You are currently viewing Bear Bryant never sent Duffy Daugherty a player. So, why do so many smart people believe the myth?

Bear Bryant never sent Duffy Daugherty a player. So, why do so many smart people believe the myth?

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PHOTO: Bear Bryant (left) and Duffy Daugherty were good friends, but Daugherty never learned of a player through Bryant for talent from the segregated South aboard the Underground Railroad.

“We have to tell the stories of living history or they fade away. To restore them, the stories have to be told and retold. We can look back on the mistakes made and the opportunities lost.”

— Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President


My intent with this article is to retire baseless folklore Alabama football coach Bear Bryant sent Duffy Daugherty star players from the segregated South. The fairytale at Daugherty’s expense has run amok for too long.

I understand Bear Bryant hagiography is anchored to college football history and many people will question the need to expose this as a false narrative. Well, first of all, the myth lives on despite no facts to sustain it.

That should be enough, but Bryant’s name possesses a powerful magnetic pull. National media members with reputations for fact-checking have been unable to resist spinning a Bryant yarn.

I’ve looked through “The Debunking Handbook” by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. They explain people are more likely to believe and repeat information they’re familiar with, even if they later learn the tale is incorrect.

That explains how a Bryant myth with no supporting evidence grew entrenched. Which tale is easier to repeat?

— 1) Bryant’s myth told as a snappy parable in one sentence.

— 2) Daugherty’s lengthy ground-breaking progress that included stops and starts. It can’t be summarized into one snappy sentence.

And once the Bryant folklore spilled over into pop culture, the immortal line from the 1962 movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was again validated:

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

The myth suggests Bryant was a driving force behind college football integration. He wasn’t.

Bryant was silent throughout the Civil Rights movement and dragged his feet into the 1970s. Alabama was the seventh of 10 Southeastern Conference programs to sign a Black player when Wilbur Jackson joined the program as a freshman in 1970. By then, 33 of 37 major southern programs included Black athletes.

College football integration was a fait accompli by the 1970 season, with or without Bryant joining the 20th century.

The Bear’s feeble excuse as late as 1967 – recorded in a TV interview — for his all-White roster was he couldn’t find academically qualified Black players. Well, what about the athletes he supposedly was sending Daugherty?

Bryant apologists blamed George Wallace, Alabama’s racist governor, for Bryant’s poor record on equality, but Wallace was out of office from 1967 to 1971. Bryant’s 1967, 1968 and 1969 recruiting classes were all-White. Auburn, Alabama’s bitter in-state rival, signed James Owens from Fairfield High near Birmingham as its first Black player in 1969. No one fired Auburn coach Shug Jordan.

Daugherty was more than a decade ahead of Bryant. The benefactors who steered him talent were southern Black high school coaches. None of Daugherty’s Underground Railroad passengers, 1959 to 1972, told a Bear Bryant backstory.

Southern Black high school coaches watched the Spartans win the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowls with Black stars. They saw Daugherty as a coach to trust. Chief among the coaches was Willie Ray Smith Sr. of Beaumont, Texas, the father of Michigan State College Football Hall of Famer Bubba Smith.

Daugherty didn’t recruit the South. The South recruited Daugherty.

Michigan State’s 1960s teams were college football’s first fully integrated rosters. The Spartans were the first such team to play in the segregated South – September 26, 1964 at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium. College Football Hall of Famer Clinton Jones “integrated” Kenan’s end zone with a 42-yard touchdown run.

A generation of older African Americans, particularly in Michigan and the Big Ten’s Midwest area, favored the Spartans for the opportunities they provided Black athletes. Ironically, Michigan State’s younger athletes, Black and White alike, are unaware of their school’s history under Daugherty.

Daugherty and his coaching tree that followed his blueprint – among them College Football Hall of Famers Dan Devine (Arizona State, Missouri, Notre Dame), Bob Devaney (Wyoming, Nebraska) and Bill Yeoman (Houston) along with Sonny Grandelius (Colorado) – capped a decade-long process to create a tipping point in the late 1960s.

Top row, far left: Sonny Grandelius. Top row, far right, Bill Yeoman. Bottom row (L-R), starting with second right: Duffy Daugherty, Bob Devaney and Dan Devine.

Their leadership helped open doors in the Jim Crow South and prompted integrated programs, including USC, to abandon unwritten quotas limiting Black athletes to a half-dozen or so. College football lore has overlooked USC – located in populated and diverse Los Angeles — numbered only five Black players on its 1962 national championship team and only seven on its 1967 national title roster.

UCLA was ahead of its Los Angeles neighbor. In 1961, UCLA’s eight Black players, led by Kermit Alexander, threatened to boycott the 1962 Rose Bowl when they learned Bryant sought a backdoor entry for segregated Alabama to replace the traditional Big Ten participant. I tell this untold tale in a story that won first place from the Football Writers Association of America and is included as a chapter in my book, “THE RIGHT THING TO DO, The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s.”

But no program matched Daugherty’s colorblind welcome mat. In the 1966 Game of the Century, Michigan State lined up 20 Black players against Notre Dame’s one, Alan Page. The Spartans featured 11 Black starters, two Black team captains, College Football Hall of Famers George Webster and Clinton Jones, and Jimmy Raye of segregated Fayetteville, N.C., as the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title.

