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Prairie View A&M-Michigan State provides a game and a Duffy history lesson

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PHOTO: The Prairie View A&M Panthers prepare to take the field.

Part II was posted on June 30

By TOM SHANAHAN

Michigan State’s Alan Haller called Prairie View A&M athletic director Anton Goff in January to gauge his interest in a game. At that late date, the Spartans’ AD was scrambling to replace the September 14 contest canceled by Louisiana.

But this was more than Haller throwing a dart at a map that landed on Prairie View, a Historically Black College and University located 44 miles from Houston. The ADs knew each other from Goff’s days at Michigan State as the Spartans’ football academic coordinator, 2001 to 2004.

“That’s what’s great about a place like Michigan State,” Goff said. “I’ll be going back after 20 years, and people I know are working there. It’s a testament to Michigan State that people stay there. I got to know coach Tom Izzo and his staff. Alan was a former football player who would come back around the program. I loved my time at Michigan State.”

Goff’s MSU days didn’t overlap with Haller’s under the athletics umbrella – Haller was then a 1st Lieutenant in the MSU Police Department — but Haller was around as a former MSU player, 1988-91. Haller moved into athletics administration as an associate athletic director in 2010 and was named AD in 2021.

Prairie View A&M athletic director Anton Goff spent time at Michigan State as the football program’s academic coordinator.

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That familiarity between the Power 4 AD and the HBCU AD helped them agree on a game that will make Prairie View the first HBCU to play at Spartan Stadium. But the trip is more than a convenient reunion. For the Panthers, the game also represents:

— A $500,000 payday for the Football Championship Subdivision member that plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

— Valuable television exposure.

— A convenient trip for Prairie View alumni living near mid-Michigan to see their alma mater.

— A chance to plant its brand for recruiting in Michigan.

— And, of course, last but not least is the old-school college football atmosphere of a game on a Big Ten campus.

But all of the above has been true for any FCS program visiting Michigan State. Prairie View’s venture comes with an added backdrop of 1960s American Civil Rights history. The Panthers’ 2024 trip from the South to East Lansing retraces the journey taken by the Spartans who escaped segregation aboard the Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty’s Underground Railroad.

“We want our players to understand what Michigan State was doing back then,” Goff said. “We’re going to make sure our players understand the significance of Michigan State on this trip.”

DUFFY HISTORY LESSON

No one shouldered the flag of opportunity in the face of adversity as far forward as Daugherty. He fielded college football’s first fully integrated teams, blending a Midwest-based roster with athletes from an untapped southern talent pool.

The Underground Railroad passengers spanned hometowns from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Midwest players touched the Great Lakes. Four College Football Hall of Famers topped the list of stars: Bubba Smith, Beaumont, Texas; George Webster, Anderson, S.C.; Gene Washington, La Porte, Texas; and Clinton Jones, Cleveland, Ohio.

One journey difference, though, has the Panthers traveling by airplane. Washington’s trip in 1963 was a two-day bus ride, and he knew enough about the dangers of the segregated South not to get off the bus to stretch his legs until he crossed the Mason-Dixon Line.

But despite the transformative role Daugherty played, his leadership remains largely untold and misunderstood. The fault lies with the 1960s sports media that avoided race and failed to report on Black milestones marking progress.

In 1962, the Associated Press reported Michigan State’s 17 Black athletes was the highest total in major college football history. It was a rare example of media awareness for that time period. Now, understand that doesn’t mean the Spartans broke the previous record of 15 or 16. The norm was a half-dozen or so. Into the late 1960s, schools followed an unwritten quota limiting Black athletes. USC’s 1962 national championship team numbered only five Black players and the Trojans’ 1967 national title roster only seven.

In 1964, the Spartans traveled to North Carolina as the first fully integrated team to play in the segregated South. Jones, a running back on his way to the Hall of Fame, broke off a 42-yard touchdown run in his varsity debut. He “integrated” the Kenan Stadium end zone in Chapel Hill, but his and the Spartans’ milestones weren’t reported.

The MSU journey to the South was six years before the 1970 USC-Alabama game that has unjustly received credit as a tipping point through myths crafted 20 years after the game was played.

In the 1966 Game of Century that matched Notre Dame at Michigan State, a record TV audience of 33 million saw an extreme roster contrast. The Spartans numbered 20 Black players, 11 Black starters and two Black team captains, College Football Hall of Famers George Webster and Clinton Jones. Notre Dame lined up one Black player, Alan Page. But only the score, a controversial 10-10 tie with Notre Dame running out the clock, was reported.

