PHOTO (Michigan State Athletics): Biggie Munn (L) and Duffy Daugherty retired George Webster’s No. 90 only a year after the 6-foot-5, 235-pound linebacker/safety finished his College Football Hall of Fame career. Did Bear Bryant wonder who was going to block Webster and fellow College Football Hall of Famer Bubba Smith (6-7, 285)? Alabama All-American offensive tackle Cecil Dowdy was 6-1, 202.
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By TOM SHANAHAN
Michigan State’s Phi Kappa Sigma brothers finished dinner on a typical 1966 autumn evening. As usual, they put off studying, lounging in the fraternity house living room. Naturally, they talked football.
Michigan State, after all, was atop the college football world.
At midseason, the defending national champion Spartans were ranked No. 1 and marching toward a battle of unbeatens, the Game of the Century against No. 2 Notre Dame on Nov. 19, 1966 at Spartan Stadium. A record TV audience of 33 million tuned in to watch a seminal moment in the sport.
Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty’s 1960s teams represented the future – college football’s first fully integrated rosters. His 1966 Spartans featured 20 Black players, 11 Black starters, two Black team captains, College Football Hall of Famers George Webster and Clint Jones, and the South’s first Black quarterback to a win a national title, Jimmy Raye of Fayetteville, N.C. Many of Michigan State’s milestones were overlooked by a 1960s sports media that avoided race.
Notre Dame, with Alan Page its only Black player, had yet to separate from the many schools in those days that continued to follow an unwritten quota of a half-dozen or so Black athletes into the 60s. They included USC’s 1962 national title team with only five Black players and its 1967 national championship roster with seven. USC was still shedding the quota years when it arrived for the 1970 USC-Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham with only five Black starters.
Those facts were overlooked when myths were crafted two decades later, emerging and spreading in the 1990s to greatly embellish the game’s impact at the expense of the true 1960s pioneers.
Meanwhile, Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s all-white program was No. 3 behind the Spartans and Irish. Alabama was still fighting the Civil War — failing to dress a Black player in a varsity game until 1971. The campus was desegregated in 1963 and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
Such was the backdrop to Phi Kappa Sigma banter on the 1966 evening when, unexpectedly, a figure loomed large in the doorway.
It was Clarence “Biggie” Munn, recalled Lodewyk Zwarensteyn – Lody to his friends – who was then a sophomore on his way to earning MSU BA and Masters degrees.
Munn was Michigan State’s College Football Hall of Fame coach who stepped into the AD role in 1954, handing off the coaching reins to Daugherty. His Jenison Fieldhouse office wasn’t far from the Phi Kappa Sigma house, but Munn didn’t arrive as Dean Woermer delivering a double-secret probation message.
“He just wanted to shoot the breeze as a fraternity brother,” Lody said. “Biggie was a regular guy. We welcomed him anytime.”
Munn had been a Phi Kappa Sigma member at Minnesota, where he earned All-American football honors, the 1931 Big Ten MVP award and starred on the track and field team. But in 1966 he was 58 years old. What was he doing at a frat house? Well, they say old football coaches don’t know what to do with their time.
“As AD, he liked to talk about all of our teams,” Lody said. “We were also winning national titles in hockey (1966), wrestling (1967) and soccer (1967 and 1968).”
On that 1966 evening — in an age long before video tape, social media and sports talk shows igniting rumors into California wildfires – Biggie accused the Bear of ducking Duffy’s Spartans.
“He opened up about Bear Bryant,” Lody recalled. “Biggie tried to get Alabama on our schedule. Biggie wanted a home-and-home series, making it lucrative. He said he offered Bryant a disproportionate share of the home gate if Alabama would play us in East Lansing.
“Ostensibly, Bryant said he couldn’t play us because we had Black players. Biggie was just talking to us matter of fact — from an athletic director’s point of view.”
Zwarensteyn, 74, is retired from an executive career spanning five decades with Alliance for Health, a non-profit based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His tenure included serving as president for two decades. He remains active in Michigan State’s Alumni Association, nationally as well as the locally with the MSU Club of West Michigan.
