Chicago Football Classic Pep Rally Takes Over Daley Plaza

Photos: Lee Edwards

The thunderous sound of Central State University’s marching band competing against Mississippi Valley State University’s marching band echoed throughout Daley Plaza as hundreds of onlookers watched this year’s Chicago Football Classic participants put on a sonic showcase at the game’s official pep rally on Friday.

The Classic returns after a four-year hiatus featuring two familiar universities. This year marks the sixth appearance in the CFC for Mississippi Valley State University and the fifth appearance for Central State University since the game launched in 1997. However, they have yet to face each other until now.  

The pep rally was the latest in a series of events that started on August 29 with the Chicago Cubs hosting an HBCU Night where the Northsiders awarded $25,000 a piece to the Chicago Football Classic and the United Negro College Fund. 

During the 45-minute pep rally, MVSU’s “Mean Green Marching Machine” band faced off against CSU’s marching band, the “Invincible Marching Marauders,” fully clad in their respective school’s colors. Each band performed several songs with the flair, precision and unmistakable school pride that fans of competitive bands have come to expect and admire.  

Crowd participation was minimal as each band played immediately after the other. No winner was announced either, as no one among the crowd assumed master of ceremony duties. Regardless, the music lovers and HBCU supporters in attendance were the real winners. 

Gillis Bowden, CSU and Simeon Career Academy alumnus traveled from his home in Cincinnati to cheer on his alma mater at the Classic. He decided to attend Central State University after learning about it from his high school football coach, the legendary Alvin Scott, Sr., a Central State University alumnus and one of the winningest football coaches in Chicago Public School history. 

Central State University alums Gillis Bowden (L) and Early Longhorn (R) cheered on the Marauders during the pep rally at Daley Plaza.  

“I went to Central due to what I saw in him not just as a role model, but as an African-American man [for] his appreciation of education and sharing that with us,” said Bowden. 

Now a retiree after 40 years as a federal agent, Bowden, a CSU class of 1976 graduate, said looking ahead to game day, his love and support for the maroon and gold of Central State was unwavering. He said he plans to wear his CSU football jersey from his days as a defensive back/running back for the Marauders to the game.

Purvis Young, an MVSU alumnus, told The Chicago Defender he flew from his home in Denver to attend the Classic for the first time to support his alma mater. He said one of the most important elements of attending the Classic is supporting current students from both schools. 

“It is an important thing for them to know that we haven’t forgotten them, we still support them, we still believe in them, and we still encourage them to continue doing better,” said Young, a graduate of the MVSU class of 1973. 

Purvis Young, a Mississippi Valley State University alumnus, was one of hundreds who came to support the Chicago Football Classic pep rally. 

The Mound Bayou, Miss. native described attending the Classic as a combination of reuniting with old friends and recalling old memories. 

As for the game itself, he expects lively performances from both bands and a victory on the gridiron. 

“You always want to win,” said Young. 

For More Information

What: The 25th Annual Chicago Football Classic featuring Mississippi Valley State University vs. Central State University

When: 3 p.m. (Doors open at 1 p.m.)

Where: Soldier Field

What else: There will be a plethora of Chicago Football Classic activities on game day, including an HBCU College & Career Fair, Teen Fest, Tailgating, Battle of the High School Bands, Vendor Marketplace and the Divine 9 Greek Row Pre-game Reunion. To purchase tickets for Saturday’s Chicago Football Classic and more information, visit

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