On Michigan State’s 1965 and 1966 teams, Jimmy Raye of segregated Fayetteville, N.C., was the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title. This wasn’t reported until it appeared in my 2014 book with Raye, “RAYE OF LIGHT, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the Integration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans.” It appeared in a National Football Foundation newsletter.

But Goff isn’t the only HBCU figure to understand the significance of Prairie View playing at Michigan State.

Dr. Dennis Thomas, a College Football Hall of Famer from HBCU Alcorn State and a retired Mid-Atlantic Eastern Conference commissioner, recalled his younger days when Daugherty staged a clinic at the Alcorn campus in Lorman, Mississippi. Thomas’ credentials include serving as a head coach at South Carolina State and athletic director at Hampton. As the MEAC commissioner, he was instrumental to establishing the Celebration Bowl, the Black national championship matching the MEAC and SWAC.

Retired MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas has understood since his Alcorn State days the leadership Duffy Daugherty provided college football integration.

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“If I was taking a team to Michigan State,” said Thomas, “I’d be telling our players about Raye, Smith, Webster, Washington and the other great players from the South that Duffy gave a chance.

“Duffy and Michigan State believed in what’s right and that everybody deserves an opportunity. The person can sink or swim, but some people don’t want to give you the opportunity. That’s sad. Most hard-working people, all they want is an opportunity.”

The late Hank Bullough, one of Daugherty’s legendary assistant coaches (1959-69), once explained those recruiting opportunities were born from clinics meant simply as a coaching fraternity effort. When Daugherty spoke at a clinic in the Jim Crow South and learned Black high school coaches were denied entry, he staged a free clinic for them.

Although Michigan State wasn’t the only school with Black stars from the South, Daugherty’s Underground Railroad stood alone. Illinois with Bobby Mitchell from Arkansas and Minnesota’s Bobby Bell and Carl Eller from North Carolina were isolated examples of a handful of players finding their way through an alumnus or coach’s friend.

Daugherty’s connection was broader through the clinics. He benefitted from a unique network of southern Black high school coaches trusting him and sending him 44 players to Michigan State from 1959 to 1972. They represented every state but Alabama, Tennessee and Maryland.

Those examples only scratch the surface of milestones missing from college football lore due to the 1960s sports journalism failures, but if Prairie View players learn them, they’ll know more than most college football fans who have been long misinformed.

Some of those fans are Michigan State supporters who haven’t learned the true stories. They should know better than to believe myths Alabama coach Bear Bryant sent Daugherty his key players. Bryant was virtually unaware of Black talent around him in the 1960s.

MEDIA MISTAKES AND MISCONCEPTIONS

The mainstream media has never understood the genesis of the Underground Railroad started with goodwill clinics that grew into recruiting contacts. Media outlets relying on regurgitated folklore has resulted in repeated errors cynically misrepresenting Daugherty’s motives.

A good example: In 2019, ESPN produced a series on the 150th anniversary of college football. In the segment on integration, Charles Davis, a former FOX broadcaster later with CBS, said: “For Duffy Daugherty, it wasn’t about just being progressive and being Abraham Lincoln. Duffy was about winning football games.”

Maybe ESPN’s producers took his quote out of context, but it is presented as an egregiously erroneous fact. Daugherty didn’t recruit the South. The South recruited Daugherty.

In 2004, Sports Illustrated erroneously wrote Bryant sent to Daugherty All-Big Ten linebacker Charlie Thornhill. In 2013, ESPN also mistakenly reported Bryant was responsible for Thornhill in addition to inaccurately claiming Clemson coach Frank Howard tipped off Daugherty to George Webster. Sloppy sports writing continues to regurgitate the unvetted myths.

How the media – particularly TV on game day, September 14 – tells the story when Prairie View takes the field at Spartan Stadium depends on the narrative used. Will the media outlets rely on facts from research or settle for regurgitated folklore?

The myths are an insult to Daugherty’s legacy, but when the subject matter is raised, the prospect always looms that the Bryant myth will be re-stated on TV at the expense of Daugherty’s trailblazing role.

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Click here for the Kirkus Book Reviews of THE RIGHT THING TO DO

Click here for the Kirkus Book Review of BUBBA’S DAD

The Right Thing To Do was also endorsed by the Vanderbilt Sports and Society Initiative.

Below are links to 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. Watch here.

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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