Comment by the judge: Superb story about something that happened many years ago that even the most ardent college football fans probably don’t know about. Researching something as far back as the early 1960s is never easy and the writer does a fine job presenting it from all angles.
By Tom Shanahan
The 1962 Rose Bowl established a college football Civil Rights milestone, but the 60th anniversary of the New Year’s Day game came and went without attention or even a fractional accounting. What should be remembered as a tipping point quickly turned into an oxymoron – a “forgotten milestone.”
The culprit was a 1960s media custom of avoiding race in sports stories. In this case, failing to fully report on the maneuvering of a segregationist coach, Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Events began with a small group of UCLA Black students and the Bruins’ eight Black players angered upon learning Bryant attempted to gain a backdoor invitation to Pasadena in place of the traditional Big Ten entry. The Black students discussed a gameday protest at the stadium. The Black players, led by Kermit Alexander, a future NFL Pro Bowler with the San Francisco 49ers, threatened to not take the field.
The UCLA reaction was largely word-of-mouth — until Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray got wind of it. Murray understood its significance, unlike his peers – including those on his own paper — who followed media customs. Some looked the other way. Other writers lobbied for Alabama oblivious of social issues.
Despite the Times’ influential stature in Southern California, the 1961 UCLA protestations weren’t reported in the newspaper outside of Murray’s two Pulitzer Prize-worthy columns. They were published Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, with Birmingham, Alabama, datelines.
Murray’s biting words – his career later included a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for commentary – derailed Bryant’s backdoor maneuvering. A week after Murray’s stories appeared, Alabama president Frank Rose announced his school was instead attending the Sugar Bowl in segregated New Orleans.
Not a word was mentioned on the ESPN broadcast of the 2022 Rose Bowl, Ohio State’s 48-45 victory.
American sports can provide a stage for social change but telling the stories about race in American sports afterward are often complicated. Major media platforms avoid complicated stories that implicate a legend such as Bryant.
Alabama’s response, though, demonstrates Bryant clearly got the message when his team wasn’t invited. Taking his team outside the Mason-Dixon Line attracted unwanted attention. Bryant retreated into the segregated cocoon for the remainder of the decade. In the South, his antebellum attitudes versus the U.S. Constitution weren’t questioned by a fawning media.
For example, Bryant avoided criticism when Alabama’s campus desegregated in 1963. He blithely maintained an all-white program another seven years until recruiting his first Black player in 1970, Wilbur Jackson.
He didn’t schedule Alabama to play outside the Mason-Dixon until, oddly enough, a 1971 game against USC at the Coliseum. It was likely no coincidence that the 1971 season also was the first year Alabama dressed a Black player in a varsity game.
In 1961, news cycles moved to the day-to-day beat of newspaper reporting. Today’s frenetic minute-to-minute pace fueled by social media, sports cable TV and ubiquitous sports talk radio was decades into the future. Black Historiography – how history was written or ignored – explains how an Ohio State volcanic eruption quickly buried the UCLA/Alabama backstory beneath the lava.
First, Ohio State defeated Michigan 50-20 on Nov. 25 to clinch the Big Ten title. The volcano erupted two days later when the Ohio State Senate Faculty voted to decline a Rose Bowl bid if offered. Ohio State’s Senate Faculty had explained it feared coach Woody Hayes, who was in his 11th year with national titles in 1954 and 1957, had turned their school’s reputation into a football factory.
Ohio State professor Anthony Menitz of the Philosophy Department was quoted in an AP story published in the Nov. 28 Times: “The issue simply is this, we have the opportunity to destroy the image of this being the football capital of the world.”
The end result was the Ohio State tale – sanitized of race – quickly took over the news cycle. The narrative for posterity formed without UCLA/Alabama in historical memory.
Avoiding race in sports stories traced to the 1930s and the “Conspiracy of Silence,” a term that Black sportswriters used. They claimed the mainstream media was complicit maintaining Major League’s Baseball’s color line by failing to write about segregation in the national pastime.
Chris Lamb, who is the Chair of Journalism and Public Relations at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, has written six books about race and sports. In Lamb’s 2004 book, “Blackout,” he explains the “Conspiracy of Silence” through the story of Jackie Robinson’s first spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1946.
