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“History writes people out of the story. It’s our job to write them back in.”
— David Maraniss, Pulitzer prize-winning biographer
By TOM SHANAHAN
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker fielded questions about more than his football team’s 2022 prospects when he took to the podium on Wednesday at the Big Ten media days in Indianapolis.
One question was about his recent trip to Alabama to participate in the Big Ten’s “Big Life Series: Selma to Montgomery.” Selma, of course, was the site of Bloody Sunday in 1965, when the Alabama state police attacked peaceful Civil Rights protestors attempting to march to Montgomery for voting rights.
“What did I take out of it,” Tucker said repeating the question. “I didn’t know as much as I thought about the Civil Rights movement, fighting for the right to vote, slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. It was a tremendous education for me. It was a life-changing experience.”
If Tucker, one of only 14 Black head coaches among 130 Division I schools has learned a lot, imagine what people who have been duped by myths and fiction surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game might, might, come to understand.
Too many of them believe Alabama coach Bear Bryant solved segregation with one Saturday night game by waving his wand. He invited USC to rout his all-white team at Legion Field in Birmingham. The myth, spread into college football lore, claims Bryant, USC coach John McKay and USC fullback Sam Cunningham were the central figures to desegregating the South. The hearts and minds of bigots changed overnight, we’re to believe.
As I stated in Part I of this series, southern college football writers, who are Bear Bryant apologists for dragging his feet on integration, and USC fiction writers, making up events that night in 1970, successfully took a page from the 1920s southern historians. The latter group duplicitously shifted the Civil War narrative to a fight over states’ rights rather than ending slavery. The trick play spreads a narrative at the expense of the true 1960s pioneers, North and South.
In addition to the cottage industry of books selling this false premise, I believe three major networks are also guilty of propagating the myths. Superficial research marred HBO’s “Breaking the Huddle,” 2008; Showtime’s “Against the Tide,” 2013; and ESPN’s 2019 preseason series celebrating college football’s 150th anniversary, “The American Game.”
Herzog & Co. in Los Angeles wrote, edited and produced ESPN’s 2019 preseason series. Overall, it was excellent. The mistakes Herzog made in Episodes 3 and 4 were relying on past superficial research that casts Bryant as John Wayne riding into town to end racial discrimination on the football field – if not the voting booth.
First, let’s look at The American Game, Episode 3, Integration. Episode 4 on Recruiting, which includes some overlap when the episode takes wrong turns explaining integration, will be next up in Part III.
Curiously, when the Integration film advances to the 1960s, it turns to Keith Dunnavant, an Alabama alumnus and author, and Charles Davis, a Tennessee alumnus and TV analyst. Two Southeastern Conference alums explained the role of Michigan State, a Big Ten school. Why?
A better source was Ed Sherman. The long-time Chicago Tribune sportswriter appeared in the Episode 4, Recruiting, but not in 3, Integration. Sherman wrote a 351-page Big Ten history book, “This is Big.” He includes a chapter, “Race in the Big Ten.”
Herzog’s team must have decided to take the fairytale exits HBO, Showtime and others traveled. Its writers and editors stuck to the rote story portraying Bryant as a crusader rather than telling the true story of him dragging his feet. Bryant coached all-white teams at four schools from 1946 to 1971. It took him a quarter-century to finally wave his wand.
Dunnavant says at the 17:12 mark of Integration, “If you’re a great player, a great African American player in the South in the 60s, you couldn’t play at a southern school. So, you had basically the option to play in the Big Ten or maybe on the West Coast …”
Then the camera switches to scenes of USC’s O.J. Simpson, who was a junior college transfer from San Francisco, slicing his way down the field.
At the 17:25 mark, the camera switches back to Dunnavant. He says, “So, at the same time, one of Bryant’s great friends was Duffy Daugherty, the head coach at Michigan State.”
The inference was Bryant was a benevolent segregationist, sending athletes to Daugherty. This is a long-running false narrative with no facts, zero, to back it up.
If Herzog’s team had done more homework, it would have understood Black southern high school coaches steered their talent to Daugherty. Most prominent among them was Bubba Smith’s father, Willie Ray Smith Sr. The southern coaches knew Michigan State’s reputation for integrated rosters dating to the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowls and trusted Daugherty. They had met him at clinics in the South. The first clinic Daugherty arranged for them was in anger. He responded to learning the Black high school coaches denied entry to hear him at a clinic in the South.
At the 17:57 mark of Integration, Herzog puts Dunnavant on screen again.
“So, Michigan State becomes a home for a lot of great African American players during that time. It becomes one of the most integrated programs in the country. And, of course, in ’66 you had classic showdown between Notre Dame and Michigan State.”
ONE OF THE MOST INTEGRATED PROGRAMS??!!
Yes,and following the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King established himself as ONE OF our great Civil Rights leaders.
The TV audience was misled when Michigan State was labeled “one of.” It was a consequence of Herzog not using Ed Sherman to explain Michigan State’s role. Sherman’s book devotes Pages 49 and 51 to Michigan State’s leadership.
