MEMPHIS, Tenn. — This time of year the teams, fans and businesses would be gearing up for the Southern Heritage Classic, but because of the pandemic, founder Fred Jones had to make the decision to cancel one of Memphis’ premier events.
He talked to WREG about the Classic’s history, plans for next year and how fans can still watch TSU and JSU play this weekend.
For more than three decades, the fun, the fellowship, the football, the battle of the bands, and the tailgating have made the Southern Heritage Classic more than just a football game.
“I would call it the Super Bowl flavor,” Jones said, standing near the street sign that bears his name near the Liberty Bowl.
Jones is the man who came up with the idea for the Classic. He took a rivalry game between Tennessee State and Jackson State and turned it into a weeklong cultural phenomenon.
“You got a game, you got halftime, all the activities around it, which were already there, but it just needed organization and that’s what the Southern Heritage Classic was able to do,” Jones said.
Since 1990 the Classic has become one of the country’s most highly anticipated HBCU matchups. It seems like every fan has a Classic story.
“You meet people everyday and they say you know I grew up on the Classic,” Jones said. “‘I played in the Classic. I was in the band in the Classic. I met my wife or husband at the Classic.’ You hear those kind of stories.”
There a lot of those stories when you have 75,000 people converging on Memphis for a must-attend event.
“When you’re going out to the Classic you’re going to get your car washed, get your shoes shined, get you a new outfit. You’re going to really represent,” Jones said.
Fans not only represent at the game, but while tailgating, attending the Classic gala and enjoying the Orange Mound parade.
“That’s the beauty of what it has become. Everybody is for the Classic and the thing that I like about whether they attend the Classic or not, they appreciate what it represents,” Jones said.
But this year the Classic is a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There will be no Southern Heritage Classic this year,” Jones said. “It was a tremendous blow when I had to do that, but the decision was made by the science and by the Shelby County Health Department.”
The only other time the Classic was shut down was in 2018 because of bad weather.
The Classic generates about $25 million and cancelling it is a major economic blow.
But for fans, Classic organizers have come up with a new way they can still see TSU and JSU play a game on Saturday, Sept. 12.
It’s the Southern Heritage Classic Rewind, an encore presentation streamed on social media.
“We give them a chance to relive that moment that’s the 2017 game, which was probably the best most competitive game that we had during the whole course of the Classic, and in the comfort of your home,” Jones said.
Jones hopes to bring back the game next year and make it live up to its name by making the Southern Heritage, a classic.