Cover photo (L-R): Stanford’s all-minority backfield in 1970: Jackie Brown, Hillary Shockley and Jim Plunkett.
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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
We’ve been misled by myths surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game’s racial impact, but the deception doesn’t stop there. The revisionist history has cost the true 1960s pioneers of college football integration their due.
They’ve been forgotten. They are hidden figures, shoved into the shadows of college football lore.
The USC-Alabama folklore’s anchor – crafted and successfully spread 20 years after the game was played at Legion Field in Birmingham — contends Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant devised a secret plan. He manipulated segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace to produce a singular moment.
The popular misconception worked its way into national folklore with the aid of poorly researched sports writing.
Bryant was labeled a “genius” for manipulating Wallace into allowing him to recruit Black athletes. His masterstroke was scheduling USC as a game to lose in Birmingham with help from USC coach John McKay, his friend.
USC’s Sam Cunningham, a Black fullback, led a 42-21 victory running 12 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Wallace untied Bryant’s hands to recruit Black athletes as the scripted denouement.
But did it happen that way?
The myth’s unanswered holes include: 1) Wallace was out of office, 1967-71, yet Bryant’s 1967, 1968 and 1969 recruiting classes were all white; 2) Alabama’s high schools desegregated in the late 1960s, meaning Bryant’s younger players had competed with or against Black athletes; 3) Auburn, Alabama’s in-state rival, signed its first Black player, James Owens, in 1969; 4) Bryant signed Wilbur Jackson as his first Black player in 1970 — months before USC arrived.
So much for Wallace untying Bryant’s hands after he watched Cunningham.
But another fact rich with irony that the 1990s mythmakers were unaware of or disingenuously omitted – probably both – was a more significant result at another venerable southern venue played out the same night.
Tenth-ranked Stanford, led by a Black fullback in an all-minority backfield, upset No. 4 Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
Stanford fullback Hillary “The Shocker” Shockley scored three touchdowns and totaled 149 yards (23 carries 117, three catches 32). Sound familiar? A Black fullback overran an all-white defense on Jim Crow turf.
“We talked about that when we had our Rose Bowl 50th anniversary reunion,” said Shockley, who went on to successful mortgage and real estate careers. “We were on national TV the same weekend as the USC-Alabama game. We certainly had the better platform for promoting the change that was taking place in college football. We had an all-minority backfield. People talk about USC and Bryant getting religion, but our game and season was a stronger testimony.”
The ironies of USC-Alabama claiming a singular moment continue.
Stanford’s victory launched a Hollywood-ending season worthy of documentaries – its first conference title in 19 years, quarterback Jim Plunkett as the first Latino Heisman Trophy winner and a Rose Bowl upset of No. 2 Ohio State, 27-17.
USC’s season? The Trojans lost to cross-town rival UCLA 45-20 and the curtain was pulled without a bowl game.
But back to the Stanford-Arkansas game, with the added irony it was ABC TV’s national game of the week, while USC-Alabama was limited to radio.
Shockley opened the scoring with a 43-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead. Los Angele Times sports editor Bill Shirley, who reported from Little Rock in the September 13 edition, wrote the 220-pound junior, “roared right by two blitzing Arkansas linebackers” and “got through heavy traffic the last five yards into the end zone.”
Stanford led 27-0 six minutes into the second quarter and 34-13 with five minutes remaining in the third, although the Bay Area team wilted in the sultry heat to settle for a 34-28 victory. Shockley dominated, but he wasn’t a one-man show.
Plunkett, a Mexican American with Native American blood on his mother’s side, completed 21-of-38 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown.
Brown, an African American junior running back, totaled 155 yards. He caught 10 balls for 123 and carried nine times for 32.
But with the 1960s sports media avoiding race, a void existed for the USC-Alabama myths. The hoodwinked media, ripe for Bryant hagiography, rushed to regurgitate the tale sans factchecking.
