Photo: Eight years after Alabama's campus was integrated, Bear Bryant's team was tied for sixth among SEC football teams to integrate.
Here we go again.
USC and Alabama play Saturday night at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Tx. The encrusted myths encasing the 1970 USC-Alabama game played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., are dusted off.
Revisionist history in the media created this folklore among fans: Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant slyly sought spurring lily white Crimson Tide fans into accepting desegregation with a loss suffered at the hands of USC’s integrated roster.
The truth is, Bryant didn't need a subtle ploy to convince his fans it was time to recruit black athletes. All he had to do was do it. The only coach in the South with as much political capitol as Bryant was Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp, yet they both dragged their feet on desegregation.
The Bryant myth makes for a good story transcending football, but the only truth is USC routed Alabama 41-21. The matchup had nothing to do with fox-like Bryant conspiring with his good friend John McKay, USC’s head coach, to enlighten Alabama’s fans.
There is a famous line from the 1962 movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” that applies here: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
The problem is the legend-turn-fact has denied the late Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State’s College Football Hall of Fame coach from 1954 to 1972, his true national legacy. Daugherty’s Underground Railroad teams in the Civil Rights era led the path to integration as college football’s first fully integrated rosters.
The 1965 Spartans were named national champions by the UPI coaches poll. The 1966 team was named co-champion with Notre Dame by the National Football Foundation’s MacArthur Bowl. That selection followed their 10-10 tie in the Game of the Century played Nov. 19, 1966 before what was then the largest TV audience to watch a football game in the pre-Super Bowl era.
Among the black players Daugherty recruited from the segregated South were three two-time All-Americans enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame: defensive lineman Bubba Smith (Beaumont, Tx.), rover/linebacker George Webster (Anderson, S.C.) and wide receiver Gene Washington (La Porte, Tx.).
Running back Clinton Jones of Cleveland, Ohio, was a fourth two-time All-American pick and College Football Hall-of-Famer from those rosters.
Those back-to-back championship teams dressed 20 black players and 11 black starters. That may not sound like much today, but consider the times.
In 1960, Minnesota had only five black players on its national championship team.
In 1966, Notre Dame had only one black player, Alan Page, on its roster that met the Spartans in the Game of the Century that ended in a controversial 10-10 tie.
In 1967, USC’s national championship team had only seven black players. But by 1972, USC’s national champions numbered 23 black players. Daugherty’s Spartans had shown the Trojans the way.
Daugherty broke barriers in many ways.
Daugherty’s quarterback in 1966 was Jimmy Raye of Fayetteville, N.C. He was the South's first black quarterback to win a national title (Minnesota's Sandy Stephens of Uniontown, Pa., was the first black QB to win a national title).
The Spartans' 1966 team captains were Webster and Jones, a two-American halfback also in the College Football Hall of Fame. They were the first two black team captains in college football as voted by teammates without a white player sharing the role.
Daugherty’s 1965-66 teams not only cracked open doors in the segregated South, they thrust open wider doors in the rest of the nation.
The influence of Michigan State’s ground-breaking teams seen made college football integration fait accompli by the time USC and Alabama took the field in 1970 (in a Saturday night game that wasn’t televised).
Five Southeastern Conference teams had integrated varsity rosters ahead of Alabama: Kentucky, 1967; Tennessee, 1968; in-state rival Auburn, 1970; Florida, 1970; and even Mississippi State, 1970. None of those schools had Bryant's bully pulpit, yet Alabama trailed them.
Bryant once said he may not be the first SEC coach to integrate, but he wouldn’t be the third. If he was in such a hurry to teach Alabama’s fans it was time to recruit black players, why was he tied for fifth with Vanderbilt in 1971? Why wasn't he the second as he promised?
Some more USC-Alabama myths:
--- Bryant had already recruited his first black player before the 1970 game. Wilbur Jackson, who went on to play in the NFL, watched the game from the stands as a freshman. The NCAA didn’t permit freshmen eligibility until 1972.
--- Alabama high schools desegregated in 1969, Marshall’s senior year in Ozark, Ala. The all-white high schools Bryant previously limited his recruiting to were now integrated.
--- Bryant was sued by the Alabama Afro-American Student Association in 1969 for failing to recruit black players. Alabama was desegregated in 1963 when Vivian Malone and James Hood were escorted through the school house door by federal officials. Once Bryant recruited Marshall, the lawsuit went away.
--- The myth includes Bryant parading USC fullback Sam Cunningham, who had run wild in the game, through Alabama’s locker room. He told his players this was what a football player looked like. But when Alabama’s players were asked years later about the myth, they said it never happened.
Cunningham initially skirted the issue, failing to confirm the myth: “I kind of think it didn’t happen,” he said in Allen Barra’s book on Bryant, ‘The Last Coach.’ “I think I would remember, but I don’t want to be the guy who said it didn’t happen.” Later, in a Showtime documentary, Against the Tide, he admitted it never happened.
--- Bryant had no way of banking on Cunningham or black players embarrassing his all-white team. Cunningham was a sophomore making his varsity debut. He was only of only five black starters along with quarterback Jimmy Jones, halfback Clarence Davis, defensive end Tody Smith and linebacker Charlie Weaver.
--- The same year Jimmy Jones led USC past Alabama, Condredge Holloway was a high school senior black quarterback in Huntsville, Ala. Holloway said Bryant told him he wouldn’t recruit him as a quarterback. Using the Cunningham analogy, Bryant should have recognized Jones was an example for his fans. Holloway went to rival Tennessee as the SEC’s first starting black quarterback from 1972 to 1974.
--- The late Clem Gryska, one of Bryant’s long-time assistant coaches and Paul Bryant Museum administrator, disputes the myth in both an HBO documentary, “Breaking the Huddle,” and a Barra’s book.
“Coach Bryant never scheduled a game in his life in order to lose it,” said Gryska, adding the two-game series was played for national exposure.
Stories crop up these days that dispel the myths, but too late to prevent the legend that asks “who shot” Alabama’s lily white fans to be printed as fact.
Duffy Daugherty deserved his due before this year’s 50th anniversary of the 1966 Game of the Century.
Follow Tom Shanahan on Twitter: @shanny4055