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The unromantic Alabama Rose Bowl story you won’t be told

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PHOTO: White supremacists firebombed a Freedom Riders bus on May 17, 1961, in Anniston Alabama. UCLA’s eight Black football players, conscious of the growing Civil Rights movement, were angered to learn Alabama coach Bear Bryant sought a backdoor entry to the Rose Bowl.

By TOM SHANAHAN

Writers, start your keyboards. TV reporters, tell your cameramen to hit the record button. Open-minded college football fans, brace yourselves.

Romantic stories on Alabama returning to the Rose Bowl are about to roll out. Alabama has been matched against Michigan in the College Football Playoffs in The Granddaddy of Them All.

The one-dimensional storyline you’ll read and view ad nauseum recounts Alabama putting southern football on the map with its 1926 Rose Bowl victory.

Yes, Alabama is 4-1-1 in the Rose Bowl with its last appearance in 1946. For the “what abouts,” Alabama’s 2009 national title won at the stadium was played as the BCS Championship — not as the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl.

And when anyone types out “A-l-a-b-a-m-a” on a keyboard or utters it into the microphone, Paul “Bear” Bryant hagiography is never too far away. You’ll be reminded “The Bear” was a junior end when Alabama won the 1935 Rose Bowl.

But here’s what you won’t read or view about America’s Teflon coach involving “The Bear” as a coach and the Rose Bowl.

In the 1961 football season, Bryant’s backroom machinations spurred a boycott threat of the New Year’s Day 1962 Rose Bowl. UCLA’s eight Black players were angered to learn Bryant was quietly pulling strings to have his Jim Crow team face the Bruins in Pasadena.

They knew Bryant as a segregationist coach. After all, the first 26 years of his 38 as a head coach, he directed all-white teams at four schools – Maryland, 1945; Kentucky, 1946-53; Texas A&M, 1954-57; and Alabama, 1958 through 1970.

“If we can’t play on their field in Alabama, why should they be able to play on our field in Pasadena?” UCLA’s Kermit Alexander told me in a 2015 interview.

Surprised to learn about Bryant and the boycott threat?

That hurts my feelings (actually, crocodile tears). My story researching an untold story about the 1962 Rose bowl and UCLA’s threatened boycott won first place in 2022 from the Football Writers Association of America for Enterprise.

But Alexander’s segregation reference was deeper than football. A few months earlier in Anniston, Alabama – 64 miles outside of Birmingham — white supremacists firebombed a bus with white and Black Freedom Riders.

PHOTO: UCLA’s Kermit Alexander was a senior on UCLA’s 1961 team that won the AAWU title.

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Bryant was oblivious to Civil Rights movement that had been gaining momentum in his state since the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the 1960s progressed, he was indifferent at best. In 1970, Alabama was the seventh of the 10 SEC football programs to recruit a Black player.

In a nutshell, the threatened boycott was about the Big Ten’s exclusive contract with the Athletic Association of Western Universities (a Pac-12 forerunner). A loophole opened a back door in the 1961 season to Bryant’s scheme. That gave AAWU commissioner Admiral Tom Hamilton – Bryant’s old Navy buddy — sole power to pick UCLA’s opponent.

Bryant and Hamilton no doubt would have succeeded if not for Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times sports columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. Murray got wind of UCLA’s threatened boycott and traveled to Alabama to confront Bryant on his turf for his reaction. Bryant dismissed Murray with no comment while adding the university had no comment, either.

The New Year’s Day 1962 Rose Bowl is more commonly associated with Ohio State faculty’s vote to turn down the bid, but Bryant and Hamilton occupied a smoke-filled back room prior to Ohio State clinching the Big Ten title and the fateful faculty vote.

Eventually, the threat of UCLA players boycotting the Rose Bowl and the specter of fellow Black UCLA students protesting outside the Rose Bowl before television cameras led Alabama president Frank Rose to stand up to Bryant. Rose announced the Crimson Tide planned to accept a Sugar Bowl bid in segregated New Orleans. Top-ranked Alabama beat No. 9 Arkansas, 10-3.

Minnesota, as the Big Ten runner-up, was selected to play in Pasadena, and the No. 6-ranked Gophers beat No. 16 UCLA, 21-3. Minnesota All-American Bobby Bell told me in a 2021 interview the Gophers never heard about Alabama or the boycott threat. They only knew about Ohio State. In those days, the sports media avoided race. Murray was a lone wolf howling in the wind.

With Bryant’s ploy having flown under the radar, his image remained unscathed on a path to hagiography into the 21st century. The national media has remained comfortable with 1970 USC-Alabama revisionist history that casts Bryant as a crusader despite his segregationist track record. Many others simply fear taking on Bear Bryant hagiography. Failure to properly understand and report the story is a sports journalism failure worthy of a Columbia Journalism Review examination.

The popular misconception paints the 1970 USC-Alabama game as a tipping point, and it has worked its way into national folklore with the aid of poorly researched sports writing. The myths and fiction continue to be regurgitated without recognition they were crafted 20 years after the game was played. The mythmakers ignored facts such as even in-state rival Auburn recruited its first Black player before Bryant joined the 20th century.

I retell the story of the 1962 Rose Bowl and segregation as a chapter in my new book:

THE RIGHT THING TO DO

The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s

The book can be ordered now from August Publications and is available on January 1 on Amazon and other outlets. The book includes a timeline of progress forged by the true 1960s pioneers. Their sacrifices rendered college football integration fait accompli by 1970.

I’ll put my research on 1960s college football integration up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.

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Tom Shanahan is an award-winning writer and author focused on college football integration and Michigan State’s leading role. His 2022 story on the 1962 Rose Bowl, Alabama and segregation won first place from Football Writers Association of America.

Here’s more from website about Bear Bryant folklore depriving true pioneers of the 1960s college football integration of their rightful place in history:

Click here: The Game that History Forgot


THE RIGHT THING TO DO

The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s

I recount many ignored milestones from the true pioneers of college football integration — all of them establishing history before the 1970 USC-Alabama game that has benefitted from revisionist history — in my book that is now available for pre-order. Click here or see below:

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055

Below are links click on to purchase my books focused.

My books tell the true story of college football integration in the 1960s and address the myths and fiction that allowed a false narrative surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game to usurp the credit from the true pioneers. As I said when I spoke at the National Sports Media Association book festival, no two books provide an accurate portrayal more than RAYE OF LIGHT and THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

I’ll put my facts up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.

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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 the summary as a first-place story.

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Click here to purchase The Right Thing To Do

THE RIGHT THING TO DO

The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s

Foreword by Ruffin McNeill

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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

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Click here to purchase my children’s book, Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad

The book for now is only a Kindle version on Amazon. Print and audio platforms available soon.

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My next children’s book coming soon: How Duffy Put Hawaii on the Football Map

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