Bryant – who wasn’t shy about playing the media — didn’t mention a 1970 “scheme” prior to his 1983 death. There wasn’t a single word in his 1974 autobiography, “Bear;” not in a fawning 1980 Time Magazine cover story of 5,100 words; and not a mention in a 1991 documentary, “The Legacy Lives,” by Bryant’s close friend, Al Browning. McKay also said nothing about his pal executing a scheme in his 1974 autobiography, “McKay: A Coach’s Story.”
John Underwood, Bryant’s author for “Bear” and an acclaimed Sports Illustrated writer, when asked about his book not addressing the 1970 game, he said the subject never came up while working with Bryant. If it had, surely, Underwood would have highlighted if for no other reason than to sell more copies.
THE SPORTS ILLUSTRATED JAB
A media axiom asserts journalism is the first draft of history. Facts leave behind footprints found in the archives like fossils.
Dan Jenkins, a godfather of college football writers, left his footprints in Little Rock – not Birmingham – in the Sports Illustrated edition dated September 21. That speaks volumes.
Jenkins, naturally, was drawn to Arkansas report on dueling Heisman quarterback candidates — Plunkett for upstart Stanford vs. Bill Montgomery for national title contender Arkansas. But Jenkins, notably, also highlighted the varsity debut of Arkansas football’s first Black scholarship player, Jon Richardson.
Razorbacks coach Frank Broyles signed Richardson in 1969 – a year before Bryant’s first Black player (the NCAA didn’t permit freshmen varsity eligibility until 1972). Jenkins described Richardson’s 37-yard touchdown catch with a touch of his inestimable humor — a sardonic jab at Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus, a segregationist in office during the 1957 Little Rock Nine crises.
PHOTO: On the issue of racial progress in college football, Dan Jenkins left his deep footprints in Little Rock, not Birmingham, September 12, 1970.
Jenkins wrote: “And then came the first black athlete ever to play for Arkansas, a quick little dandy named Jon Richardson – yep, a Negro, right there in Orval Faubus’ place of business – to provide a spark for a Razorbacks comeback that almost won the game, and at least ended the embarrassment of it all.”
In the same SI issue, Pat Putnam wrote a college football roundup encompassing six games: No. 3 USC-No. 16 Alabama, No. 9 Nebraska-Wake Forest, Georgia Tech-No. 17 South Carolina, North Carolina-Kentucky, No. 18 UCLA-Oregon State and No. 15 Florida-Duke.
Putnam, like Jenkins, highlighted a racial progress moment, but he didn’t cite the USC-Alabama game. Georgia Tech, led by African American quarterback Eddie McAshan, beat integrated South Carolina, 23-20. Putnam wrote tongue-in-cheek McAshan, “… was under just a little bit of pressure as a sophomore, being Tech’s first black player and the Deep South’s first major college black quarterback.”
Jenkins and Putnam, ecclesiastical sportswriters, understood the significance of Richardson and McAshan taking the field. Among the eight southern schools Putnam’s roundup story cited, Alabama was last to recruit a Black player. And Putnam, like Jenkins, spoke volumes by not considering USC-Alabama a singular moment.
So, how did a false narrative become entrenched in college football lore?
Easy, might say the late David McCullough, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian. McCullough explained the need to teach history in an interesting manner. For example, if he told you the king and queen died, that’s a sequence of events. But, McCullough added, if he told you the king and queen died of grief, that’s a story.
Stanford-Arkansas was told accurately in 1970 as a sequence of touchdowns, but USC-Alabama was embellished in the 1990s as a snappy parable. McCullough wouldn’t have approved of the fabrications, but his comments explain why history forgot one game and the spread the aggrandized one.
Another reason to expose the folklore is pointing to it as a sad chapter in sports journalism. Gullible media, ripe for a tale hailing Bryant, regurgitated the revised history rather than factchecked.
After all, sports journalism nourishes folksy coaches. No one called him Paul. He was the Bear. A cottage industry of toadying books and network documentaries has continued to profit selling the myth into the 21st century. The Bear as crusader remains a bull market 40 years after his death.
