Buddy Pough was once one of the biggest detractors against the MEAC participating in the Celebration Bowl versus the SWAC.
The longtime South Carolina State coach — when both conferences agreed to the partnership in 2015 — expressed uncertainty about how this would all work. He was especially disappointed that the MEAC had relinquished its automatic qualifying status to the FCS playoffs in exchange for what appeared to be a short-lived money grab.
“We’ve caught ourselves trying to get more opportunities for our member schools and, for all practical purposes, we have gotten less,” Pough said after no MEAC school made the 24-team FCS playoff field in 2015. “Sure, we’ve got the Celebration Bowl, but it kind of made us look like we were not participating in the playoffs.”
Fast-forward some seven years later, and the tune of Pough about the Celebration Bowl has shifted ahead of the Bulldogs’ first-ever appearance in the game versus Jackson State next Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s been a long time coming,” a jovial Pough said Thursday during a Celebration Bowl coaches press conference. “I’ve been trying to get to this thing for about (seven) years now. And I can tell you, I fought for a good many years to keep this thing from happening.
“And by the time I figured out that this was something that we really, really needed to buy into — you know, that I think I’ve been punished for not being able to be on board from the very beginning for not being able to come all those years.”
Prior to winning the MEAC regular-season championship in 2021, the closest South Carolina State had come to making the Celebration Bowl was in 2019. The Bulldogs that year were involved in a tie for the conference crown with North Carolina A&T, which took the bowl game bid.
The Celebration Bowl has evolved into something of a collective homecoming game for Black college football, drawing passionate HBCU fans from all across the country to Atlanta.
It was not lost on Pough the significance of the event and what it means for schools to be involved.
“From the very beginning it was obvious that this was something that should have been,” he said. “We had a chance to see (North Carolina) A&T play Alcorn (State) a time or two and the excitement that was being derived from that particular time was something to behold.
“I had coach (Rod) Broadway and his wife over at our house a couple of times, and you know, they got everybody in my household juiced up about how great the atmosphere is. You know for sure that this is something that’s going to be bigger and better as we continue to build.”