The myth crediting Bryant also ignores the courage of the first Black high school recruits at major southern schools. They included Wake Forest’s Bob Grant in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 1964; Houston’s Warren McVea among Texas schools, 1964; and Southern Methodist’s Jerry LeVias in the Southwest Conference, 1965. In the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky’s Nate Northington and Greg Page in 1966; Tennesse’s Lester McLain in 1967; and Auburn’s James Owens in 1969.

— Watch and listen to The End Game podcasts here on Bill Yeoman and Warren McVea, Episode 25; SMU on Jerry LeVIas with Rufus Cormier, Episode 24; Dan Devine and Vagas Ferguson, Episode 23; Tennesse’s Lester McClain, Episode 21; Bob Grant, Episode 20; and Auburn’s Terry Henley on James Owens, Episode 19.


These 1960s milestones and many others weren’t reported in real time. A local newspaper paper wrote about Grant, McVea, LeVias, Northington and Page, but the sports media of the 1960s avoided race. The national media failed to recognize a growing trend. History was lost.

Bryant hagiography is so persuasive, curiously, there are even too many Michigan State people who accept the fairytale. They fail to realize they’re casting Daugherty as a passive bystander who needed Bryant to find key pieces to his national championship rosters. They’re also crediting Bryant with the leadership Daugherty demonstrated and Bryant lacked.

The Debunking Handbook says to demystify a myth start with telling the core of the true story before presenting the false information that needs correcting.

That’s easy enough to do, especially with assistance from an error-riddled 2004 Sports Illustrated story. ESPN also is guilty. In 2013, ESPN inaccurately credited Bryant for sending Charlie Thornhill to Daugherty. In the same article, ESPN falsely stated Clemson coach Frank Howard found George Webster for Daugherty. Both myths have been repeated over and over without attribution.

But the Sports Illustrated story published on December 27, 2004 deserves to be singled out. SI was still owned by Time Inc. at the time and the story thus failed the magazine’s impeccable fact-checking reputation.

I’ll debate this with anybody, anytime, anywhere.


“What happens in history is often a slippery business. And as ever, depends on who is doing the telling, when they are telling the tale and why.”

— Doris Kearns Goodwin, award-winning presidential historian


Charlie Thornhill of Roanoke, Virginia, is the only Black player named in print or folklore as a recruit Bryant sent from the segregated South to Daugherty. The tale is easily debunked, and it doesn’t take the digging of Woodward and Bernstein.

The convoluted tale starts with Joe Namath, a White quarterback from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. The folklore claimed that after Namath was denied admission at Michigan State in 1961, Daugherty sent Namath to Bryant. Then, two years later Bryant sent Thornhill to Daugherty.

The SI narrative’s first mistake was exaggerating Daugherty’s pursuit of Namath. Daugherty said in his 1974 book, “DUFFY,” the MSU admissions office informed him there was no way to admit Namath with his poor grades. He wrote off Namath early. Daugherty only whimsically mentioned Namath in future years.

The second error was omitting the narrative’s primary figure — Maryland coach Tom Nugent. Namath, with few options available, banked his future on studying over the summer of 1961 to pass the Maryland board exams.

On the eve of fall camp, Namath received his failed test scores. Nugent called Bryant to inform him Namath was still available. In separate media reports, Nugent, Bryant and Namath all told that same Nugent-centric story. None of them mentioned Daugherty having played a role.

Nugent, in a 1969 SPORT Magazine article, explained he called Bryant because Alabama wasn’t on Maryland’s future schedules.

— Bryant said in his 1974 book, “BEAR,” that Nugent was the coach who called him about Namath.

— Namath says in a 2012 HBO documentary, ‘Namath: From Beavers Falls to Broadway,” that Nugent called Bryant.

You can’t get better sources than the horses’ mouths.

Where were the SI fact-checkers? On a coffee break?

And they also overlooked Namath was admitted overnight to Alabama after he was denied admission at Michigan State and Maryland. That should have been a red flag. Bryant said in a 1967 TV interview he couldn’t find academically qualified Black athletes. Thornhill was admitted to Michigan State, the school that denied Namath.

The SI mistakes continue with the claim Bryant informed Daugherty about Thornhill. The story vaguely stated Bryant met Thornhill at a high school awards banquet, which demonstrated a loose grasp of the facts. The Roanoke Touchdown Club awards banquet was for college and high school athletes, and Bryant was the keynote speaker as a favor to a Roanoke friend.

The Roanoke dinner took place January 14, 1963, but the Spartans learned about Thornhill in December 1962 through Bob McClelland, a White sportswriter at the Roanoke World Telegram. He placed an unsolicited phone call to the MSU football office. Thornhill visited Michigan State’s campus in December 1962 on his recruiting trip.

Michigan State assistant Vince Carillot told me about the phone call from McClelland, and I included it in my 2014 book, “RAYE OF LIGHT, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty the Integration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans.” McClelland, who advocated for Black athletes, recognized Michigan State was a place of opportunity for Thornhill to escape segregation.