Dunnavant is a Bear Bryant apologist. If you don’t want to believe me, listen to best-selling author Alan Barra, who is from Alabama and authored a Bryant biography, “The Last Coach.” Barra reviewed a 2006 Dunnavant book, “The Missing Ring,” for the Los Angeles Times.
“The Missing Ring” laughably made a case that reverse racism cost Alabama’s all-white 1966 team a national title. The Crimson Tide (11-0-0) finished third to No. 1 Notre Dame (9-0-1) and No. 2 Michigan State (9-0-1) in the poll voting.
Barra wrote, “Dunnavant’s case for the ’66 Tide, though, is based more on emotion than logic, and some of it is borderline irrational.”
Next, Charles Davis exposes his lack of 1960s history understanding.
At the 18:57 mark, Davis says, “Even with the tie, Notre Dame and Michigan State both finished ahead of unbeaten Alabama in the final rankings. Alabama had been No. 1 the last two years, 1964 and 1965.”
I don’t doubt Davis’ expertise as an analyst for the NFL Network, but he has been duped by the false southern narrative. Davis, like Dunnavant, ignored facts that Alabama shared both the 1964 and 1965 titles. They claimed two of the four titles in 1964 and only 1 ½ of the four in 1965.
There are four NCAA-sanctioned national title organizations: The Associated Press, United Press International (now USA Today), Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.
In 1964, three schools finished No. 1: Alabama (10-1-0), AP and UPI; Arkansas (11-0-0), FWAA; and Notre Dame (9-1-0), NFF. Don’t try and tell Barry Switzer, an Arkansas alumnus and assistant coach in 1964, his Razorbacks weren’t the national champions.
In 1965, Michigan State claimed 2-1/2 of the four national titles. Michigan State (10-1-0), UPI, NFF and co-FWAA; Alabama (10-1-1), AP and co-FWAA.
Davis doesn’t mention Alabama’s inferior 1965 record to Michigan State. Did he know that fact?
Herzog’s superficial research.
Finally, let’s back up to the 17:39 mark when Michigan State two-time All-American fullback Bob Apisa appears on film following Dunnvant’s comment about Daugherty recruiting Black athletes.
“Duffy wasn’t a man who saw color,” Apisa said. “He saw talent. Duffy was like a father to us. He was a father to me away from home in Hawaii, Jimmy Raye away from home, Fayetteville, N.C., and he was a father to Bubba Smith from Beaumont, Texas.”
There was no mention of Apisa’s Samoan heritage. Apisa was the first Samoan All-American player who launched the waved of Polynesian talent. Daugherty also was ahead of his peers recruiting Hawaii. Apisa is in the Michigan State Hall of Fame and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
I think Herzog’s team assumed Apisa, based on his dark skin and short black hair, was another one of Daugherty’s African American recruits. I asked Bob about my suspicion, and he agreed with me. He expressed disappointment his Samoan heritage wasn’t recognized in the film.
Apisa is considered the godfather of Polynesia football, and he’s proud of Polynesian contributions to football at all levels.
Fred Dryer, the NFL legend and later a star in the “Hunter” TV series, once told me about Hollywood greenlighting some projects and not others. He said a key was for a film or TV series to have a “champion.”
Alabama and USC have had multiple “champions” to capture a false narrative.
Michigan State is still awaiting a “champion” to bring a factual story to film.
Follow me on Twitter @shanny4055
I will put up my Duffy Daugherty research on his contributions to college football integration compared to Bear Bryant’s record against anybody, anytime, anywhere.
Purchase Raye of Light here
My upcoming books (release dates to be announced)
THE RIGHT THING TO DO
Duffy and the True 1960s Pioneers, North and South
Foreword by Ruffin McNeill
Prologue by Mel Tucker
Dedication page: “To all the true 1960s pioneers of college football integration, Black white, North and South, whose courage and legacies have been unjustly overshadowed by myths and fiction crafted around the 1970 USC-Alabama game. The true 1960s pioneers include Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty’s teams and players opening doors, Duffy’s assistant coaches following his blueprint at their new schools, Duffy’s Chief Engineer to the Underground Railroad, Willie Ray Smith Sr., and the pioneers who were the first Black players on their otherwise segregated campus. The 1960s barriers they broke down cleared the way for the 1970 USC-Alabama game to be played without incident.”
— Tom Shanahan
Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad
(a children’s book)
BEAR BRYANT MYTHOLOGY
NOTE: Why is a story examining Bear Bryant’s poor integration record important all these years later? The same statement applies to media stories distorting Bryant’s dismal record on desegregation.
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 game’s significance and obfuscate Bryant dragging his feet on integration.
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 and another who said it would be unfair to pay me pennies on the dollar during COVID-19 budget cutbacks — with revisionist history. The gilded story of Bryant waving a wand to end segregation has been easier to tell.
— TOM SHANAHAN