Miami University’s Donald Spivey, a Distinguished Professor of History and Special Advisor to the President (Julio Frenk) on Racial Justice, began researching and writing about Black Historiography in the 1980s.
In today’s media world, UCLA’s 1961 players would have gained a place alongside their school’s long history of pioneers. The figures include the 1939 UCLA football team with Jackie Robinson, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. The trio’s story was recently retold in the 2021 book “The Forgotten First” by Keyshawn Johnson and Bob Glauber.
All three players, who were from L.A.-area high schools, attended UCLA because USC shunned Black athletes in the 1930s. They later wrote more history in pro sports. Robinson, of course, broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Washington and Strode broke the same barriers in the NFL in 1946 with the Los Angeles Rams.
Basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton, a socially conscious athlete throughout his UCLA and NBA careers, only recently learned about UCLA’s 1961 Black players standing up to Alabama.
“UCLA is full of stories like that,” Walton said. “I love that about UCLA. I’m so proud of and grateful for UCLA.”
The maneuvering behind the scenes of the 1962 Rose Bowl centers on Bryant and a key ally, Admiral Tom Hamilton. They were old Navy World War II friends.
Hamilton was the commissioner of the Athletics Association of Western Universities (a Pac-12 forerunner), but what stood out in his job title was the unique authority granted him to name the AAWU champion’s Rose Bowl opponent. Bryant counted on his old friend for a friendly invite.
The circumstances resulted from controversies seeded in the late 1950s with a West Coast pay-for-play scandal. It broke up the eight-team Pacific Coast Conference, creating a lapse in the exclusive Big Ten/PCC Rose Bowl contract that dated to 1947.
The five-team AAWU was formed: UCLA, USC, Cal, Stanford and Washington. The AAWU retained an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl but not the Big Ten. The first two years Hamilton stuck to the New Year’s Day traditional matchup. The 1959 season/1960 Rose Bowl paired Washington and Wisconsin and the 1960 season/1961 Rose Bowl pitted Washington and Minnesota.
What changed in the 1961 season was Alabama’s return to national prominence.
Alabama, Bryant’s alma mater, brought him back to the Tuscaloosa campus in 1958 to rebuild the program after successful stints at Maryland (1946), Kentucky (1947-53) and Texas A&M (1954-57). His 1960 Crimson Tide finished ranked No. 9 with an 8-2-1 record.
As the 1961 season unfolded and Alabama climbed toward No. 1, Bryant envisioned an undefeated season and his first national title on the Pasadena stage of the Granddaddy of Them All. Bryant knew firsthand the prestige of playing in the Rose Bowl – not to mention the financial rewards.
He played 57 minutes for Alabama in the 1935 Rose Bowl when the Crimson Tide beat Stanford. Alabama’s fanbase took great pride in participating in six Rose Bowls with a 4-1-1 record. In an era when poll voting declared the national champion at the end of the regular season, the Rose Bowl was the denouement to the college football season.
Alabama’s last appearance was in 1946, a year before Big Ten/PCC contract, but times changed by the 1960s. America was coming to terms, slowly, with the Civil Rights movement. Old-world men, Bryant and Hamilton, who failed to understand progress were being left behind.
Bryant, who died in 1983 at age 69, was raised in a world of 19th-century southern attitudes. His career thrived in an antebellum world the Ku Klux Klan violently fought to preserve.
Hamilton was a conservative military officer in addition to old-world man. Decades later, he never forgave Bill Walton for his arrest protesting the Vietnam War as a UCLA student in 1972. When Hamilton, in his retirement years, served on the board of San Diego’s Breitbard Hall of Champions, he told board members that Walton, a San Diego native, would never make the San Diego Breitbard Hall of Fame as long as he chaired the board.
Walton, an all-time talent honored by the NBA as one of its 75 greatest players, wasn’t enshrined in his hometown Hall until 1990 — after Hamilton no longer served. Hamilton died in 1994 at age 88.