To quote Upton Sinclair, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on not understanding.”
The 1970 USC-Alabama mythology’s extensive tentacles have squeezed the life out of legacies of the true 1960s pioneers. The remaining subheads to this article unravel myths and facts.
Bringing to light the 1960s true pioneers – none of whom wore a USC or Alabama uniform or donned a houndstooth hat — requires detailing the trails blazed prior to 1970.
Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty was Paul Bunyan in the 1960s, clearing a forest of racism to assemble college football’s first fully integrated rosters. But it was a time when the sports media avoided race, so the trees fell without making a sound.
The Spartans’ reputation grew from national TV audiences watching Black All-American players help the Spartans win the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowls.
Other schools, including USC, followed unwritten quotas limiting Black athletes to half-dozen or so into the 1960s. An untold story was USC numbered only five Black players on its 1962 national title team and seven on its 1967 national championship roster.
Daugherty’s leadership crescendo was the 1966 Game of the Century when No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State played to a controversial 10-10 tie. A record TV audience of 33 million viewed contrasting rosters playing before 80,011 fans at Spartan Stadium.
Notre Dame was the past with one Black player, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer 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 the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title, Jimmy Raye of segregated Fayetteville, N.C.
But Daugherty’s true colorblind trait was his willingness to take chances on undersized Black recruits such as Raye. Schools following quotas limited their Black scholarships to today’s vernacular of 5-star and 4-star prospects. Raye’s story as a pioneer Black quarterback and Black college and NFL coach was recently told in an Emmy Award-winning NFL 360/NFL Network documentary, “The Indelible Legacy of Jimmy Raye.”
Michigan State’s success gradually led to other schools abandoning quota limitations. Who deserves credit – Bryant/McKay folklore or overlooked Daugherty reality?
But Daugherty and his players weren’t alone. The 1960s sports media also failed to recognize the nerve required of southern pioneers such as Southern Methodist’s Jerry LeVias, the first Black scholarship football player in the defunct Southwest Conference.
When SMU played in 1966 at TCU, the FBI deemed a death threat against LeVias credible. Agents escorted LeVias and scanned the stadium for a sniper. Despite the pressure, LeVias caught a 68-yard touchdown pass to help SMU clinch the Southwest title.
Cunningham’s contribution was running through massive holes opened by five white offensive linemen. Who deserves credit – Cunningham or overlooked reality of LeVias and other pioneers?
— In 1960, Minnesota’s Sandy Stephens of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was the first African American quarterback to lead his team to a national title.
— In 1961, Syracuse running back Ernie Davis was the first Black Heisman winner.
— In 1962, the Associated Press reported the Spartans’ 17 Black players was the most in major college football history. The number continued growing into the 20s.
— In 1963, Maryland’s Darryl Hill was the first Black football player to represent a major southern conference (Maryland was then an Atlantic Coast Conference member). Hill endured cheap shots from players and verbal abuse from fans.
— In 1963, halfback Sherman Lewis of Louisville, Kentucky, was Daugherty’s first Underground Railroad All-American player while also finishing third in the Heisman voting. Lewis’ high school coach contacted Daugherty as part of a growing trend of southern Black coaches recognizing opportunity at Michigan State.
— In 1964, Wake Forest was the first ACC school to sign Black recruits out of high school with three scholarship athletes. One was Bob Grant, the first Black player drafted from a major southern conference (second round, Baltimore Colts, 1968).
— In 1964, Michigan State was the first fully integrated team to play in the South against segregated North Carolina at Kenan Stadium.
— In 1964, Houston’s Warren McVea was the first Black player to sign at a major program in Texas.
— In 1965, College Football Hall of Famers Bubba Smith, George Webster, Gene Washington and Clinton Jones earned All-America honors for the first of back-to-back years. Bob Apisa also earned All-America in 1965 and 1966 as the first Samoan All-American while representing Daugherty’s Hawaiian Pipeline.