Normally, someone from outside Michigan State’s athletic office telling a story about Bryant ducking the Spartans isn’t enough to write as an article. But at the same time, understand there has been nothing normal about the cottage industry of Bear Bryant mythology profiting the past 30 years at the expense of the true 1960s pioneers. Those men toiled to clear the path that made it possible to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game without incident.
Munn’s claim is especially intriguing when juxtaposed with an unsubstantiated claim Alabama author Keith Dunnavant, a Bear Bryant apologist, made in the 2008 HBO film, “Breaking the Huddle.” Dunnavant stated Bryant was unable to find a willing 1960s opponent from above the Mason-Dixon Line. The narrative blames Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor, who unleashed police dogs and fire hoses on peaceful Civil Rights demonstrators in 1963. Americans recoiled at the TV news images in their living rooms.
Boston College was the school Dunnavant cited in the HBO film, although there has been no supporting evidence. Boston College was a curious choice to use considering both the Eagles’ lack of a football pedigree and Bryant’s wide span of friends to call upon in the coaching fraternity.
The claim also overlooked Bryant and Daugherty were close friends. Daugherty took Michigan State on the road to North Carolina in 1964, marking the first time a fully integrated roster had played in the South at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Two other Big Ten schools traveled South in 1965, Michigan at North Carolina and Indiana at Texas.
A Munn effort to schedule Alabama belies the 1970 USC-Alabama narrative that Bryant was forced to turn to his good friend, USC coach John McKay. The narrative also claims Bryant used the game to convince his bigoted fans it was time to allow him to recruit Black athletes. That overlooks Alabama recruited Wilbur Jackson as its first Black player in 1970. Jackson watched the USC game from the stands with the freshmen team.
In reality, there was no overnight reaction to USC routing all-white Alabama, 41-21. The Saturday night game wasn’t on television. Race wasn’t mentioned in game stories. There were no late Saturday night or Sunday morning TV college football analysis shows in the pre-cable era.
By 1970, college football integration was fait accompli. Alabama was among the 90 percent (28 of 31) of the major southern schools that had recruited Black athletes.
The lapse between the game and the myths spreading in the 1990s explains why a 1980 “Time” magazine cover story on Bryant didn’t have a single word about the 1970 USC-Alabama game in the 5,100-word opus. A 1991 documentary on Bryant produced in Birmingham, “The Legacy Lives,” had a run time of 1 hour, 42 minutes. There wasn’t a single word on the 1970 USC-Alabama game.
The Bear ducking Duffy also dovetails with Alabama’s history soft schedules within a segregated bubble.
In 1966, eight of 10 Alabama regular-season games and four of six Southeastern Conference contests were played within state borders. Four games were at Legion Field in Birmingham, three at Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and one at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile. The Crimson Tide left the state for only two short border-state trips, Oct. 1 at Mississippi and on Oct. 15 at Tennessee.
A quirk also resulted in Bryant searching for a 1966 opponent when Tulane dropped out of the SEC following the 1965 season. Bryant, who doubled as athletic director, picked a non-major, Louisiana Tech. At the time, the Bulldogs played in the College Division (later known as the Division I-AA and now the Football Championship Subdivision).
We’ll never know, but the vacant date Tulane created may have prompted Munn’s offer to Bryant.
Alabama routed Louisiana Tech in the opener, 34-0. Although schools referred these days as Power 5 routinely play FCS members, it was rare in the 1960s. Michigan State’s non-conference games were N.C. State, Penn State and Notre Dame.
The combined record of Alabama’s 10 opponents in 1966 was 51-61-1, a .460 percentage.
Notre Dame’s 10 opponents in University Division (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision) were a combined 54-46-2 (.530). Michigan State’s 10 University foes were 48-49-2 (.490).
Notre Dame and Michigan State were unbeaten in the Game of the Century, although they had flip-flopped their 1-2 rankings when they met. Michigan State was penalized for an 11-8 win in a torrential rainstorm at Ohio State the same weekend Notre Dame routed North Carolina, 32-0.
The Spartans and Irish played to a 10-10 tie as their seasons ended with 9-0-1 records. Notre Dame’s declined bowls by custom until 1969. Michigan State had played in the Rose Bowl the previous year and was thus ineligible. The Big Ten had a no-repeat rule and exclusive Rose Bowl contract.
