Dec. 27, 1892 between Biddle College (known as Johnson C. Smith University today) and Livingstone College on Livingstone’s campus in Salisbury, North Carolina.

According to a news release on the Celebration Bowl, the game celebrates the heritage, legacy, pageantry, and tradition of HBCUs, is owned and operated by ESPN Events, a division of ESPN and will be shown on the ABC television network. Last year’s game was watched by 2.56 million TV viewers nationwide, according to the bowl’s website.

In the game’s first four years, combined fan attendance at the game’s two venues, the Georgia Dome and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, reached 124,169.

The inaugural game that kicked off the Celebration Bowl in 2015 saw North Carolina A&T defeat Alcorn State 41-34. The following year Grambling State beat North Carolina Central 10-9, and in 2017, North Carolina A&T defeated Grambling State 21-14. Last year, North Carolina A&T edged Alcorn State 24-22.

The rivalry between these two teams continues with the 2019 game.

“Atlanta has become the home for the Celebration Bowl and college football in general,” Grant said. “We are excited to host the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium again this year, and we can’t wait to see which champion will rise.”

According to the release, ESPN Events has collaborated with 100 Black Men of Atlanta to organize the game’s ancillary events, which include a youth symposium, robotics showcase, fan experience and more.

A full list of events surrounding the game and tickets, which range from $15 to $165, are available online at or or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000.


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