— In 1966, Kentucky broke the Southeastern Conference’s color line in football by signing Nate Northington and Greg Page and two more in 1967, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg.
— In 1966, Michigan State fielded the first all-minority backfield: Raye, quarterback; Apsia, fullback; and halfbacks Jones and Dwight Lee (Black).
— In 1966, Army sophomore Gary Steele was West Point’s first Black football letterman.
— In 1967, Tennessee was the second SEC school to sign a Black player, Lester McClain.
— In 1968, Texas A&M signed Hugh McElroy. That meant all three of Bryant’s previous schools were desegregated prior to Alabama. The other two were Maryland, 1963, and Kentucky, 1966.
— In 1969, integrated Tennessee’s No. 7-ranked team routed No. 20 Alabama 41-14 before 72,443 fans at Legion Field. Lester McClain, Tennessee’s first Black player signed in 1967, was a junior and linebacker Jackie Wallace a sophomore. Wallace sparked the romp with an early interception return. He also has place in SEC history as the conference’s first Black All-American player, 1970 and 1971. Wallace has been overlooked for Cunningham’s places in college football lore and the College Football Hall of Fame.
THE FORGOTTEN FULLBACK
USC assembled for the 1970 season’s first practice with senior fullback Charlie Evans a returning starter.
Evans possessed NFL talent, going on to play four seasons in the NFL. And as late as August 24 in an LA Times story published three weeks before the season opener in Birmingham, sportswriter Jeff Prugh noted McKay considered having Cunningham “switched to defense.”
In other words, when the 1970 USC-Alabama game was scheduled in the off-season, Evans topped the preseason depth chart. Bryant expected to face Evans, who was one of USC’s 18 white starters in Birmingham. So much for Bryant plotting his secret offseason scheme around a Black fullback.
But Cunningham, of course, remained at fullback. In Prugh’s game story on September 13, he wrote Evans and Cunningham “alternated at fullback.” In Sports Illustrated, Putnam referred to Cunningham as a “sophomore reserve.”
Another contradiction was the tale claimed USC dominated start to finish. It’s true the Trojans jumped out to a 15-0 lead on two Cunningham touchdowns and Ron Ayala’s field goal in the second quarter, but Alabama responded with a seven-play, 49-yard scoring drive, trimming USC’s advantage to a one-score game, 15-7.
The media blindly sold the start-to-finish rout without looking at the second quarter’s play-by-play sheet. Alabama quarterback Scott Hunter, a future NFL player, completed four passes for 41 yards. Three of the four completions were good for a first down. They were, in order, a first-and-10 for 11; after a completion of four yards there was a second-and-6 for seven; and then a first-and-10 for 19 to the 8-yard line. Johnny Musso’s 7-yard run on first down set up his score from the 1.
However, the 2013 Showtime documentary “Against the Tide” and the 2020 ESPN film aired for the game’s 50th anniversary don’t tell that part of the story. Both networks granted USC linebacker John Papadakis license to revise history.
Papadakis said in “Against the Tide,” “I don’t recall them making a meaningful first down in the first half.” On ESPN he said: “They couldn’t make a meaningful first down in the first half. They couldn’t move the ball. Therefore, we ran over them.”
That’s the impression left upon viewers and college football lore, but Papadakis forgot he had to make one of the tackles after a first down, Steve Doran’s 7-yard reception. The films don’t mention Alabama passed for 232 yards and David Bailey caught seven balls for 101.
With Musso’s first of two TDs, USC needed to respond. USC’s Clarence Davis fumbled the ensuing kickoff, although the Trojans recovered. Prugh’s game story noted the Trojans “promptly marched 60 yards with Evans and Cunningham eating up most of the yardage until Evans’ 7-yard run over left tackle made it 22-7 by halftime.”
The longest run of the drive was Evans’ 15-yarder, but his crucial first-half contributions were omitted from the myths. He’s not alone. Bill Holland, an African American, was the third USC fullback to find the end zone.