The 1962 Rose Bowl, when studied chronologically in the archives of L.A. Times, provided an example of Critical Race Theory through football – without, hopefully, the political football. CRT’s purpose is to teach stories that haven’t been fully told. Sometimes those stories include exposing painful truths – a revered coach who was a segregationist, in this case.
It’s unclear when Alabama was first floated to exploit the Big Ten/PCC contract lapse, but speculation mounted by mid-November. In the Associated Press polls (released on Mondays) Alabama climbed from No. 5 to No. 4 on Oct. 23 at 5-0. The Crimson Tide jumped to No. 2 on Nov. 6 at 7-0.
On the same day the Nov. 6 poll was released, the weekly Southern California Football Writers Luncheon convened at the Sheraton-West on Wilshire Blvd. The luncheons were routine gatherings to hear from UCLA coach Billy Barnes, USC coach John McKay, Los Angeles Rams’ coach Bob Waterfield and other invited speakers.
Ken Hooton, the director of public relations for the Southern California Big Ten club, was invited as a Nov. 6 speaker. He foreshadowed impending events, dropping news hefty enough to top Al Wolf’s Nov. 7 Times story.
The headline: “Ohio State, Minnesota May Shun Rose Bowl”
At the time of luncheon, No. 3-ranked Ohio State and No. 5 Minnesota shared the Big Ten lead with unbeaten conference records.
Hooton, addressing the Big Ten race and Rose Bowl bid, said, “The Academic Senate at Ohio State is opposed to the Rose Bowl game and probably would not let the school accept a bid, were one received.”
Although the news was stunning, it wasn’t unusual in the 1960s for a college’s academic side of campus to wield authority over the athletic department. Notre Dame’s administration banned bowl games for academic reasons from 1925 until the 1969 season.
In those days, Notre Dame’s bowl ban had no impact on winning national titles since the final poll votes were tabulated after the regular season. Once the polls shifted the final votes to the conclusion of the bowl season, Notre Dame played Texas in the 1970 Cotton Bowl.
But Hooton’s time at the microphone didn’t stop with his Ohio State bombshell. He proceeded to inflame the Alabama speculation.
“It is my personal opinion,” Hooton added, “that Minnesota wouldn’t accept, even though it’s an individual matter for the schools now, because of a repeat trip would be contrary to Big Ten thinking.”
When the 1947 contract was signed, the Big Ten insisted on a no-repeat clause, although it only applied to the Big Ten entry. Minnesota had won the 1960 Big Ten title and played in the 1961 Rose Bowl. Although No. 1-ranked Minnesota lost to No. 6 Washington 17-7 in the 1961 Rose Bowl, the Gophers already had been declared national champion at the end of the regular season.
Wolf’s Nov. 7 story, using the Big Five nickname for the AAWU, continued: “So … Alabama may yet be the team which will oppose the Big Five champion next New Year’s Day. The Southeastern Conference does not have a tie-up with the Sugar Bowl, or any other bowl. Alabama has expressed a keen desire to play in the Rose, where it last appeared in 1946.”
In the Nov. 12 edition of the L.A. Mirror, the afternoon paper owned by the morning Times, sports editor Sid Ziff’s column addressed the issue.
The headline: “One Vote for the South.”
Ziff, noting a new Big Ten/AAWU contract was expected to be renewed prior to the 1963 Rose Bowl, suggested taking advantage of the outsider opportunity before the door closed. He nominated Alabama or Georgia Tech, another segregated team from the SEC (Georgia Tech left the SEC after the 1963 season).
On Monday, Nov. 13, Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman wrote in his column similar thoughts favoring the two SEC schools.
In the AP poll released in the same Nov. 13 edition, Alabama (8-0) remained No. 2 with three first-place votes. Texas was No. 1 with 41 first-place votes. Georgia Tech, which was also segregated, was No. 9 on Nov. 6, but its upset loss to Tennessee dropped the Yellow Jackets out of the Nov. 13 rankings (the AP poll was only the Top 10 in those days).
Wolf again covered the coaches’ luncheon on Nov. 13. His story in the Times on Nov. 14 was about an informal poll of writers.
The headline: “’Bama choice of writers for bowl”
On Nov. 15, the Times published an AP story with a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, dateline.
