By Maynard Eaton
We huddled at Gate C inside Armstrong Stadium for what proved to be an impromptu team reunion of Hampton alumni. This ’71 graduate was attending a Hampton University football game for the first time in 50 years as the guest of attorney Derryl Zimmerman, Class of ’77. It was riveting old school – “OG” – cockiness, compelling conversation, and camaraderie in a sideline pre-game session.
The game was a magnet for Zimmerman’s Hampton alumni family of friends. “We see each other quite often,” he said. “One of the reasons I moved down here from New York is because I had a good base of people, I have known for many, many years. We’ve gotten together at Homecomings, graduation reunions and fellowshipping at tailgate parties. So, we’re family.”
For this reporter it was about meeting and making new friends, while enjoying the atmosphere, students, and the Hampton U versus Howard U rivalry. It was a close and exciting game, a final score of 31-28. It was exciting off the field as well intermingling with and watching this new era of undergraduates.
“I saw a lot of love and camaraderie between the students,” said Zimmerman. “They really like each other and being with each other and just having fun. That’s what I liked about it, and that’s what I identify with us (former students). We blended right in. It was cool.”
General Darrell K. Williams ceremonially kicked off the HU vs HU matchup by accepting his honorary Number #13 Hampton University jersey, which symbolizes his recent appointment as Hampton’s thirteenth President, and flipping the coin at mid-field to start the contest.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” President Williams told me as he entered Congressman Bobby Scott’s annual Labor Day political picnic where the Hampton victory over Howard was a a robust talking topic. “It was among the most people I have seen in the stadium in quite some time, so it was electric – football team, band, crowd, alumni, students – you can’t beat it.”
And you can’t beat Gloria Francis Pressley’s devotion. She is a charismatic 89-year young football aficionado and premier fundraiser who has only missed five Hampton football games since 1952. Pressley is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Hampton’s Sports Department for fundraising efforts at every game. She has reportedly raised millions via her Legacy Challenge initiative. She sits in Section E in the 11th row at the 50-yard line.
“It was such an exhilarating event; it was truly a divine experience,” she opines. “It stood out because we have been closed down because of the pandemic, and we really didn’t know what the stadium was going to look like because of the new addition.”
As for the ballyhooed HU versus HU rivalry. “It means nothing to me,” said Zimmerman. “I went to Hampton Institute. I’m very glad our college has university status; however, I was always very partial to Hampton Institute. More power to them if it helps generate revenue.”
College rivalries can often be critical and cruel. Saturday’s competition was cool.
“We have the same colors, but they have been one of our greatest rivalries,” said Pressley. “When there’s a rivalry there is always the business of comparing and making those kinds of assessments of each other. We were down here in Virginia, and they were up there in the big Capital. Howard was already established, so the idiom is that ‘Come here can’t beat been here’.
We did Saturday!