Tuesday, February 4, 2014
ESPN's Black Heritage Month: The 1951 University of San Francisco "Undefeated, Untied, Uninvited" Football Team
ESPN’s Black History Month features on Saturday USF’s fabled 1951 “Undefeated, Untied, Uninvited” football team. Once upon a time, small colleges played big time football in the United States. The University of San Francisco was one of them. I am as proud of my USF degrees as my Michigan degrees. The 1951 football team is an example of Jesuit values. Forget Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas, the 1951 team is regarded as one of the greatest on college history. “Lightning in a bottle” struck the team. The team went 9-0 with an average score of 33-8. Nine members of the team made it to the NFL Eight played for the 12 teams in the NFL at that time. Five made the Pro Bowl and three, Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, and Bob St. Clair, are in the NFL Hall of Fame. (Check out Sports Illustrated, November 12, 1990, available online). Major West Coast schools were scared to play the Dons in 1951, but the Orange Bowl in Miami invited them for the New Year’s bowl game. Only one condition was attached to the invitation. USF would have to leave its two black players, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler, in San Francisco. The segregated South would not allow black athletes in its white only colleges or bowls. Some prestigious northern schools acceded to the southern demands. Not USF! The players, as one, said they were a team. They would play as a team, or not at all. The small Jesuit University, less than 1200 students in 1951, needed the money. The team and the Jesuits said no. USF did not go to the Orange Bowl. The team never played again. The University was running a deficit; it could no longer carry the football team. The only choice was to cancel football. The program would have been cancelled at some point in the future under the best of circumstances. Catholic universities, with the exception of Boston College and Notre Dame, terminated their big time football programs. The best player on the team was generally regarded to be Burl Toler, the line backer. He suffered a severe injury in the College All-Star game and could not play pro ball. He became the ninth to make the NFL, but in a different way. USF’s Sports Information Director had graduated from USF the year before, but stayed on at the campus. His name was Pete Rozelle, who became the famous commissioner of the NFL. Commissioner Rozelle brought Burl Toler into the NFL as the league’s first black official. Burl Toler was the first African American field official in pro sports. He officiated in the NFL from 1965-1989. ESPN is celebrating Black History Month. It will feature the 1951 “Undefeated, Untied, and Uninvited” USF Dons at 4:00 p.m. PST Sunday. USF’s pioneering athletic black integration continued, but not in football. Lightning in a Bay Area Bottle struck again four years later. The USF basketball team, led by three Black players, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Hal Perry, won 60 games in a row and two NCAA titles. Bill Russell and K.C. Jones are in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Bill Russell revolutionized basketball. Russell, as a player and coach, won 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. USF lit the sports jackpot a third time. Steve Negoesco led the Dons to 4 NCAA soccer titles in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I am proud to be a Don.