The headline: “Rose Bowl Fever falls on ’Bama”
The story highlighted Alabama’s pride in its Rose Bowl history. Curiously, though, the story also noted Bryant declined to answer questions about his Rose Bowl interest. Apparently, no one pressed him.
Two days later, though, Zimmerman’s Friday, Nov. 17 Times column made it clear Bryant wanted the Rose Bowl bid despite his silence. Zimmerman quoted Birmingham News sports editor Zipp Newman:
“The Crimson Tide would walk there if they had to, and that goes for Alabama’s president, Dr. Frank Rose, on down, although they can’t talk about it yet.”
In another story the Times published on Nov. 17, this one with a Miami dateline, the AP reported Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl scouts were attending the Nov. 18 Georgia Tech-Alabama game at Legion Field in Birmingham. Hamilton was indirectly quoted through the Orange Bowl’s executive director, Van C. Kussrow:
“Hamilton explained to me the Rose Bowl’s interest in Southeastern Conference teams,” Kussrow said. “He said their position had been made more difficult because Minnesota and Ohio State aren’t considered strong possibilities out there.”
That was more than Hamilton ever said directly to the Times or other Southern California media outlets.
By that same day, Friday, Nov. 17, Murray arrived in Birmingham for Alabama’s Saturday, Nov. 18 game. The Crimson Tide (9-0) beat Georgia Tech 10-0 to remain unbeaten.
In the Sunday, Nov. 19 Times, Murray’s column mocked Alabama’s Jim Crow society, fans and media deifying Bryant. They liked to say he could walk on water. Murray’s story led with the first reference to UCLAs protestations found in the Times archives.
The headline: “’Bama and Ol’ Bear”
“BIRMINGHAM — The University of Alabama just about wrapped up the all-white championship of the whole cotton-picking world here this weekend in a game quietly relegated to the 18th century before it began by a band of Negro students at UCLA.”
Murray, based on his column, seemed assured pressure would prevent Alabama from receiving a Rose Bowl invitation, but it wasn’t reflected elsewhere in his own paper. In the same Sunday edition, the Times’ college football roundup of Saturday game results touted Alabama’s hopes.
The headline: “’Bama scores Rosy win”
In the Monday, Nov. 20 poll, Alabama had climbed to No. 1 after former No. 1 Texas was upset by Texas Christian.
Murray saved his best writing – worthy of a 1961 Pulitzer vote recount — for the Monday, Nov. 20 edition.
The headline: “Bedsheets and ’Bama”
Murray labeled Birmingham as the “showplace of the South – gateway to the Ku Klux Klan.” He continued it was the place where, “when they say evening dress, they mean a bedsheet with eyeholes. And bring a match. We’re lighting a cross.”
Ouch! But it was fair.
Alabama in 1961 was known for the KKK bombing Black homes and churches. Birmingham, where Alabama played games at Legion Field, was known as “Bombingham.” Legion Field was located only blocks from the 16th Street Baptist Church that KKK members bombed two years later, killing “Four Little Girls.” The bombing was the KKK’s response to Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream Speech” on Sept. 15, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial.
“The bombed-out houses aren’t the work of the enemy,” Murray continued in his column. “White male Americans are the enemies of America here. The Constitution is being torn in half by people whose ancestors helped write it. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s worse than un-American. It’s un-human.”
Then Murray got down to Rose Bowl business, explaining he joined Alabama writers on Friday to interview Bryant on the upcoming game at his Bankhead Hotel suite. But Murray’s questions weren’t about X’s and O’s.
He wrote, “Coach, Bryant,” I asked. “What do you think of the announcement out of UCLA that the colored players would not take the field against your team if it got to the Rose Bowl?”
Murray described a silence that fell over the room. Alabama’s media wasn’t accustomed to hearing reporters press Bryant – and certainly not about segregation. Then Murray quoted Bryant’s response:
“Oh,” he says. “I would have nothing to say about that. Neither will the university, I am sure.”
That Bryant response, especially in retrospect, added new insight to the old joke Bryant didn’t have a boss.
