by Anthony Harrison
Though the crowd couldn’t rival the Greatest Homecoming on Earth, not even the frigid cold could freeze Aggie pride.
A handful of NC A&T faithful assembled to witness the city of Greensboro honor their championship football team in a rally held on the afternoon of Jan. 19.
The infamous Blue and Gold Marching Machine, A&T’s pep band, blared the Aggies’ triumphant fight song as fans gathered in Government Plaza.
“National champions, huh?” one fan decked out in black and gold chuckled to himself.
A month prior, the Aggies won the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, a new iteration of the historically black college and university national championship, featuring the conference champs of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference. This year, A&T defeated Alcorn State University’s Braves in a 41-34 decision at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.
“Did you see the game?” one Aggie fan asked another.
“Nah,” the other replied, “but I definitely heard about it.”
The win marked their fourth all-time HBCU championship, but the program’s first claim to the title since 1999.
In a partnership with ESPN, the HBCU championship game was televised live on ABC for the first time.
At 4:30 p.m., Mayor Nancy Vaughan stepped up to the podium, surrounded by the football team and backed by the Marching Machine.
“We don’t usually start our meetings with such a rousing entrance,” Vaughan said, “but I’m proud to be an honorary Aggie.”
Vaughan removed a black shawl to show off her gold A&T jersey, complete with No. 1 on the front, and shouted, “Aggie Pride!”
The mayor then brought sophomore running back Tarik Cohen to the microphone, pointing out his stats in the game: 295 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“I don’t know what that means, but it’s good,” Vaughan quipped.
Cohen was serious in his thanks.
“Without my team, none of this would be possible,” the bowl MVP said. “Most of the credit goes to them.”
NC A&T Chancellor Harold Martin strode to the podium, thanking the city of Greensboro for the “enormous support for the university in general and Aggie athletics,” as well as Greensboro City Councilmembers Sharon Hightower and Jamal Fox for organizing the rally.
“When we were searching for a head coach several years ago,” Martin continued, “we wanted someone with the capacity, the tenacity, the gall and the experiences of winning championships of [Aggies head coach] Rod Broadway. But then, it was on us, convincing Rod to come to our school.”
Laughter and applause from the crowd.
“This group of young men and coaches believe in him, and he believes in us,” Martin said.
Finally, Martin thanked the fans who made the trip down to Atlanta for the championship.
“At no point was there a time we did not believe we had the momentum and enthusiasm to win this championship,” Martin said.
To sign off, Martin shouted three calls of, “Aggie Pride!” The crowd responded in kind.
A humble Coach Broadway then approached the mic.
“I get way too much credit,” Broadway claimed. “I haven’t made a tackle, caught a pass or thrown a pass since 1977.”
The small crowd cracked up.
“Coming here was the smartest and dumbest decision I’ve ever made,” Broadway continued. “I remember when we didn’t have spring training, didn’t have scholarships. But all the hard days make this worthwhile.”
Gesturing to his team, Broadway added, “What a fine group of young men.”
Last but not least, Councilman Fox, himself an NC A&T alum, added his thoughts.
“These young men are students first and athletes second,” Fox stated. “They show that every day in the class room.”
Fox then addressed Cohen and sophomore wide receiver Khris Gardin, telling them both, “Keep ballin’ out.”
“This program is a fine program,” Fox concluded. “Let’s keep building it for years to come.”