The Undefeated on ESPN+ debuted this week a new Black History Always special entitled “Rhoden’s Road Trip,” exploring the origin, traditions, and legacy of intercollegiate football at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The documentary is reported and presented by award-winning journalist William C. “Bill” Rhoden, The Undefeated’s writer-at-large and an HBCU alum. His first experience as a student-athlete was the famed 1968 football game between his Morgan State Bears and Grambling Tigers at a sold-out Yankees Stadium.
The 45-minute piece captures Rhoden as he travels thousands of miles over seven days, exploring the “Golden Era” of college football at HBCUs.There is also a companion written piece on The Undefeated.
“A key aspect of this story is how Bill captures the richness of HBCUs through the prism of its sports culture,” said Raina Kelley, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, The Undefeated. “Bill traveled more than 2,500 miles to bring us a glimpse of the brilliance and beauty supporting the black experience in America.”
Executive Producer Sharon Mathews created “Rhoden’s Road Trip” to refocus attention on the history and impact of HBCUs in America.
“A lot of attention has been given to HBCU football recently, but how many people truly know the stories that have made these schools the way we know them today?” said Matthews. “This project is an origin story, a reintroduction to African American history told through experiences in intercollegiate sports that date back to the first HBCU football game in 1892.”
In the documentary, Rhoden tells the origin story of HBCU football in Salisbury, N.C. – the 1892 game between Johnson C. Smith University and Livingstone College. He also travels to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla., for a report about the FAMU “Marching 100” band and the vaunted FAMU Rattlers football program.
Other stops on “Rhoden’s Road Trip” include an interview with legendary Grambling Tiger James “Shack” Harris, the first Black quarterback to start a game in the NFL (Orlando, Fla.); Birmingham, Ala., for a look at the University of Southern California’s historic 1970 victory over the University of Alabama’s all-white team; and this year’s Southern Heritage Classic between NFL legends and HBCU coaches Deion Sanders (Jackson State) and Eddie George (Tennessee State) in Memphis, Tenn.