On Page 122, Michigan State’s Clifton Roaf, Daugherty’s first Underground Railroad passenger in 1959 out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, said he was the December 1962 recruiting host for Thornhill and his high school coach.

Thornhill, an All-Big Ten linebacker on the Spartans’ 1965 and 1966 national title teams, died in 2006, but the McClelland-Carillot phone call story was confirmed by Charlie’s younger brother, William “Nay” Thornhill.

The 2004 SI errors continued.

The article claimed – without attribution — Thornhill was on his way to Notre Dame until Bryant intervened. Bryant called Thornhill and told him to expect two airplane tickets for a Michigan State recruiting trip.


First, Nay Thornhill said Charlie never received a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. Next, Charlie committed to Daugherty before he attended the Roanoke banquet. On Page 123, Nay Thornhill said Charlie did meet Bryant, but Bryant said nothing more to Charlie than, “You’ll enjoy playing for Duffy Daugherty.”

Kaleb Thornhill, one of Charlie’s two sons along with Josh who played for the Spartans, said on Page 126 his father never spoke of Bryant playing a role in his Michigan State future. Nay Thornhill added in a follow-up discussion with me Charlie grew irritated later in life with people asking him about Bryant.

Another misleading aspect was the SI article suggested Daugherty was a passive bystander taking Bryant’s players sight unseen.

Again, that’s wrong.

Carillot said he watched film of Thornhill and recommended a scholarship, but Duffy was hesitant about Thornhill’s lack of height (Page 124). Carillot won over Duffy when he pointed out Thornhill was built like a weightlifter without ever touching a weight.

But college football lore loves a funny story. Nationally reputable journalists were duped. Bryant was a master manipulator of the media, and members can’t resist repeating a Bryant yarn, even if it meant ignoring the facts and unjustly relegating Daugherty’s leadership to the shadows.


“The first rule for historians: Always stick to the truth. Tell or write only what you can prove.”

— Stephen Ambrose, award-winning historian


Of Daugherty’s 44 Underground Railroad passengers, only 16 earned All-American honors or All-Big Ten recognition. At this point I can document how 14 of those 16 post-season honorees were recruited by Daugherty. None of them tell a backstory that included Bryant.

Many of their recruiting stories were first told in my research for “RAYE OF LIGHT or in my second book, “THE RIGHT THING TO DO, The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s.” Others involved follow-up research.


— 1) SHERMAN LEWIS, Louisville (Kentucky) duPont Manuel, 1963 All-American halfback, third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Lewis said a duPont Manuel assistant coach contacted Daugherty about him. Lewis’ senior season was 1959.

To understand how absurd some “Bryant-sent-Daugherty players” myths were, one tale claims Bryant sent Lewis to Daugherty from Bryant’s time as Kentucky’s coach (1946-53). When Bryant left Kentucky in 1953, Lewis was 11 years old.

— 2) BUBBA SMITH, Beaumont (Texas) Charlton-Pollard, 1965 and 1966 All-American defensive end, College Football Hall of Fame.

In Daugherty’s 1974 biography, DUFFY, he said Smith’s father, Willie Ray Sr., called him and asked take his son.

— 3) GENE WASHINGTON, Baytown (Texas) Carver, 1965 and 1966 All-American receiver, College Football Hall of Fame.

Smith Sr., while talking to Daugherty about his son Bubba, also advised taking Washington, who had competed in three sports against Charlton-Pollard.

4) GEORGE WEBSTER, Anderson (S.C.) Westside, 1965 and 1966 All-American linebacker/rover, College Football Hall of Fame.

Michigan State defensive coordinator Hank Bullough said he learned about Webster through Webster’s high school coach, William Roberts, and another South Carolina high school coach while at a clinic. However, it needs to stated Webster was a rare Black athlete during segregation with a reputation beyond the Black community or his state. Webster visited other Big Ten campuses, including Minnesota and Ohio State, but he chose MSU for the comfortable community of Black athletes and students he met in East Lansing.

In other words, Daugherty didn’t need Bryant or Clemson coach Frank Howard to find Webster. However, ESPN in a 2013 story repeated the Bryant-Thornhill tale and added the Clemson coach steered Webster to Daugherty.

Howard had a reputation as a racist and resisted recruiting Black players when pushed by Clemson’s president, Robert Edwards. Howard retired after the 1969 season without coaching a Black athlete. His successor, Hootie Ingram, recruited Clemson’s first Black player in the 1970 class. Yet for some reason many sportswriters feel a need to paint coaches like Bryant and Howard as leaders.

— 5) CHARLIE THORNHILL, Roanoke, Virgina, 1966 All-Big Ten linebacker.

See above: Sports Illustrated fabrication.

— 6) JIMMY RAYE, Fayetteville (N.C.) E.E Smith, the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title and a 1967 second-team All-Big Ten pick to All-American Bob Griese of Purdue.

At the end of Raye’s senior year in 1963, MSU assistant Cal Stoll attended the North Carolina Black Shrine All-Star Game in Durham. Raye was named the MVP, and Stoll was asked to present the trophy.

— 7) JESS PHILLPS, Beaumont (Texas), Charlton-Pollard, 1966 All-Big Ten safety.