Murray’s “Bedsheets and Bama” story continued, describing the Alabama’s sycophantic writers looking at the floor until one with a “beet red” face spoke up: “Tell them West Coast N-lovers to go lick your boots, Bear.”
With Murray having brought UCLA’s opposition into the open, two Alabama newspapers attempted to discredit the UCLA Black students.
Author Kurt Edward Kemper documents this in his 2009 book “College Football and American Culture in the Cold War.” The Montgomery Advertiser reported UCLA’s administration was unaware of a Black student organization planning a protest. The Birmingham News wrote the protest plans were “greatly exaggerated.”
Some context is needed here. The claims were specious with the perspective of time. Black student groups mobilizing and gaining recognition from campus administrators was a product of the late 1960s. African-Americans didn’t have a voice on campus until examples of the UCLA’s 1961 students spoke up as activists.
Bryant’s lack of comment to Murray suggested he still expected Admiral Hamilton to bring the USS Alabama to the Rose Bowl port.
On the West Coast, Hamilton matched Bryant’s silence. He had little to say about the Rose Bowl pairing, even though there was heightened interest over the upcoming Nov. 25 USC-UCLA game at the Coliseum to decide the AAWU title.
It’s interesting to note Murray broke a sports media custom in only his first year with the L.A. Times (he wrote from 1961 until his death in 1998 at age 78). He had previously worked for Time magazine as an entertainment writer and the founding of Sports Illustrated in 1954.
A search of the LA Times archives reveals Murray’s Nov. 20 column was only the second and last reference to the UCLA protestations prior to the Rose Bowl. His colleagues failed to pick up on the significance of winning a standoff with a segregationist coach.
“Jim always believed that calling out injustice in the sports world was more important than reporting the results of games,” said Linda Murray Hofmans, Murray’s wife at the time of is death who directs the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation. “He wasn’t intimidated by other sportswriters, angry readers who demanded he ‘stick to sports,’ or even legends like Bear Bryant. He was a trailblazer in that regard.
“Most sportswriters of ‘60s and ‘70s defended the status quo or looked the other way, but Jim used his column as a bullhorn to fight for civil rights whenever he deemed it necessary.”
The Black weekly L.A. Sentinel and the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student paper, were two Southern California newspapers not as likely to follow a 1960s media custom avoiding race, yet they also lacked UCLA protest references.
The Sentinel published a story criticizing Alabama as a potential choice but without mentioning a threatened UCLA protest. Brad Pye Jr. wrote the Rose Bowl Committee would avoid “adverse publicity” if it picked Ohio State over Alabama.
The headline: “Forget Alabama–Bring on Buckeyes”
Pye wrote, “Alabama hasn’t seen fit to put integration in action before now, so there is no reason why it should get an invitation to the Rose Bowl until such a time when it decides to put the American way into action on its own soil.”
Melvin Durslag of the Los Angeles Examiner also wrote a column criticizing segregated Alabama as a Rose Bowl choice.
The headline: “Alabama—An Insult to the Bowl.”
But only Murray confronted Bryant about the reaction of UCLA Black students and Black players. Kermit Alexander, a junior halfback in 1961, explained the players’ stance in my 2015 interview with him for FanRagSports.com (now out of business).
“If we can’t play on their field in Alabama, why should they be able to play on our field in Pasadena?” Alexander said.
Alexander added no one in the 1960s media questioned him or his teammates about Alabama. Alexander’s recent health has prevented a follow-up interview.
The Alexander interview was framed around the 2015 Missouri protest. By then, an enlightened media thoroughly reported such news and hailed Missouri’s football team for threatening a boycott if racial issues on campus weren’t addressed. The players were successful, forcing the school’s president to resign.
UCLA’s 1961 response was fueled by the progress of the Civil Rights movement. Only six months earlier, May 14, 1961, a white mob in Anniston, Alabama, ambushed and firebombed a busload of 1961 Freedom Riders — including Civil Rights icon John Lewis — protesting segregation on busses and at terminals.
In the Nov. 2 edition of the Times, an AP story with an Atlanta dateline reported a federal judge ordered police in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi – states where African Americans at bus terminals continued to be arrested — to uphold federal laws outlawing segregated busses.
