Alcorn Continues 100 Years of Gridiron Greatness Celebration

On Saturday. Nov. 13, when the Alcorn State University Braves take the field against Prairie View at Spinks-Casem Stadium, it will be the final home football game of the year. It will also mark the school’s close out celebration of 100 years of gridiron greatness.

This academic year has been tremendous as the excellence of the nation's oldest public historically black land-grant institution celebrated its Sesquicentennial Founders' Day.

"We are elated about this week's events to close out our 100 years of football celebration. I want to thank the Casem and McNair families for their continued commitment to Alcorn and for helping us to celebrate the storied legacies of both Coach Marino H. Casem and Steve "Air II" McNair," said Dr. Felecia M. Nave, president of Alcorn State. 

In conjunction with the school's 150 years of service, the university has also geared up to recognize several heralded Alcornite football legends throughout the remainder of the week.  

"This is a great week to celebrate football at Alcorn," said Cyrus Russ, interim athletic director. Our rich tradition of football excellence continues to prevail throughout the decades. Titans such as Coach Casem, Steve McNair, and other notable figures helped put Alcorn on the map. 

A tribute to the life and legacy of the late Marino H. Casem, former legendary football coach and athletic director, on Thursday, Nov. 11, is set for 6 p.m. with a reception followed by a tribute program at 7 p.m. in the Gold Room of the Clinton Bristow Jr. Dining Hall. The event is presented by the family and friends of Coach Casem in partnership with Alcorn.

The celebration looks to bring together former players, family, alumni, and friends to celebrate his life and accomplishments while at Alcorn. Former players and other college representatives will be in attendance. Alcorn won seven SWAC football championships during his coaching tenure, and Casem was named SWAC Coach of the Year seven times. He also coached the Braves to four Black National Titles in 1968, 1969, 1974, and 1984. As an athletic director, Casem led the effort in building the Davey L. Whitney Complex, the home to the Alcorn basketball and volleyball programs. It opened in 1975.

One of Alcorn's most notable modern football personalities was Steven "Air II" McNair. On Friday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m., the naming of the Steven "Air II" and Mechelle McNair S.A.F.E. Center will be held on the Lorman campus. Family and friends will gather to unveil the signage officially. This project began in 2019 with the celebration of McNair's life and retiring of his jersey.   

“I am delighted to witness this momentous occasion,” said Mechelle McNair, widow of Steve McNair and S.A.F.E. Center honoree. “The McNair family will forever be grateful for the thoughtfulness and consideration displayed by Alcorn State University.”

Also, Alcorn and The National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Hall of Fame will posthumously honor 2020 College Football Hall of Fame electee Steve McNair with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments. The Salute will take place Saturday, during the Braves' home football game against Prairie View A&M.

The 2020 and 2021 College Football Hall of Fame Classes will be officially inducted during the 63rd NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by Las Vegas on Dec. 7 at the ARIA Resort & Casino Las Vegas. The 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.

From its inception, when the team played as an independent school and finished the season 4-0 to its current state, the program has been a powerhouse among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, when Alcorn scored its first touchdown in 1921, who could have imagined the rich tradition the Braves Football Team would build.

Alcorn has garnered a great deal of respect in college football with five Black College National Championships, 13 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championships (SWAC), six SWAC East Division Championships, and three NCAA Division I-AA/FCS Playoffs Appearances.  

Additionally, ASU has fielded some of the best athletes in the history of the sport. From names such as McNair, the first Black quarterback to be named NFL MVP, to Jack Spinks, the first Black Mississippian to be drafted by an NFL team, Alcorn State is widely recognized for its accomplishments on the football field.

At the highest level, the Braves roster has had many former players selected for the National Football League. Milton Barney, Charles Coleman, Donald Driver, Leonard Fairley, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Hinton, Billy Howard, Nate Hughes, Garry Lewis, McNair, Bryant Mix, Lawrence Pillers, Elex Price, Spinks, Young, and Willie Young have all represented Alcorn on the NFL level.

The players who have laced up the cleats and hit the field each Saturday represent a powerful fraternity of warriors wearing purple and gold. The players are vital to the program's success, but the fiber of the traditions can be found in the soil.  

Henderson was the coach for the inaugural season (4-0), and respectfully the school's first field was named in his honor and called Henderson Stadium (40 years). The stadium opened in 1952 with a peak capacity of 10,000. It remained the home of the Alcorn State University track & field program until 2018 when it was renamed the Mildrette Netter-White Track & Field.

Later, Spinks-Casem Stadium was constructed by architect Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons and opened in 1992. It has a playing surface of natural grass with a capacity of 22,500. It is named after John Robert "Jack" Spinks, who played five seasons in the NFL. Spinks was the first African-American player in the State of Mississippi and in school history to be drafted in the NFL, and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1952.

It is also named for Casem, who passed away in April 2020 at the age of 85. Known as "The Godfather," Casem was the head football coach at Alcorn for 22 seasons and served as athletics director for 20 years. He's the winningest football coach in the history of Alcorn athletics, amassing a record of 132-65-8 from 1964- 1985. Casem first arrived at Alcorn as an assistant coach in 1959, along with Spinks, and the two were close friends.

As a part of the game day activities, Alcorn will hold on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics that are free to the community. Its "Lorman: On the Turf Health Affair" will operate from 3 p.m. to – 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13, in the Whitney Building on the Lorman campus.