Phillips played for Smith Sr., and he turned out to be the third of four future NFL player the Charlton Pollard coach steered to Daugherty. The others, of course, were his sons Bubba and Tody (who later transferred to a USC after a falling out with Daugherty over injuries) and Washington.

— 8) BILL TRIPLETT, Vicksburg (Mississippi) Temple, 1968 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten quarterback.

Triplett was the Spartans’ quarterback in a 1968 who led a win over No. 5-ranked Notre Dame and a 1969 win over No. 13 Michigan. He planned to attend Southern University until Nebraska, Michigan State and Purdue learned about him. “I visited Nebraska and Purdue, but once I saw Michigan State, I knew that’s where I was going. The campus was beautiful, and I didn’t sense racism.”

Triplett’s recruiting story has the added dimension of a battle among brothers — the Cappaert brothers of Clare, Michigan. F.L. Cappaert, who played at Alma College in Michigan with Bob Devaney, had founded a mobile home manufacturing company in Vicksburg, Mississippi. F.L told Devaney, who was by then Nebraska’s head coach, about Triplett. But at the same time younger brother Carl Cappaert, an MSU quarterback in the late 1940s, informed Daugherty.

Daugherty sent assistant coach Danny Boisture to scout Triplett in Vicksburg.

9) TOMMY LOVE, Sylva (N.C.) Sylva-Webster, N.C., 1968 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten halfback.

Love’s high school (now called Smokey Mountain High) is located in the western North Carolina mountains and was one of the state’s schools to desegregate earlier than other campuses. That resulted in Love playing his junior and senior years on an integrated roster and thus earning national attention as a Parade All-American pick. He wouldn’t have gained that attention while playing at a Black school.

In other words, Daugherty didn’t need help finding a Parade high school All-American. At first, Love was committed to Tennessee, which was only a 116-mile drive from his home. Tennessee had desegregated with its 1967 recruiting class, but Daugherty, with a long-standing presence in North Carolina, later gained Love’s commitment.

— 10) FRANKLIN FOREMAN, Louisville (Kentucky) duPont Manuel, Honorable Mention All-Big Ten receiver.

After Lewis’ success at Michigan State, duPont Manuel’s coaches continued to keep Daugherty informed about talent. Foreman signed with the Spartans in 1966 and teammate Wilbur Hackett planned to join him in 1967. Hackett had taken recruiting trips to campus and to Michigan State’s 1966 game at Indiana, but with Kentucky having desegregated, he decided to honor his parents’ wishes he stay closer to home.

— 11) ERNIE HAMILTON, Greenville (S.C.) Beck, 1971 second-team All-Big Ten linebacker. 

George Webster’s coach at Anderson (S.C.) Westside, Wendell Roberts, told Duffy about Hamilton, who played at a rival school 30 miles down the road, Beck. Hamilton said he watched Michigan State play in the 1966 Game of the Century. Webster played for the Spartans, and Hamilton noticed he was among 20 Black players.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Hamilton said. “Going to Michigan State was a dream come true.”

12) BILLY JOE DUPREE, West Monroe (Louisiana) Richardson, 1972 All-American tight end.

Carillot said he traveled to Louisiana to recruit another player when he learned about DuPree. The Spartans lost out on their primary target, but Carillot learned about DuPree through that prospect’s high school coach. DuPree had been considering Grambling before Michigan State offered him.

— 13) OTTO SMITH, Columbia (S.C.) Booker T. Washington, 1974 first-team All-Big Ten.

Raye, hired by Daugherty in 1972 as an assistant, was in his first year on the recruiting trail when he found Smith. Raye traveled to Columbia and spoke to Eau Claire High coach Bob Satterfield about one of his players. When Raye asked about any other players in the area, Satterfield steered him to Smith.

PHOTO: Charlie Baggett and assistant coach Jimmy Raye. The Baggett and Raye families were neighbors in segregated Fayetteville, N.C. Raye wore No. 16, 1965-67, and Baggett, 1973-75.

— 14) CHARLIE BAGGETT, Fayetteville (N.C.), E.E. Smith, 1974 and 1975 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten quarterback.

Baggett was in middle school when he first met Daugherty, who at the time was in Fayetteville to recruit Raye. The Raye and Baggett families were neighbors, but Baggett’s path to East Lansing took some twists and turns. When Baggett played his senior season at E.E. Smith in 1970, Lewis recruited him since Raye wasn’t yet on MSU’s staff. But Baggett signed with North Carolina with the desire to break ground as a Black quarterback at the program that desegregated only four years earlier.

Baggett played quarterback on UNC’s 1971 freshman team (the NCAA didn’t permit freshmen on the varsity until 1972), but when coach Bill Dooley switched him to wide receiver in the 1972 fall camp, Baggett called Raye. Baggett had to sit out the 1972 season as a transfer before he was a three-year starter.


“Straightening out history is an endless task.”

— Howell Raines, former New York Times editor and author of Silent Calvary: “How Union Soldiers Helped Sherman Burn Atlanta — And got Written Out of History.”


The two other post-season honorees not listed above were Drew Lattimore and Eric Allen.

Lattimore arrived in 1960 from Dallas Lincoln and earned All-American offensive lineman honors in 1963. Allen of Georgetown, S.C., arrived in 1968 and was named an All-American running back in 1971. Both are deceased, and their backstories remain blank (for now).