But there were no follow-up sports stories hailing UCLA like there was for Missouri. Only a new narrative that Ohio State turned down the bowl bid. The Ohio State story remained entrenched in time.
The first Rose Bowl bid was decided on the field when UCLA-USC met Nov. 25 in a winner-take-all game marred by a rain-soaked Coliseum field. The unranked Bruins won the mud bath 10-7 to improve to 7-3.
UCLA’s students continued celebrating the Rose Bowl berth at a Monday, Nov. 27 campus rally. The Tuesday, Nov. 28 Times story covering the rally noted Hamilton “would not elaborate” on UCLA’s opponent.
Hamilton limited his comments to a list of five schools, two unnamed teams and three Big Ten schools, No. 2 Ohio State (8-0-1), No. 7 Minnesota (7-2) and No. 8 Michigan State (7-2).
Later in the day, Nov. 27, the Ohio State bombshell exploded. Ohio State’s Faculty Senate voted 28-25 in a secret ballot to reject the Rose Bowl.
Two days before the vote, the temperamental Hayes added to the professors’ perception of him in Ohio State’s 50-20 victory over Michigan to clinch the Big Ten title. Ohio State scored its final touchdown with five seconds to play, and Hayes ordered a successful two-point conversion. He repeated the rub-it-in tactic in 1968, scoring a two-point conversion to cap a 50-14 win. In the 1968 rout, Hayes explained to the media he went for two because he couldn’t go for three.
Hayes heard news of the faculty Rose Bowl vote upon arriving to speak at Cleveland hotel. He was reported to drop his bags and roam Cleveland’s streets without speaking. On the Columbus campus, police estimated students protest crowds of 5,000 on Nov. 27 and 4,000 on Nov. 28. Windows were broken and professors hung in effigy. The Columbus Dispatch printed a list of professors that voted.
On the second night of demonstrations, Ohio State team captain Mike Ingram told the students through a loudspeaker the players had accepted the vote and to go home before someone was hurt.
In retrospect, the student protests were another reason for the professors to believe their conclusions football was running amok weren’t unreasonable. The examples continued through the march of time. At the 1978 Gator Bowl, Hayes punched a Clemson player on the sideline and was fired, ending his career in disgrace.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the Daily Bruin reported on Nov. 28 Hamilton had watched the USC-UCLA game and returned to his San Francisco office, commenting only that the selection “might be withheld until after the games of Dec. 2.” UCLA athletic director Wilbur Johns said in the Nov. 28 Times he deferred all comments to Hamilton.
With Ohio State out, runner-up Minnesota, third-place Michigan State and fourth-place Purdue began lobbying for the Rose Bowl bid. Michigan State and Purdue hoped Minnesota would be skipped over in deference to the no-repeat Big Ten philosophy.
“If we get the bid, we’ll call the fastest meeting of our athletic council on record to accept it,” said Michigan State athletic director Biggie Munn.
Hamilton’s Dec. 2 games comment referred to Alabama playing its annual Iron Bowl against Auburn and Georgia Tech facing Georgia in their traditional rivalry game.
But Alabama president Frank Rose on Nov. 29 suddenly ended the speculation. Rose said if the Crimson Tide defeated Auburn, the school planned to accept a Sugar Bowl bid. Rose added the Sugar Bowl was the game the players preferred.
Alabama routed Auburn 34-0 and officially accepted the Sugar Bowl bid against Arkansas in New Orleans, but it’s difficult to accept Bryant, who coveted a Rose Bowl berth, left the bowl decision in the hands of a players vote.
Either way, unanswered questions remain.
When did Bryant and Hamilton back down? Did President Rose convince Bryant and Hamilton winning a national title in the Rose Bowl wasn’t worth the tradeoff. TV scenes would show UCLA’s Black students protesting outside the stadium and the Bruins’ Black players boycotting out of uniform. A largely world-of-mouth story would result in images leaping onto TV screens.
Alabama would be further portrayed nationally as a backwards state. And this time Bryant’s apologists couldn’t blame the KKK.