In the final polls, Notre Dame and Michigan State remained 1-2 in three of the four polls sanctioned by the NCAA: Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI) and Football Writers Association of American (FWAA). The fourth, the National Football Foundation (NFF), named the Irish and Spartans co-champions.
The No. 3 ranking for Alabama prompted Bryant and his fans to cry reverse racism — then and to this day. Dunnavant has been trotted out with a megaphone in HBO’s film;” Showtime in 2013, “Against the Tide;” and ESPN in a 2019 film, “Integration,” that was produced for ESPN by the Herzog Co. in Los Angeles for the 150th anniversary of the college football.
The premise was media didn’t want to award Bryant’s all-white team a third straight title, but the coaches in UPI (now USA Today) voted the same as the writers in AP. Actually, the UPI/coaches voted Michigan State No. 1 and Notre Dame No. 2 after the tie, but Notre Dame had one game remaining at USC while MSU’s season was complete. After the Irish routed USC 51-0, the UPI coaches reverted and joined AP voting the Irish and Spartans 1-2.
Also understand this about the reverse racism claim: In 1969, all-white Texas was voted No. 1 and all-white Arkansas No. 2.
In the Showtime film, Dunnavant says, “In 1966, Alabama was the only undefeated, untied team in the country and yet they finished a controversial third. It’s the only time in college football history the two-time defending national champion has gone perfect and not been awarded the national title.”
Dunnavant’s claim making the film’s final cut was an example of cavalier editing. The “two-time” claim has been overstated. Alabama split its 1964 and 1965 titles. Here were the champions named by of the four NCAA-sanctioned organizations in the era of poll voting over the three-year stretch, 1964, 1965 and 1966 titles:
— 1964: Alabama (10-1-0) won the AP and UPI titles. Arkansas (11-0-0), another all-white team, claimed the FWAA title and Notre Dame (9-1-0) the NFF crown.
— 1965: Michigan State (10-1-0) claimed the UPI and NFF championships outright and shared the FWAA with Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s lone outright title was AP.
— 1966: Notre Dame (9-0-1) won the AP, UPI, FWAA and shared an NFF co-title with Michigan State (9-0-1).
A simple formula can be used to rank the title teams: one point for each organization title equaling a total of 12. Notre Dame finished with 4.5 points, Alabama 3.5, Michigan State 3.0 and Arkansas 1.0.
When the combined records represented by each school’s two championship seasons in the three-year span were added together, the win-loss totals and percentages:
— Michigan State: 10-1-0 plus 9-0-1 = 19-1-1, 90.4 percent.
— Notre Dame: 9-1-0 plus 9-0-1 = 18-1-1, 90.0 percent.
— Alabama: 10-1-0 plus 9-1-1 = 19-2-1, 86.3 percent.
Alabama wasn’t the clear-cut “two-time” champions that Bryant’s apologists have successfully promulgated. And don’t try and tell Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer, a College Football Hall of Fame coach who was an Arkansas assistant in 1964, the Razorbacks weren’t the best team in the nation.
But the misleading “two-time champion” narrative spread through an age-old media flaw. Bryant’s apologists captured the narrative. Media members too often follow each other without doing their own homework. CBS football analyst Charles Davis fell victim when he echoed Dunnavant in a 2019 ESPN film.
“Even with the tie, Notre Dame and Michigan State both finished ahead of undefeated Alabama in the final rankings,” Davis said. “Alabama had been No. 1 the last two years, in 1964 and 1965.”
Did Davis know those Alabama’s titles were both split?
Did he understand voters penalized Alabama for its soft schedule?
Did he know Alabama’s All-American offensive tackle was 6-foot-1, 202-pound Cecil Dowdy? Who was going to block two Michigan State All-American defensive players, Bubba Smith (6-7, 285) and George Webster (6-5, 230), or Notre Dame’s All-American defenders, Alan Page (6-4, 245) and Jim Lynch (6-1, 235)?
“I was a 218-pounder, and I didn’t want to block Bubba,” said Jerry West, Michigan State’s All-American offensive tackle. “Alabama’s 202-pounders wouldn’t have wanted to block him, either. Bubba, you had to go low to block; you couldn’t keep up with him strength-wise. George was impossible to block. You just hoped you could hit him.”