But it’s farfetched to claim Bryant knew about Lattimore in 1960. In those days, the main recruiting contacts for college coaches were high school coaches. Yes, Bryant was at Texas A&M, 1954-57, but Texas was a segregated state. Bryant wasn’t chatting up a Black coach at a Black school 152 miles away about a prospect he couldn’t recruit.

As for Allen, Daugherty had long-standing presence in South Carolina dating to Jim Garrett of Columbia in 1962 and in North Carolina dating to Ernie Pasteur of Beaufort in 1963. Duffy was far more likely to having recruiting contact in the area who knew about Allen than Bryant.

The 44 passengers represented every southern state but Alabama, Tennessee and Maryland. Although the list above is not a full 44 accounting, I know another 12 more backstories for a total of 26 out of 44 (.590).

As for the remaining 18, understand that the myth’s premise credits Bryant for playing a magnanimous role sending key players – emphasis on plural — from the South to build Daugherty’s national title teams. These were the same ones that competed against Alabama for the 1965 and 1966 national crowns voted upon in the poll system.

If Bryant mythmakers want to claim Bryant sent players to Daugherty that cost Alabama a national title, that theory contradicts his past. Because of Bryant, the NCAA ultimately passed a rule that placed a limit on scholarships. Bryant’s unlimited budget allowed him to recruit 140-some players just so some wouldn’t compete for rivals Auburn or Mississippi.

And if the mythmakers want to take credit for the Daugherty’s players who didn’t pan out, have at it.

Nearly all of the known backstories – star player or not — involved a Black high school coach contacting Daugherty. In those days, the primary source a high school athlete listened to was his coach.

The list started with the first passenger, the aforementioned Roaf. His high school principal, M.D. Jordan, and coach, Ervin Phillips, reached out to Daugherty and Roaf was invited to East Lansing. Roaf traveled with his high school coach and returned home with a scholarship offer (P. 133).

This backstory of a Black coach in the South was repeated over and over. A few exceptions were McClelland calling Carillot about Thornhill or another White southerner opposed to segregation.

The trust African Americans had in Michigan State began with them watching the Spartans win the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowl games. The rosters highlighted Black stars from Midwest cities.

Eric Marshall, a backup quarterback to Jimmy Raye from Oxford, Mississippi, learned about Michigan State through his father telling him about the Spartans’ Rose Bowl teams.

Southern Black high school coaches further believed in Daugherty after he spoke at a late 1950s clinic in the segregated South – believed to be Atlanta, according to a 2012 interview with late Hank Bullough, a former MSU player and assistant coach. When Daugherty learned the Black high school coaches were denied entry, he staged a free clinic for them.

Bullough explained Daugherty’s initial motivation was the coaching fraternity. He fulfilled a teaching role that White coaches in the South ignored. Later, though, once the high school coaches began sending Daugherty players, he recognized the recruiting advantage.


Ken Burns, award-winning historian and filmmaker on folklore overriding facts, and Michigan State’s history lost in shadows of Bear Bryant myths.

  1. “We tend to resort to conventional, superficial understandings. We tie things up into nice bows.”
  2. “It’s really hard once it’s happened to try to refocus attention on these things. This is really an important story to tell.”


To be clear, Bryant played no role in selling the Namath-Thornhill hoax. The myth took on a life of its own after Bryant’s death in 1983.

So, where did it come from?

A vague reference Bryant made in a TIME magazine cover story on him dated September 29, 1980, may have been the seed. Bryant, a master media manipulator, dubiously stated he wanted to be the “Branch Rickey of football” when he was at Kentucky, 1946-53. That, of course, references Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who broke Major League Baseball’s color line with Jackie Robinson in 1947.

Bryant added in the article, “They told me no. So, for years I used to recommend all these great black players to schools up North.”

Here’s where Bryant manipulated time through TIME, Inc. He made a vague comment posing himself as the humble ol’ Bear watching out for everyone everywhere. Then, the quote somehow got extrapolated into Bryant sent several players to Daugherty and others portayed as passive bystanders in the college football world.

One reporter followed another telling the same story without attribution.

And just who were these great Black players between 1946 and his first desegregated roster in 1970? The writer, B.J. Phillips, apparently never asked a follow-up question. Or if the writer did, Bryant didn’t provide an answer with the clarity of printing.

Presenting Bryant as a benevolent segregationist contradicts an old Michigan State-Kentucky story I revealed in Pages 310-312 in “THE RIGHT THING TO DO.” The games were in the 1946 and 1947 seasons lived by the old “Gentleman’s Agreement” that northern players sit out the game against segregated southern opponents.

In 1946, Michigan State coach Charlie Bachman left behind Horace Smith, a Black halfback from Jackson, Michigan. But for the 1947 game under new Michigan State coach Biggie Munn, there was speculation Bryant kept his team on the sidelines for several minutes in protest of Smith in uniform to play against the Wildcats.

This story makes Bryant sound more like Adolph Rupp — the Kentucky basketball coach widely considered a racist — than Branch Rickey.

