Myths that grew out of 1970 Alabama game with USC
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Myths that grew out of 1970 Alabama game with USC

Myths supporting Bryant have been at expense of Duffy Daugherty's legacy

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 bigoted Crimson Tide fans into accepting desegregation with a loss suffered at the hands of USC’s integrated roster.

The Bryant myth makes for a good story, but the only truth was 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 moviem “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. By 1973, Notre Dame's next national title, the Irish had 13 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 pushed open wider doors in the rest of the nation.

College football integration was 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 Deep South school 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 sixth 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 with the freshman team. The NCAA didn’t permit freshmen eligibility until 1972.

--- Alabama high schools began to desegregate in the late 1960s. Jackson played at a black school as a junior in the fall of 1968 and at an integrated school as a senior in 1969. Desegregated high schools were now on Bryant's recruiting trail.

--- 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 Jackson, 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. USC didn't look like Grambling, the Historically Black College and University, as the myth portrays.

--- 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 bigoted fans?

No coach did more for college football integration.

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I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055

Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light

-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.


Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.


David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."

Click here for the link to order from August Publications


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer,, and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."