As the Trojans pulled away in the second half, Holland caught a 6-yard TD pass from quarterback Mike Rae for a 42-13 fourth-quarter lead. Holland, who worked in the corporate world and later in USC’s athletic office, was asked in 2020 about the 1970 game in a 247Sports/USCfootball.com podcast.
“Some people have taken liberties with what they remember,” he said.
THE LOCKER ROOM
The linchpin to spreading 1970 USC-Alabama mythology was the punch line to a fictional locker-room scene.
It depicts Bryant inviting Cunningham, stripped to the waist, to stand on a bench in the Alabama locker-room. He wanted to show his team “what a football player looked like.” Journalists, ignoring the slave-trade imagery, smugly guffawed at Bryant manipulating bumpkins.
But by 2003, Cunningham admitted to Neal McCready of the Mobile (Alabama) Press Register the locker-room scene never happened. You can’t get a source better than the horse’s mouth. McCready also wrote Alabama’s players said Bryant wouldn’t embarrass them that way.
McCready’s reporting was worthy of an award, but the media follow-ups were all but non-existent. The myth lived on. To quote the script from the 1962 movie “The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, quote the legend.”
A baseless joke credited to then-Virginia Tech coach Jerry Claiborne also fueled the spread. He supposedly said Cunningham “did more for integration in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King in 20 years.”
There are no footprints of a direct quote from Claiborne, but its metamorphosis may be based on a Bryant comment uttered before Alabama opened the 1971 season at USC. In an LA Times story on July 27, Bryant was asked about Alabama fans accepting Black athletes.
“The best answer to that,” Bryant said, “is a comment that Jerry Claiborne made after scouting us against USC last year. That’s the game when John’s fullback, Sam Cunningham, killed us. Claiborne said USC and in particular Cunningham did more for integration in 60 minutes than had been done in 50 years.”
Bryant’s self-serving “50 years” response may be nothing more than a chuckle between two old white men raised under Jim Crow, but the dubious version was later reborn as “20 years.” As so, it helped sell the myth.
Howell Raines, the former New York Times executive editor raised on Alabama football and educated in the state through his post-graduate degree in Tuscaloosa, has been long offended by anyone accepting the Claiborne joke.
“I remember writing that quote was ridiculous,” Raines said in an interview. “Nothing had changed in Alabama for decades until Martin Luther King came to Birmingham in 1963. That quote was a backhanded insult to Dr. King.”
Here’s the larger issue with accepting the Claiborne quote as funny and credible: Try to name an American Civil Rights issue resolved overnight.
King began the movement with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. He was behind bars in 1963 when he wrote his iconic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He delivered his “I have a Dream Speech” on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Those 1960s Civil Rights protesters endured bloody sacrifices. The first players at southern schools Maryland’s Darryl Hill (1963), Wake Forest’s Bob Grant (1965) Houston’s Warren McVea (1965) and Southern Methodist’s Jerry LeVias (1966) played through cheap shots and death threats. Those tipping points pre-dated 1970.
Sam Cunningham was a beneficiary of changing times, not a principal character breaking down doors.
Cunningham, who died in 2021, may have realized later he was swept up in the myth. In a Times story published on August 31, 2016, Cunningham expressed irritation.
“It’s already a historic story without adding sauce to it, you know what I mean?” Cunningham said. “Everybody wants to make it more than it was.”
Raines faulted Bryant for not desegregating sooner than 1970, but he also feels Bryant’s impact on the state leading up to 1970 has been overlooked. He noted after Wallace stood on in the school house door on June 11, 1963 on a failed attempt block campus integration, Bryant and president Frank Rose worked behind the scenes to keep Wallace’s hands off the school and football team.
In a 1983 article for The New Republic, Raines wrote: “Alabamians may elect raucous bumpkins, but they do not like to be thought of people would associate with them. If Wallace represented Alabama’s reality, Bryant was its aspiration.”
Haines’ magazine story also noted in the 1965 all-white team’s win over integrated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, Bryant insisted his players extend a hand to help up their opponents.