The sports media avoided race in those days, so the story I reported in my book is based on coverage in the Michigan Chronicle, a Black newspaper, and an obituary on Smith published in his hometown paper, the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot. That story of Bryant and the Gentleman’s Agreement is missing from books on Bryant. History considers Rupp a racist and Bryant a benevolent segregationist, even though Rupp signed his first Black player in 1969, one year ahead of Bryant.

There’s another contradiction to Bryant’s timeline claim he was sending Black players north since his Kentucky days. The truth was, prior to Roaf as Daugherty’s first Underground Railroad passenger in 1959, a Black player making his way north was rare. The benefactor for a fortunate few was an alumnus or friend of a Big Ten coach.

Illinois’ Bobby Mitchell arrived from Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1954. Mitchell said a federal judge in Hot Springs, Henry Britt, informed Illinois assistant coach Mel Brewer, who were college roommates at Illinois.

Garland Boyette of Orange, Texas, earned a scholarship to Northwestern in 1958 through an alumnus who owned a hotel where Boyette worked in high school. Boyette said in those days southern Black kids understood the unwritten quota limiting Black athlete scholarships meant the hope one of six spots available could be used for a southern Black athlete. Boyette left Northwestern before the season started when he felt isolated on a White campus, but his Big Ten scholarship story provides insight otherwise lost to history.

He enrolled at Grambling, where he graduated and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1962. Boyette was the NFL’s first Black starting middle linebacker with the Cardinals, although pro football lore inaccurately credits Willie Lanier with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967. Black athletes in those days weren’t considered smart enough to call signals while playing quarterback, center or middle linebacker

Minnesota’s Bobby Bell made it from North Carolina in 1959 after North Carolina coach Jim Tatum informed Murray Warmouth, the Gophers’ coach. In my interview with Bell, he said Warmouth was reluctant to take Bell until Tatum said he would pay Bell’s college expenses if he didn’t pan out. Bell later told Warmouth about his friend Carl Eller, who was year behind him in Winston-Salem, N.C.

In other words, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota stumbled upon talent. They didn’t have Daugherty’s 1960s network of Black high school coaches throughout the South. There are very few examples beyond Mitchell, Boyette, Bell and Eller of a southern athlete making his way north prior to Daugherty’s Underground Railroad’s first journey in `1959. Certainly not enough to justify Bryant’s claim from his Kentucky days of “all these great Black athletes.”

Another aspect the Bryant myth overlooked was by the mid-1960s Bryant understood Michigan State was winning national titles with Black talent from the South. The 1965 national title was shared between the Spartans and Alabama. Michigan State owned more shares (2 1/2, United Press, National Football Foundation and co-Football Writers Association of America) than Alabama (1 1/2, Associated Press and co-FWAA), although college football lore commonly credits Alabama as the defending champion.

In 1967, former Michigan State equipment manager Marty Daly was privy to a conversation between Bryant and Daugherty. On pages 300 and 301 of my book, “THE RIGHT THING TO DO,” I quoted Daly recalling a morning he was having breakfast when Daugherty joined him then Bryant joined both of them. They attended the 1967 National Sporting Goods Association convention, February 5-7, in Chicago.

“The Bear was going on about how he needed to get him ‘some of those Negro boys,” said Daly, who repeated Bryant’s southern drawl as ‘Nig-ruh.’”

This was a couple months after the 1966 Game of the Century ended in a 10-10 tie and Notre Dame-Michigan State finished ranked 1-2 with identical 9-0-1 records. Alabama was No. 3 at 11-0, and Bryant and Alabama fans cried reverse racism.

Alabama author Keith Dunnavant, a Bryant apologist, wrote a book in 2006 with that theme: “The Missing Ring.” Allen Barra, another Bryant biographer, wrote in a 2006 Los Angeles Times story Dunnavant’s case was “borderline irrational.”

Daly also heard Bryant admit to Daugherty that Michigan State’s Black players were bigger and faster than Bryant’s Alabama team.

“I know what you’re doing up there,” Bryant said. “I’ve got to get me some of those Black players (I sanitized repeating Bryant’s pronunciation).”

Bryant’s concern was Daugherty was finding success while recruiting Black athletes beyond the unwritten quota of a half-dozen Black players.

Here’s another mystery as to Bryant’s true state of mind on race prior to the 1970s. Among the 1970 freshmen who played their high school senior seasons in 1969, Bryant signed Wilbur Jackson of Ozark, Alabama and Bo Matthews of Huntsville, Alabama. But when Matthews said he wasn’t comfortable attending Alabama, Bryant called Colorado coach Eddie Crowder – not Daugherty – and asked him to take Matthews.

This is a story known in Colorado football circles. It’s not something Bryant said in his 1974 book, the 1980 Time magazine article or before his 1983 death. According to the image the media and Bryant sycophants paint of him, he should have been broadcasting the Matthews story.

Did Bryant not want Matthews helping Michigan State compete for national title? If that was his reasoning, it backfired on him. In 1971, Matthews’ sophomore year, the Big Eight’s Nebraska-Oklahoma-Colorado troika finished 1-2-3. Alabama was No. 4.

