Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Day Bear Bryant Thanked the Opposing Coach for Beating Alabama

A few days ago, when I was writing this item, I did a little research to see if I could find out when various colleges first integrated their football teams. I didn’t find much, but this story came up.

Sam 'Bam' Cunningham
It’s an interesting story overall, and the experiences of the first black player in the ACC were very sad. But the part I found most interesting comes near the end. The University of Alabama (where football, you may be aware, is taken fairly seriously) was a holdout, although their revered head coach, Bear Bryant, wanted to recruit black players.

In 1970, the opening game of the season was against Southern Cal, which had an all-black backfield. One member of that backfield, playing his first college game that day, was Sam Cunningham, who went on to a stellar career in the NFL and a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.

USC beat the crap out of Alabama, winning 42-21, with Cunningham having a great first game, gaining 135 yards on only 12 carries, and scoring two touchdowns – in the first quarter.
After the game was over, Bryant said to USC head coach John McKay, “I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me today.” 
The next season, Alabama had its first black player.

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