Alabama’s three-man defensive line was smaller than Michigan State’s offensive backfield. The Crimson Tide’s linemen: Johnny Sullivan (6-0, 191), Louis Thompson (6-2, 213) and Richard Cole (6-2, 204). The Spartans’ backs: Clinton Jones (6-0, 206), Bob Apisa (6-0, 214) and Dwight Lee (6-2, 202).
Those measurements likely gained Bryant’s attention if he was asked to schedule Michigan State.
Additionally, Davis almost certainly doesn’t understand Daugherty’s legacy leading college football integration. In a 2019 ESPN film Davis makes this egregiously unfounded statement:
“For Duffy Daugherty, it wasn’t just about being progressive and being Abraham Lincoln. Duffy was about winning football games.”
And here’s another way Alabama apologists fail to understand the truth has been shaded by the campaign to protect Bryant from his record of dragging his feet.
In the 1964 season, Alabama finished the regular season ranked No. 1 by the AP and UPI polls, but the Crimson Tide lost to No. 5 Texas in the Orange Bowl. However, bowl games were traditionally treated as rewards and national champions were crowned by votes at the end of the regular season.
If there had been a post-season vote in 1964, Alabama (10-1-0) likely would have been knocked from its No. 1 perch in AP and UPI and replaced by either No. 2 Arkansas (11-0-0), which defeated Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl, or Notre Dame (9-1-0).
In 1965, the AP experimented one year with post-bowl vote that delivered Alabama a split title. Otherwise, it finished No. 4 in the regular season.
The regular season ended with No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Arkansas, No. 3 Nebraska and No. 4 Alabama. But in the bowl games, Michigan State lost to No. 5 UCLA in the Rose Bowl; Arkansas lost to unranked LSU in the Sugar Bowl; and Nebraska lost to Alabama in the Orange Bowl. With Michigan State, Arkansas and Nebraska losing, Alabama jumped to No. 1.
Michigan State sweeps the AP, UPI, FWAA and NFF titles without the post-season bowl vote.
It’s hypocritical of Bryant’s apologists to claim the 1964 national title without mentioning its bowl game loss and then turn around and own the 1965 crown as a result of Michigan State’s bowl loss.
Dunnvant’s claim Alabama was the team of the decade also has holes in it. He based it on Alabama winning three national titles, but Alabama’s 1961 crown was split with Ohio State. The only schools winning undisputed 1960s national title were USC and Texas. And they both did it twice — the Trojans (1962, 1967) and Longhorns (1963, 1969).
Another example of poor documentary film editing was accepting the narrative USC linebacker John Papadakis, one of USC’s 17 white starters that season, wrote in a movie script. He wrote a fictional scene with Bryant taking USC fullback Sam Cunningham into the Alabama locker room to show his players what a “football player looked like.”
The myth caught fire and spread successfully into the college football lore. When Alabama’s players heard it, they said it never happened. In 2003, Cunningham admitted he got caught up the in the tale and confirmed it never happened.
Producers eventually shelved Papadakis’ movie project when the veracity of the locker-room tale proved too problematic.
However, when ESPN’s E60 produced a 2020 story, narrated by Jeremy Schaap, on the 50th anniversary of the game, the story simply omitted the locker room. The Bryant/Cunningham/locker room tale is the linchpin to the myth spreading. If a movie project could be killed over learning the locker-room scene was fictional, an E60 report on the 50th anniversary of what was in reality just another game shouldn’t have been aired.
The true 1960s pioneers started with Minnesota’s Sandy Stephens and Syracuse halfback Ernie Davis. Stephens, of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was the first Black quarterback to win a national title, in 1960. Davis, of Elmira, New York, was the first Black Heisman Trophy winner, in 1961.
The decade was largely shaped by Daugherty, his players and the network of southern Black high school coaches during segregation that trusted Daugherty with their athletes far from home to escape segregation. The Associated Press reported in 1962 Michigan State’s 17 Black athletes was the most in major college football history. Most prominent of those players was the two aforementioned College Football Hall of Famers, Webster and Jones, two more College Football Hall of Famers, Bubba Smith and Gene Washington, and the aforementioned Raye as a ground-breaking QB.