With time, another myth grew around Bryant as the White savior for scheduling the 1970 USC-Alabama game. The myth, spread two decades after the game was played, claimed he scheduled the game as one to lose to shock his bigoted fans into allowing him to recruit Black players. Bryant never mentioned such a plan in his book or while he was alive.

Lane Demas, an author on sports integration and PH.d history professor at Central Michigan University, says the 1970 USC-Alabama myth is meant to discredit the Civil Rights movement.

“Alabama football integrated because an organized, sustained movement of Black Americans nationwide forced it to, against its will,” he said. “That’s the only answer that makes sense if you study the broader historical context.

“The USC-Alabama story is in a long line of White myths that serve to deny Black people their agency in terms of changing America. Focusing on figures like Branch Rickey and Bear Bryant creates a narrative in which it is ultimately White people who make cautious, thoughtful, calculating decisions to create and integrate their own teams. They become the agents of change, not Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, or thousands who struggled in the streets.”


“History writes people out of the story. It’s our job to write them back in.”

— David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author


Political cartoonist Walt Kelly addressed Earth Day, in 1971. He captioned his drawing of pollution swamping a park: “We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.”

The jovial Daugherty – to take a page from Kelly – was his own worst enemy. Daugherty wrote in his 1974 book, “DUFFY,” the media understood he was a prankster. He wrote, “Maybe my secret to getting along with the press was to keep them humored.”

But a Duffy joke about Namath and Thornhill backfired in 1986 when he told it to the San Fransico Bay Area media while serving as the ambassador to the East-West Shrine Game at Stanford. Michigan State’s local media understood the impish Daugherty loved to pull their legs. Other writers outside the MSU bubble didn’t have that background.

Consequently, William D. Murray, a United Press International writer based in the Bay Area, used Daugherty’s quotes as if it was a straight news story that went out nationally.

Daugherty’s book recounts examples of pulling the media’s legs, including one at the expense of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. “Media days” are staged at one convention site, but in the past the Big Ten Skywriters tour visited campuses. One year Hayes kept the Skywriters waiting behind a locked gate for an hour. He said he didn’t want the media to hear him yelling at his players. So, when the tour moved on to Michigan State, Daugherty locked out the writers five minutes. He said he didn’t want the writers to hear him praising his players.

Another year Daugherty set up the Skywriters when he entertained them poolside with refreshments (it was a different time). Daugherty had planted a football player masquerading as a typical student working the pool area.

As Daugherty began to regale the writers, he called over the student. He went into an elaborate demonstration about how the coaches instruct a player to catch a football. Then, Daugherty sent the student to the other end of the pool. Daugherty tossed the football, and the kid snared it with one hand.

Daugherty wrote the disclaimer: “The young man was Ernie Clark, one of our finest ends whoever played at Michigan State.” Daugherty, while telling a tall tale, also wasn’t above stretching the truth to prop up his joke. Clark’s career totals: two catches for 33 yards.

Here’s another example of a misinterpreted Daugherty joke accepted as fact. At Bryant’s 65th birthday party in 1978, Daugherty was quoted saying he got out of coaching when Bryant started recruiting Black players. Allen Barra, author of the 2005 Bryant book “The Last Coach,” cites the quote as fact.

The quote may be funny, but it doesn’t add up. Bryant only recruited one Black player in 1970. By the 1972 season, Daugherty’s final one, Alabama had only four Black players on its varsity. Those numbers didn’t alter Daugherty’s reach into the South. In fact, Daugherty’s final 1972 recruiting class included four freshmen Underground Railroad passengers (this doesn’t count Black athletes who committed to the Spartans from non-southern states).

Michigan State’s 1972 roster also featured Underground Railroad passengers DuPree and Hamilton. Dupree was a 1972 All-American tight end from West Monroe, Louisianna. Hamilton was a 1971 second-team All-Big Ten defensive lineman Greenville, S.C., projected as a 1972 All-American until a midseason knee injury.

The real reason Daugherty got out of coaching was a 5-5-1 season in 1972 dropped his overall record since the 1966 national title season to 27-34-1.

He wrote, “But one day, football quit being fun altogether for me and quitting became the only logical thing to do.”

But why did Daugherty tell the Bryant-Namath-Thornhill joke at all? Maybe it was a ham-handed effort to defend growing criticism of his friend since Bryant’s death that he hadn’t done enough for integration. Since then, the USC-Alabama myth and the myth Bryant sent Daugherty players erased such speculation.

Duffy Daugherty deserves better from college football lore, but ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, The Atlantic, Forbes and other media outlets continue to sell Bryant myths and ignore Daugherty’s legacy.

An authority on college football integration is Barry Switzer, who coached fully integrated teams winning national titles in 1974, 1975 and 1985. His opinion carries weight.

“Duffy did more for integration than any other coach in college football,” Switzer said. “He had players from all over the south. There were great Black players in the state of Texas that were passing over Oklahoma to play for Duffy. He had all those players from the Houston area. And Duffy also was the first one to recruit Samoan players.”

The “Samoan players” referenced Daugherty’s Hawaiian Pipeline, 1954 through 1972, his final season, that included Bob Apisa (1965-67) as the first Samoan All-American player.