“It was, as everyone in Alabama knew, to show the national sports audience that the state’s football team was more civilized than its governor.”
THE 11TH GAME
Another key to the 1970 myth’s spread was the compliant media accepting a false narrative Bryant exploited the NCAA permitting 11th game for the 1970 season.
Craig Fertig, a former USC quarterback (1961-64) and assistant coach (1965-73), made an unfounded claim Bryant took a furtive trip to Los Angeles. Fertig died in 2008, but Showtime’s “Against the Tide” pushed the myth with Fertig’s words from the grave.
Fertig claimed McKay received a mysterious phone call from Bryant asking to meet at an LA airport hospitality room bar. Bryant revealed his secret plan over drinks and through a haze of smoke from Bryant’s cigarettes and McKay’s cigars.
However, 43 years earlier the Times and Sports Illustrated reported a simpler account.
Putnam wrote in SI Broyles led coaches pushing in the offseason for the NCAA to grant an 11th game. In Prugh’s September 9 Times story, he wrote Bryant said he and McKay played golf in Palm Springs when they discussed the extra game as they awaited the ruling. NCAA approval was announced on January 11, 1970.
Putnam wrote McKay called Bryant: “Hey. I just got the O.K. for an 11th game. How about you?”
Bang, bang — a 19th-hole discussion, not an airport bar secret meeting – set the stage.
The 1970/1971 home-and-home series was reported in the Times on February 1, 1970. It was all of 158 words, six paragraphs. There was no mention of a Civil Rights moment on the horizon.
Another untold story was in 1968 USC athletic director Jess Hill and Bryant, who doubled as AD, agreed to a 1977/1978 home-and-home series. Typically, college football games were scheduled five to 10 years in advance. The 1970 11th game simply moved up the calendar.
By 1970, integrated teams traveling to the South was no longer novel. The 1964 Michigan State-North Carolina game marked the first time a fully integrated roster played in the South. Tennessee played host to two integrated teams at the theb-named Memphis Memorial Stadium, UCLA in 1965 and Army West Point in 1966. Other games were Michigan at North Carolina, 1965; Indiana at Texas, 1965 and 1966; USC at Texas in 1966; and Cal at Texas, 1969.
Prugh’s September 9 story also noted Alabama’s future games included integrated teams: Cal at Legion Field, 1973; Washington at Legion Field, 1975; and Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, 1976.
McKAY’S RECRUITING SHIFT
Presenting USC as a model integrated football program was an exaggeration – if not deceitful.
Yes, the Trojans were a fully integrated by 1970 but not without a dramatic shift in McKay’s recruiting. He turned to junior college transfers as USC shed its quota limitation years of single-digit numbers. The “fully integrated” label cunningly left out of the 18 Black players, 13 represented the 1969 and 1970 classes.
Four 1970 seniors were transfers. Three were from JCs, Clarence Davis, Charlie Weaver and Marv Montgomery, and Tody Smith was from a four-year school, Michigan State.
Five 1970 juniors who were JC transfers in their first season: Kent Carter, Willie Hall, Lou Harris, Ron Preston, and Alonzo Thomas.
Four 1970 sophomores in their first varsity season were recruited out of high school in 1969, Cunningham, John Grant, Rod McNeill and Charle Young.
Of the 18, USC started only four Black players at Alabama and none dated to the 1967 freshmen class. Davis, Weaver and Smith were transfers and junior quarterback Jimmy Jones was from the 1968 freshmen class.
Another deception was Showtime’s “Against the Tide” presented Brice Taylor as an example USC progressiveness. Taylor, an African American who was USC’s first All-American football player in 1925, was omitted from the school’s football media guide until Brad Pye Jr. of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a Black newspaper, campaigned in the late 1950s to return Taylor’s name.
McKay acknowledged in his 1974 book he was confronted by a parent about his lack of Black players. McKay, whose backyard was populous and diverse Southern California, disingenuously said USC was no different than any other major program. It’s difficult to accept McKay was uninformed. McKay was friends with Daugherty and faced Michigan State’s fully integrated rosters in 1963, 1964 and 1967.
