PHOTO: Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti.
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TO: Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti
FROM: Tom Shanahan, author and award-winning writer on college football integration.
DATE: September 6, 2023
RE: Conferences adopting legends through realignment.
Now that USC is 2-0, ranked No. 6 and is another day closer to joining the venerated Big Ten Conference you lead as its new commissioner, please be wary of Big Ten Network executives and writers adopting Pac-12 figures as Big Ten legends.
On the surface, your assistants screening contacts might think, “That’s a ridiculous notion.” Well, then, they haven’t noticed adopting legends comes with the territory of conference realignments.
I live in ACC country, and the original ACC fanbases still laugh about Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman introduced as an ACC legend at the 2015 ACC basketball tournament. Coleman played in the Big East from 1986-1990. Syracuse didn’t join the ACC until 2014.
The Big Ten is guilty of these aggrandized adoptions, too. Penn State’s John Cappeletti has been highlighted on BTN as a legend, ignoring his 1973 Heisman Trophy moment was two decades before his school joined the Big Ten.
And then there was the embarrassment of having to take Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s name off the Big Ten conference championship game trophy in the wake of Jerry Sandusky scandal Paterno enabled. Paterno coached at Penn State 27 years as an independent before the school joined the Big Ten.
Honestly, though, here is my specific Big Ten legends fear: At a brainstorming session, a BTN producer or writer influenced by watching Showtime’s “Against the Tide,” a misleading 2013 film about the 1970 USC-Alabama game.
“Hey, how about a film on USC coach John McKay as a Big Ten legend leading college football integration? He took his team to Alabama in 1970! It will be great Black History month content!”
Sadly, a misguided perception falsely portrays USC’s 1970 game at Legion Field in Birmingham as a tipping point to college football integration. The folklore, crafted 20 years after the game was played, claimed Alabama coach Bear Bryant, a segregationist from 1945 to 1970, scheduled USC as a game to lose before his fans.
Bryant’s secret plan, based solely on conjecture, was to manipulate segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Once Wallace saw USC’s Sam Cunningham, a Black fullback, run over Alabama’s all-white roster, Wallace would untie Bryant’s hands, allowing him to recruit Black athletes.
Bryant was Batman and McKay, his friend, Robin.
But that simplistic plot ignored Bryant had signed Wilbur Jackson as his first Black player months before USC arrived. Or that Auburn, Alabama’s in-state rival, signed James Owens in 1969. Or that Alabama’s high schools desegregated in the late 1960s. In other words, Bryant’s younger athletes on the 1970 roster had played against or with Black players.
Not to mention Wallace wasn’t in office for Bryant’s all-white recruiting classes of 1967, 1968 and 1969.
Wallace was indeed a racist, but college football relegated him to a bystander by the late 1960s. College football integration was fait accompli by 1970 thanks to the true 1960s pioneers. And none of those pioneers wore a USC or Alabama uniform – or a houndstooth hat.
Journalists regurgitating the myths rushed to claim a piece of Bryant hagiography. They also ignore USC, under McKay, was among the schools that followed an unwritten quota limiting Black athletes to a half-dozen or so. USC numbered only five Black players on its 1962 national title team and seven on its 1967 national championship roster.
Although it’s true USC was fully integrated with 18 Black players in the 1970 game at Legion Field in Birmingham, USC started only four Black players – a product of USC shedding its quota years. Of the 18 on the 1970 roster, 12 arrived as junior college transfers in 1969 or 1970. A 13th, Tody Smith, played in 1969 and 1970 after he transferred from Michigan State.
They say Bryant got religion in 1970. The same is true of McKay in the late 1960s.
Commissioner, considering your background growing up in New York and attending eastern colleges not known for big-time college football, we don’t know how much Big Ten history came with you to your new job.
Please take a closer look.
A good book on Big Ten history is, “This is the Big Ten.” It was commissioned by the conference in 2019 and written by long-time Chicago sportswriter Ed Sherman. In the chapter “Race on the Big Ten,” the book highlights the leadership of Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty’s 1960s teams.
PHOTO (Michigan State): Duffy Daugherty poses in an iconic photo with his five returning All-American players prior to the 1966 season: Bubba Smith (95), Gene Washington (84) and George Webster (90) from the segregated South Clinton Jones (26) from Cleveland, Ohio, and Bob Apisa (45), college football’s first Samoan All-American player from Honolulu. The photo is on Page 48 of the history book, “This is the Big Ten.”
The truly transformative story has been hiding in plain sight, but the BTN producers and writers have missed it.
Michigan State’s leadership starts with the Black stars seen on TV in the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowls. It continued through the 1960s when Daugherty assembled the first fully integrated rosters.
