NDSU-Tennessee State Music City Faceoff Brings Memories of 1965

North Dakota State's game against Tennessee State in 2025 will have the same feel as their game against another HBCU giant in 1965.

North Dakota State beat Eddie Robinson and Grambling 20-7 in the 1965 Pecan Bowl
Source: NDSU University Archives/Flickr

Nearly 60 years ago, North Dakota State faced a fabled Black College Football program in Abilene to end another great season. Undefeated North Dakota State would face the nationally well-known Grambling Tigers in a College Division regional final in the Pecan Bowl.

North Dakota State was undefeated at 10-0, while Grambling went 8-2, but beyond the records, this game was significant because of its rare nature. A Black College Football power was playing an elite predominantly White program in the postseason. The now one-year-old NCAA College Division postseason system was to thank for such unique matchups as the Pecan Bowl served as the Division's Midwestern championship.

Miles east in Murfreesboro, Tennessee State was also bowl bound, playing in the Grantland Rice Bowl for the Mideast championship against Ball State in a battle of 9-0 teams. Tennessee State was just as well-known as Grambling, led by longtime coach, John Merritt and quarterback Eldridge Dickey.

Both schools would wish for better results for their bowls as Grambling was held to 97 total yards in their 20-7 Pecan Bowl loss to North Dakota State while Tennessee State tied Ball State 14-14.

Last week, Tennessee State and North Dakota State scheduled a home-and-home series for 2024 and 2025. The 2025 game will be played at Nissan Stadium, the home of the Tennessee Titans. While not a College Division bowl game of old, the game still has the feel of the 1965 Pecan Bowl.

While Tennessee State has fallen on tough times, they are still one of the brand names of Black College Football. The names Claude Humphrey, "Too Tall" Jones, Richard Dent, and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie still ring echo at the school. The Tigers look to be on the rise after a second-place finish in the OVC.

North Dakota State did play NC A&T last season, but that was three years after the Aggies' last Celebration Bowl appearance and a year after a 5-6 campaign in 2021. Yes, the Aggies have had more recent success, but their game against the Bison was merely a paycheck game at the Fargodome and had little feel of a bowl game.

The Bison's game against Tennessee State will have a bowl-like feel at the stage of Nissan Stadium, "The House That Steve McNair Built." The game should be a 60-40 split, if not a 50-50 split between Bison fans and Tigers fans as the Bison travel well to neutral site games.

This game is most like the 1965 Pecan Bowl because it serves as a measuring stick for Black College Football. Despite sending greats like Tank Younger and Willie Davis to the league, Grambling and Coach Eddie Robinson had yet to play a bowl game against an all-White school.

This game in what would be Eddie George's fifth year, will measure Tennessee State's progress on the national stage as well as be a milestone in the revitalization of Black College Football. This game was made for the stage of an NFL stadium and the Music City.

They always say, the more things change the more they stay the same and this game in 2025 will be a milestone in Black College Football nearly 60 years to the date of that historic Pecan Bowl faceoff. Tennessee State can strengthen its status as one of Black College Football's biggest brands with a strong showing.