The second annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, played at the Georgia Dome on December 17, 2016, pitted the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference winner, North Carolina Central, against the Southwestern Athletic Conference winner, Grambling State. The two teams last met in 1972’s Pelican Bowl. They would meet again, 44 years later, to battle for the crown of the HBCU national champion!
Hope-Beckham Inc. (HBI) spent months preparing for the game which showcases the tradition, legacy, and values of HBCUs. The first conference call with ESPN Events was in August – five full months before the actual game was to be played. We were hired to promote the game and all the events leading up to the game; it was only August, but we were given the task of following the MEAC and SWAC divisions to see which two teams would be playing in the Georgia Dome.
John Grant, executive director of the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, quickly announced that he wanted an amazing group of leaders to serve as the Executive Committee. It was HBI’s job to be the day-to-day contact with the committee and to make sure the members had everything they needed to help us promote this game. We’d be working hand-in-hand with some of the most prominent business leaders in Atlanta to ensure the success of the second annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.
HBI would also be tasked with creating buzz around the trophy tour. Taking a page out of the national championship trophy tour, the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl trophy traveled around the country to generate fan excitement for the game. First, the trophy went to the MEAC/SWAC challenge in Daytona Beach. Weather wasn’t on our side as the second half of the game was called due to the storm. Next, it was supposed to be in Orangeburg, South Carolina… and Hurricane Matthew postponed that game. From there, the trophy traveled the United States – going from Mississippi to Washington, D.C., to more cities in between before it ended up in Marietta, Georgia, at the Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
The trophy tour made its way to Dobbins where Chief Master Sergeant Darin Thomas and Master Sergeant Barry announced that the Air Force Reserve had once again sold out its allotment of Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl game tickets. This private event featured a crowd of 100 Executive Committee members, prominent business leaders, and servicemen and women who all took photos with the trophy. These photos ended up on social media using the hashtag #AFRCBTrophyTour where fans could vote to have the trophy stop in their town for the 2017 Trophy Tour.
Finally, the trophy ended at the Georgia Dome for its final stop – and where it would be given to the winner of the second annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. The game between the North Carolina Central Eagles and the Grambling State Tigers ended with a Grambling State win, 10-9, when North Carolina Central was given an excessive celebration penalty, the irony not lost on the Celebration Bowl viewers.
For HBI, the ending was bittersweet. After months of preparation, the game was over. With a final press release announcing the Tigers as the second annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl winners, our work was done. And with more than 980,000,000 impressions, we had a very successful (and exhausting) year on this account!