THE 1971 ARCHIVES
If we’re to believe the logic casting Bryant powerless to challenge Wallace and bigoted fans, the myth backfired in 1971.
When No. 16 Alabama upset No. 5 USC 17-10 at the LA Coliseum, Wallace was back in office (1971-79) as of January 18, 1971. According to the logic of Wallace tying Bryant’s hand in the 1960s, Wallace now had reason to instruct Bryant to slow down integration.
Alabama, after all, won the 1971 game behind two touchdowns scored by Musso, a white star nicknamed the Italian Stallion. The 1971 Trojans numbered more Black starters in 1971 than in 1970. Two new 1971 USC starters were future College Football Hall of Famers – junior tight end Charle Young, recruited in 1969, and sophomore receiver Lynn Swann, recruited in 1970.
Bryant’s 11 white offensive starters jumped to a 17-0 lead behind his wishbone backfield –quarterback Terry Davis and backs Musso, Ellis Beck and Joe LaBue. Musso scored on runs of 13 and 8 and finished with a game-high 85 yards.
Another myth was Bryant avenged the 1970 loss by surreptitiously springing a wishbone offense on the Trojans. Dwight Chapin wrote in the Times on September 9, a day before the 1971 kickoff, McKay anticipated the offensive change.
The headline: “’Bama May Spring Wishbone T Attack on Wary Trojans.”
Chapin quoted the cagey Bear: “I’ve run the wishbone some in the past, maybe we’ll run it a little more this year.”
THE 1978 BIRMINGHAM GAME
Sports fans love revisiting history, so No. 7-ranked USC’s 1978 trip to Legion Field to face No. 1 Alabama on September 23 was a natural to hype as returning social justice heroes.
But print and TV coverage was a blank tableau. There were no references to 1970 as a tipping point on the ABC national Game of the Week broadcast. Nor in print stories in the Times by Mal Florence or Sports Illustrated by John Underwood.
The ABC pregame show lasted 7 minutes 20 seconds, and Keith Jackson, the voice of college football, never mentioned 1970 as a historic moment. Rather, Jackson credited USC coach John Robinson for bringing air conditioning units to Birmingham to battle the 85-degree heat. Robinson said he had noticed two weeks earlier Alabama placed air conditioning units on its sideline but not for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers, reduced to waving towels, wilted in a 20-3 loss.
PHOTO: USC’s Charles White ran for 199 yards to lead a 24-14 win over Alabama in 1978 in Birmingham. The Sports Illustrated story made no mention of the 1970 USC-Alabama game or of Sam Cunningham.
With nearly three minutes elapsed on the game clock, a graphic flashed on the screen noting Alabama’s series lead. Jackson said Cunningham led USC’s lone victory, but Jackson didn’t link the performance to racial progress. With USC leading 24-7 midway through the fourth quarter, Jackson said, “The last time these teams played here, 1970, the Trojans won 42-21.” Again, no transformative racial history cited.
After USC closed out the 24-14 victory, the post-game storyline was limited to Trojans running back Charles White rushing for 199 yards and a 40-yard TD. The next day on “The Bear Bryant Show,” a popular weekly broadcast, Bryant praised White, adding, “I don’t recall, unless it was (Johnny) Rodgers at Nebraska, playing against anyone better than he was.” Cunningham wasn’t mentioned.
Florence, a dean of Southern California sportswriters, limited his lone reference to 1970 in his advance story to his last paragraph: “Alabama holds a 4-1 edge over USC in a series that began in 1938. USC’s only win came in 1970. Where? Birmingham.” Florence made no mention of Cunningham.
In Sports Illustrated, writer John Underwood referred to White joining past USC running back stars Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell. No mention of Cunningham or 1970.
BEAR BRYANT HAGIOGRAPHY
One of the few voices to question Bryant hagiography was David Halberstam, the Pulitzer Prize winner and author.
