This week, Arkansas-Pine Bluff is celebrating an annual occasion that involves a football game and a team that’s been part of the occasion before.
That sounds like a rivalry, but surprisingly it’s not.
UAPB and Mississippi Valley State have been next-door neighbors in the SWAC since 1997, and nothing between the two schools has brewed into a rivalry.
It’s weird because UAPB and Valley share some things in common.
They’re both small institutions in the Delta, one nicknamed “The Flagship of the Delta” and the other named after an alternate name for the region. U.S. Highways 65 and 82 connect the campuses, just 2 ½ hours apart. Many of UAPB’s athletic staff members, including athletic director Lonza Hardy Jr., have served in the same capacities at Valley, and two of them — George Ivory and Nate Kilbert — were basketball teammates at Valley. Archie Cooley coached both football programs in the 1980s, and LaTraia Jones went from Golden Lions defensive coordinator to Delta Devils head coach in the 1990s.
Despite all of that, there’s nothing outside the playing surface that commemorates the connections of the two schools. Then again, not much tradition is put into any of UAPB’s yearly rivalries — I mean, series with other schools.
So, the question of who is the main rival of the Golden Lions might generate different responses, including “no one.”
“I look at all the games as a rivalry game,” UAPB football coach Monte Coleman said during the SWAC coaches’ teleconference. “Last week against Southern was a rivalry game.”
If any of those “rivalry games” are celebrated, they’re certainly not to the magnitude of Grambling State vs. Southern or Alabama State vs. Alabama A&M. There are “Classics” that Lions look forward to almost each year, like the Delta Classic 4 Literacy and the Gateway Classic, but the opponents can change.
This week, the word “homecoming” creates more buzz in Golden Lion Nation than “Mississippi Valley.”
“In three years here, I haven’t heard a lot of talk leading up to it,” Valley coach Karl Morgan said about playing UAPB. “It hasn’t developed into a rivalry from our standpoint. I think if we can win a few games, it could turn into one.”
The all-time series count would warrant rivalry status. UAPB leads the series 23-18-1, having won four straight after Valley beat UAPB in the 2005 and 2006 Chicago Football Classics. (See, another connection.)
But if anything leaves an impression in Morgan’s mind about visiting UAPB, it’s the way many Golden Lion fans travel.
“By far, they have the most RVs I’ve ever seen on campus,” he said. “Pine Bluff has one of the better homecomings I’ve ever seen.”
And homecoming is all UAPB is celebrating when it comes to playing Valley on Saturday. Not Golden Lions vs. Delta Devils.
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor at The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.