As the Rose Bowl announcement suspense mounted, Murray’s Dec. 1 column provided comic relief. He showed he was an equal-opportunity critic of Southern segregationists and Midwestern bullies.
The headline: “Love That Woody”
“So Woody Hayes is not coming to the Rose Bowl,” he wrote. “Dad rat it! Somebody’s always spoiling the fun.”
Murray added, “I have seen guys who were ungracious losers. But Woody was the most ungracious winner I have ever seen. He always broke me up. A loud, loveable character who went through life the way his fullbacks go through a line – knocking people down who get in his way. Once it was a couple of sportswriters.”
The Rose Bowl selection suspense ended on Dec. 2 with news topping the Sunday, Dec. 3 Times sports section.
The headline: “Minnesota to play UCLA in Rose Bowl”
In the story, UCLA captain Ron Hull said, “Most of the boys, after Ohio State and Alabama were ruled out, wanted to meet Minnesota. I’m sure we’ll give them a game.”
There remained no reference to a role played by UCLA’s Black students and Black players. Murray deserved a victory lap, but he didn’t write about the subject again. If the Alabama story wasn’t properly covered in Los Angeles, the deeper story also certainly was brushed aside in the Minneapolis media.
Minnesota All-American pick Bobby Bell, who played in the 1961 and 1962 Rose Bowl games, said in my recent interview with him he was unaware of the Alabama backstory.
“We never heard anything about the Alabama and a UCLA protest,” said Bell, a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer. “We only knew about Ohio State turning down the bid.”
The focus on the Ohio State narrative continued in a Dec. 4 Times column written by Braven Dyer. He noted comedian Bob Hope, with his Ohio ties, considered inviting Ohio State’s team to attend the Rose Bowl as his guests. Dyer’s column included a few jokes from Hope mocking Ohio State’s professors.
On New Year’s Day, 1962, No. 6-ranked Minnesota dominated the Bruins, 21-3. In the Sugar Bowl, No. 1 Alabama defeated No. 9 Arkansas, 10-3.
Arkansas’ players told reporters Alabama wasn’t worthy of its No. 1 ranking. At the time the Razorbacks were a Southwest Conference member, but their opinion didn’t matter. Alabama already had been named national champion in the final poll votes released on Dec. 4 at the end of the regular season, although it was a split title.
Among the four organizations the NCAA sanctions as designating a national champion in the poll era, Alabama (11-0-0) was voted No. 1 by the AP (writers), United Press International (coaches, now USA Today) and National Football Foundation. However, Ohio State (8-0-1) was named national champion by the Football Writers Association of America.
The Bear finally came clean 13 years later he had sought a 1962 Rose Bowl bid. He said so the release of his 1974 biography, “Bear,” written by John Underwood, an acclaimed Sports Illustrated writer.
Bryant not only admitted he both coveted the Rose Bowl berth and blamed Murray for costing him the invitation he went one step further. He claimed Murray’s two biting columns were motivated by revenge dating to 1955.
Bryant referenced his 1955 Texas A&M team losing to UCLA 21-0 at the L.A. Coliseum.
On Page 174, Underwood wrote Bryant stating: “… I snapped at a writer on the Los Angeles paper after the game. He asked if I had thought we could win, and I said, ‘You silly so-and-so, what do you think we came out here for?’
“Those things turn on you. Jim Murray came over and saw us play and made a fuss over our being considered for the Rose Bowl when we won the national championship in 1961. He wrote about segregation and the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and every unrelated scandalous thing he could think of, and we didn’t get the invitation.”
Murray didn’t work for the L.A. Times or any L.A. newspaper in 1955. In the early 1950s, he was with Time magazine and then began working for Sports Illustrated in 1953 as it prepared to launch in 1954. Murray’s 1961 motives were to offer a civics lesson to Bryant and a Jim Crow state.
Yet, Bryant wanted his readers to believe Murray’s motive was petty revenge. Bryant’s 1974 criticism of Murray also revealed how detached he was from the real world in 1974, not to mention 1961.