In 2002, Halberstam wrote an ESPN article about Bryant’s failure to accept 1960s progress: “… the Bear was very late to the dance, especially because people are always talking about football coaches as leaders. In this case, he did not lead very well.”
But even Halberstam’s critique failed to slow the myth’s proliferation.
Two examples of media complicitly keeping the myth alive are 2020 print and video ESPN stories noting the 50th anniversary on ESPN.
The website story stated when USC departed for Alabama, “the state was run by a segregationist governor, George Wallace, who was on his way to an easy reelection.” Wallace was seeking a second term, but his first was 1963 to 1967. Albert Brewer was Alabama’s governor, May 7, 1968, to January 18, 1971.
The ESPN TV segment aired with Jeremy Schaap’s narration providing credibility. He mentions “theories” about Bryant’s motivation to play USC in Birmingham, but the story’s bottom line was celebrating pulp fiction integration crusaders.
The point of mentioning those misleading ESPN stories isn’t a “gotcha” moment. It’s to highlight the media remains quick to blame Wallace to absolve Bryant.
THE GREEK ICARUS
Papadakis takes great pride in his alma mater and his Greek heritage. After his playing days he opened Papadakis Taverna, a popular Greek restaurant in San Padro, his hometown located in LA’s Harbor Region.
He evolved into a bon vivant restaurateur. With time, he also proved adept at selling folklore while tackling book and movie projects.
By the time USC played in 2003 at Auburn, 110 miles from Birmingham, Papadakis capitalized on the myth. He worked with Cunningham and Mark Houska on a movie treatment – a screen play summary – titled, “The Turning of the Tide.” Papadakis and Cunningham also collaborated on a book with author Don Yeager published in 2006, “Turning the Tide.” USC alumnus and TV star Tom Selleck’s narration provided Showtime’s “Against the Tide” with a veneer of credibility.
Papadakis’ movie treatment locker room scene was farcical, attributing laughable dialogue to Bryant while he addressed his players.
“Gentlemen, this ol’ boy, I mean, this man and his Trojans brother just ran your slow-motion asses right out of your own house. Raise your heads and open your eyes, this what a football player looks like.”
The absurd quote was printed on Page 142 of “Turning of the Tide.”
By 2008, Papadakis boasted in a Los Angeles Daily News story a movie was about to be made. However, the movie deal fell apart when the authenticity of the locker-room scene was raised, according to Steven Travers, a USC author who contributed to “Against the Tide” and who otherwise promotes the 1970 Bryant/McKay mythology.
The movie deal was Papadakis’ Icarus Greek mythology moment. Or was it?
Papadakis flying too close to the sun crashed the movie deal, but he still takes flight. ESPN trotted him out like Traveler, USC’s white horse mascot, selling the myth in 2019 and 2020.
“THE APPALLING SILENCE”
In the 1960s, Birmingham was known as “Bombingham.”
Black churches and homes were bombed by Ku Klux Klan members who learned explosives fighting Communist troops in the Korean War. In 1963, “Four Little Girls” attending Sunday school were killed and 20 others injured in a dynamite explosion at the 16th Street Baptist Church located only blocks from Legion Field.
MLK cited the lack of leadership denouncing such violence.
“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama,” King said, “but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time.”
PHOTO: 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed on September 15, 1963. Four little girls were killed and 20 others attending Sunday school injured.
Bear Bryant silently sat around and waited on time until 1970.
But unlike Auburn’s contrition – the school has apologized for its segregated teams and not doing more to support James Owens when he was the only Black player on the roster — Alabama continues to celebrate Bryant as a crusader.
Author’s note: I have researched college football integration since 2012 while writing “Raye of Light.” My story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and segregation won first place in 2021 from the Football Writers Association of America. My upcoming book is, “The Right Thing to Do.” My children’s book also is due out soon, “Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad,” in four formats – hardcover, paperback, Kindel and audio. I will put my research up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.
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.
Click here for my NIL partners.
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