The Spartans’ success before vast television audiences along with the backdrop of Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement also influenced southern schools to recruit their first Black players. They included Maryland’s Darryl Hill, 1963; SMU’s Jerry LeVivas, 1966; Kentucky’s Wilbur Hackett, 1968; Tennessee’s Lester McClain, 1968; and Auburn’s James Owens, 1969. Another name breaking ground was Army West Point’s Gary Steele, 1966.
Hill and LeVias, in particular, endured horrific bigoted protests from fans and opponents, including a death threat against LeVias in the TCU game the FBI deemed credible. Texas fans waved nooses at LeVias. As a senior in 1968, LeVias scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion in SMU’s 37-28 win at Auburn. McClain was a junior on Tennessee’s 1969 team that routed Alabama 41-14 at Legion Field. Hackett, as a junior in 1969, was the SEC’s first Black team captain in any sport. Auburn signed James Owens in 1969, a year before Bryant signed Wilbur Jackson.
Despite all those facts, there are many people left with the impression by misleading documentaries and books that believe Jackson broke the SEC color line.
Similarly, does Sam Cunningham, Rest in Peace, deserve a grander place in college football lore than the true 1960s pioneers?
A consequence of the myth’s unchallenged spread is another film is under production hailing USC’s role. The film by Etenre Films in Southlake, Texas, is titled “Black and White: The Greatest Team that Almost Never Was.” A Hollywood news site, “Deadline,” wrote an article likely based on a press release claiming USC’s 1972 team changed college football integration. It also cites McKay changing college football recruiting practices, although he was the head coach throughout the 1960s during the unwritten quotas era.
“The consensus National Champion was so dominant, colleges across the country — even in the Deep South — scrambled to integrate their own teams by recruiting black players.”
That’s an absurd statement. Eterne producers and editors don’t understand the last three holdout major southern schools had integrated by the 1972 season’s kickoff: Georgia, LSU and Mississippi. There’s not much scrambling to be done after 100 percent of the southern schools have joined the 20th century.
Touting the 1972 USC team as changing college football integration is ridiculous, but there may still be another fantastical tale left to be spawned by the night of the 1970 USC-Alabama game.
Picture Bear Bryant mounting Traveler, USC’s white horse mascot, and riding to the middle of the field. He majestically waves a Robert E. Lee sword replica as he welcomes USC. Then, he announces to the bigoted crowd that Black athletes are permitted to play for the Crimson Tide. He doesn’t mention anything, though, about allowing them to vote.
Bryant hagiography remains safely framed despite the injustice the narrative has done to the true 1960s pioneers who cleared the road to USC visiting Birmingham.
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BEAR BRYANT MYTHOLOGY
NOTE: Why is a story examining Bear Bryant’s poor integration record important all these years later?
Put simply, celebrating Bear Bryant mythology became a cottage industry at the expense of the true 1960s pioneers. They have been reduced to footnotes, disposed of their place in history. Books and films profit off the 1970 USC-Alabama game myth, spreading fictional roles Bryant played to embellish the significance.
The true 1960s pioneers were 1) Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty and his players that were college football’s first fully integrated rosters; 2) the network of southern Black high school coaches that sent Daugherty players during segregation because they trusted him; and 3) the first Black players at southern schools such as College Football Hall of Famer Jerry LeVias at SMU (1966-68). Michigan State was envied as a welcoming environment, but LeVias and trailblazing southerners endured abuse in the late 1960s while clearing a road to make the 1970 USC-Alabama game possible.
It has been my experience, through freelance pitches, major media platforms fear challenging the established legend of Bear Bryant. Editors are content – even one that told me Bear Bryant gets too much credit — with revisionist history that has gilded Bryant’s image and aggrandized USC’s role, no matter the gaping holes in the tale. Acknowledging the Bryant mythology has holes in it also requires they’ve been duped for 30-plus years.
— TOM SHANAHAN
My video with Ken Burns on Michigan State football history
My video correcting ESPN on Duffy Daugherty’s legacy
My guest spot on “The Drive with Jack Ebling” disputing 1970 USC-Alabama myths
I’ve have researched college football integration and Michigan State’s leading role since 1962 while writing, “Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and the integration of college football. Foreword by Tony Dungy.
Order Raye of Light from August Publications.
I will put my research up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.