“But by the 1920s, pro-southern historians successfully shifted the narrative to “The Lost Cause” against northern aggression. The South fought for states’ rights, not to preserve slavery. They cast Lee as the noble general, Grant as a butcher, corrupt and a drunk. And so Confederates lost the Civil War, but they certainly won the war of myth. And Grant was on the wrong side of that myth.”

— Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and journalist.


Michigan State is a singular story in college football integration. No other football program, with Duffy Daugherty at the helm from 1954 to 1972, broke as many barriers as the College Football Hall of Fame coach’s Spartans.

This season marks the 70th anniversary of Daugherty’s first staff in 1954 that changed the face of college football. It’s also the 60th anniversary of Daugherty’s 1964 team that was the first fully integrated roster to play in the South.

The assistants on Duffy’s first staff upon becoming head coaches followed his blueprint of ignoring the unwritten quotas limitating of Black athletes to a half-dozen or so. Daugherty’s fingerprints, through them, are found coast to coast.

The 1954 assistants were Dan Devine (Arizona State, Missouri and Notre Dame), Bob Devaney (Wyoming, Nebraska), Bill Yeoman (Houston) and Sonny Grandelius (Colorado). Three other coaches with MSU backgrounds from that era influenced by Daugherty were Frank Kush (succeeding Devine at ASU), Chuck Fairbanks (Oklahoma) and Earle Edwards (NC State).

A decade later Duffy took his team to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium on September 26, 1964.

College football lore, though, was asleep at the wheel in those days. The sports media avoided race until the Black athlete protests centered on the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. African Americans, though, noticed.

Listen to Dr. Dennis Thomas, a College Football Hall of Famer from his playing days at Alcorn State in Mississippi, who went on to become a head coach at South Carolina State, an athletic director at Hampton University and commissioner of the Mid-East Athletic Conference.

“Obviously, Duffy Daugherty was a very successful coach, but I have more respect for him as a human being,” Thomes said. “He didn’t see color. He saw performance. He saw character. He was doing it before it was fashionable.”

The last sentence is important to understand. Although college football lore points to a false narrative of Alabama coach Bear Bryant as a leader, the facts are Bryant dragged his feet into the 1970s.

Michigan State’s 1964 North Carolina game also marked the varsity debuts of four College Football Hall of Famers – Jones along with George Webster, Bubba Smith and Gene Washington. As 1966 seniors from the 1963 recruiting class, they are the first four Black players from the same class enshrined in the Hall.

Two other Underground Railroad 1964 sophomores were All-Big Ten linebacker Charlie Thornhill of Roanoke, Virginia, and defensive back Jim Summers, a two-year starter and All-American track sprinter from Orangeburg, S.C.

The 1964 game was played without incidents and contributed to more integrated games played in the South the remainder of the decade. Three of many examples were UCLA vs. Tennessee at the Memphis Liberty Bowl in 1965, Michigan at North Carolina in 1965 and USC at Texas in 1966.

Houston’s integrated rosters played road games at four southern stadiums in 1965, three in 1966, two in 1967, two in 1968 and two in 1969.

The 1966 Spartans, with their Black and White players working together, provided the tipping point to college football integration during the 1966 Game of the Century. A record TV audience of 33 million saw the contrast of the Michigan State and Notre Dame rosters as the future and the past.

The future: Michigan State’s roster with 20 Black players, 11 Black starters, two Black team captains, Webster and Jones, and the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title, Jimmy Raye of the segregated Fayetteville, N.C.

The past was Notre Dame with Alan Page as its only Black player.

Jerry Barca, an author and filmmaker, addressed the significance of the 1966 Game of the Century in a 2019 ESPN feature.

“There’s not a singular thing you can point to that says, ‘Hey, college football is integrated.’ But what Duffy Daugherty did with the 1966 team is a tremendous part of the evolution of race in college football. What puts a real Game of the Century over the top is when it’s got greater meaning or context – maybe even beyond football. Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty … he’s got 20 African American players and he’s got Jimmy Raye as an African American quarterback.”

Gene Smith, Ohio State’s recently retired athletic director who also served as an AD at Eastern Michigan, Iowa State and Arizona State, also understood Daugherty’s leadership. He played and coached at Notre Dame when the Spartans and Irish met annually.

Smith was among the Black players at Notre Dame when the Irish transitioned to a fully integrated program in the 1970s under Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine. He was the first member of his family to graduate. He also was an assistant coach under Devine, a Duffy Disciple dating to Daugherty’s 1954 staff, on the Irish’s 1977 national title team.

I asked Smith about the peculiar irony of Michigan State not honoring Daugherty with a statue, although three former assistants are honored with statues from their head coach days: Devine (Notre Dame), Bob Devaney (Nebraska), Bill Yeoman (Houston).  

“Duffy is an iconic coach who accomplished so much in his time. He’s deserving of it. He was a leader who embraced diversity and opportunity for people of color.

“For Duffy, it wasn’t just about winning football games. It was more than that. It was about making sure opportunities were provided. That’s what people need to know about Duffy. I think it’s important Michigan State recognizes him and tells his story that is so important.”


 I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055

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.


Click here to purchase The Right Thing To Do


The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s

Foreword by Ruffin McNeill


Click here to purchase Raye of Light.


Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

Foreword by Tony Dungy


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.


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

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