The crowning moment was the 1966 Game of the Century that matched No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State before 80,011 at Spartan Stadium. A record TV audience of 33 million saw the contrast in rosters.
Notre Dame (similar to USC) was the past with only one Black player, Alan Page. Michigan State was the future with 20 Black players, 11 Black starters, two Black team captains, College Football Hall of Famers George Webster and Clinton Jones, and Raye as the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title, 1965 and 1966.
Do BTN producers understand Duffy Daugherty was on the cover of Time Magazine, October 8, 1956? In the era before widespread TV, Time magazine was the ultimate media recognition.
Fox TV’s Tim Brando – to his credit – when he broadcasts a Michigan State game as he did Friday night in the win over Central Michigan, makes references to Duffy recruiting stars such as Bubba Smith and George Webster out of the segregated South. He cites the significance, but I don’t believe he understands the origin of the Underground Railroad. It’s a much deeper story than Duffy took players that southern schools didn’t want.
Duffy didn’t recruit the segregated South. The southern Black high school coaches – including Willie Ray Smith Sr., Bubba’s father, at Charlton-Pollard in segregated Texas — recruited Duffy. They trusted him with their players.
College football lore has it all backwards, believing Duffy recruited the South merely to win football games. Charles Davis made that erroneous claim while working for Fox in a 2019 ESPN film. He didn’t understand the full story either.
If the Big Ten Network needs documentary inspiration, check out NFL 360 producer/director Osahon Tongo’s Emmy Award-winning film: “The Indelible Legacy of Jimmy Raye.” His story is focused on Raye as Michigan State’s ground-breaking Black quarterback and Black coach, but he tells Duffy’s influence correctly.
Another film is “Men of Sparta” by Michigan State’s Bob Apisa, the first Samoan All-American player with a Hollywood background.
Oh, a BTN producer may plead they aired Maya Washington’s excellent film, “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar.” But BTN didn’t produce it and the film Maya fund-raised to produce aired elsewhere before BTN used it. Maya is a daughter of Michigan State College Football Hall of Famer Gene Washington, and it’s a wonderful father-daughter story. But a wealth of stories documenting Duffy’s leadership remain untold.
Let me know if I can send you copies of my books:
— RAYE of LIGHT, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and the Integration of College Football. Foreword by Tony Dungy.
— THE RIGHT THING TO DO, The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s. Foreword by Ruffin McNeill. Introduction by Mel Tucker. (Soon to be released by August Publications.)
The books tell the true stories of college football integration unlike any others. I made that statement when I spoke in June at the National Sports Media Association book festival in Winston-Salem, and I stand by it. I’ll put my research up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.
You also should understand Daugherty’s legacy extends to hiring pioneer Black assistant coaches: Sherman Lewis in 1969 before Raye in 1972. They both returned to campus after they played for him as Underground Railroad passengers. They both went on to coach in the NFL. They’ve both been honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame with its NFL Awards of Excellence – Raye in 2021 and Lewis in 2022.
Unfortunately, BTN producers think Tony Dungy of Minnesota and Dennis Green of Iowa (player) and Northwestern (coach) are the only successful Black coaches. It’s not the fault of Raye and Lewis the old guard of white male athletic directors and NFL owners didn’t give them a chance.
Do the producers and directors know Dungy considers Raye his mentor and Raye considers Lewis his mentor? That’s a good story.
As you know from your TV executive background, everything about college sports these days is about chasing network dollars. This is a side note, but maybe Walter Byers, the autocratic NCAA executive director, had it right when he limited schools to one national game of the week per season. The rule, intended to share the wealth, was in place until Georgia and Oklahoma successfully beat the NCAA in a 1984 court case.
The slippery slope we’re on remains steep. What’s next? I shudder to think of a public-address announcement at a Big Ten championship football game:
Please welcome Big Ten legend Reggie Bush, USC’s 2005 vacated Heisman Trophy winner!
Scoff if you want. It’s no more absurd that casting Bryant and McKay as Batman and Robin. Next thing we know, an advertising executive will present campaign to Dr. Pepper’s decisionmakers.
They’ll produce storyboards depicting a series of commercials casting Brian Bosworth – he of a steroids-fueled Oklahoma career – as the sheriff of Fansville who protects everything that is right about college football.
Tom Shanahan is an author, award-winning writer and historian focused on college football integration. He is the author of “Raye of Light” and an upcoming second book, “The Right Thing to Do.” His story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and segregation was awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. Visit his website, TomShanahan.Report.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055.
Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read a summary.
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Click here to purchase Raye of Light.
RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
Foreword by Tony Dungy