Alabama’s campus town of Tuscaloosa was the Alabama KKK headquarters. Joe Namath, Alabama’s legendary quarterback (1962-64), spoken in the 2013 Showtime film of his shock at spotting KKK billboards on his initial bus ride to campus from his home in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
“The first bus ride I took going back into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, scared me a bit,” Namath said, “Against the Tide. “You know how they have the signs at the side of he road, Lions Club Kiwanis Club. Uh, huh. … Ku Klux Klan, home of the Grand Imperial wizard. What? Because all I ever saw of guys in white capes and burning crosses was in the movies.”
By 1974, Bryant had plenty of time to reflect on dragging out his resistance to integration, but he never apologized. He never explained why he was apparently oblivious to President Lyndon B. Johnson having signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
From 1962 through 1967, Alabama played only all-white southern teams. The exception was facing integrated Nebraska in the 1966 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The 1966 team played eight of its 10 regular-season games at one of three Alabama stadiums, Denny Stadium (now Bryant-Denny) on campus, Legion Field in Birmingham and Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile. The only road trips were to neighboring states, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Alabama’s first integrated regular-season opponent was SEC-rival Tennessee in 1968 in Knoxville. In 1969, Tennessee routed Alabama 41-14 at Legion Field. Kentucky led the SEC in desegregation a year ahead of Tennessee, but the Wildcats weren’t on Alabama’s schedule.
History showed Bryant was a follower, not a leader, in his own conference. Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and in-state rival Auburn all recruited Black athletes by 1969, prior to Bryant. That was 60 percent of what was then a 10-team league.
Hall-of-Fame sportswriter Frank Deford noted Bryant’s reluctance to take a stance in a 1981 Sports Illustrated story:
“Given the Bear’s surpassing popularity, he had it within his power to assume a burden of leadership. Yet he held back on race and let other–and less entrenched–Southern coaches stick their necks out first. ”
The world passed by Bryant while he remained in the cocoon of the segregated South. Alabama’s 1970 schedule, which was planned years in advance, turned out to have seven integrated opponents by the turn of the decade. Oklahoma made it eight for the season in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.
SEC schools also were ahead of Bryant scheduling teams outside the Mason-Dixon Line. Kentucky played at Indiana in 1967; Tennessee traveled to UCLA in 1967; and Vanderbilt played at Army West Point in 1968 and Michigan in 1969.
Florida didn’t travel above the Mason-Dixon Line prior to Alabama in 1971, but the Gators faced integrated opponents in three home games in the 1960s: Northwestern, 1966; Illinois, 1967; and Air Force, 1968. Tennessee played host to two integrated teams in 1965, Houston and UCLA, and one in 1966, Army.
Hyperbole, myths and fiction surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game at Legion Field in Birmingham led to another bewildering revisionist history twist gaining a hold in college football lore.
A false narrative crediting Bryant as a crusader and aggrandizing USC’s role portrayed the game as an integration tipping point. Bryant as a crusader is like crediting Robert E. Lee for ending slavery. Murray as the bad guy is like blaming the Antifa for the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Historical memory also has overlooked 30 of 33 southern major programs had recruited their first Black player by 1970. The 30 included Alabama. Integration in the South was fait accompli. The last three holdouts were Georgia, LSU and Mississippi. However, books and films, most of them in the 21st century, regurgitated a rote storyline.
In “Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath and Dixie’s Last Quarter,” a 2013 book written by Randy Roberts and Ed Krzemienski, Murray is taken to task for his Alabama columns.
On Page 135, Murray is described as “a reporter with thick bookish glasses …”
Of the trip to Birmingham, the book states on pages 136 and 137: “Murray’s claims for going to Birmingham were undoubtedly disingenuous. He was a confirmed and accomplished big league pot stirrer, and a minor league social crusader.”
What’s “disingenuous” about pointing out to a segregationist coach it’s 1961, not 1861. What’s “minor league” about confronting Bryant face-to-face on social justice on Bryant’s own turf?
UCLA’s forgotten 1961 role also led decades later to another great irony. The wrong Los Angeles school, USC, was cast as a college football integration leader in the sport’s lore. UCLA, long before USC, truly played a pioneering role in the 1960s. USC, like Alabama in the SEC, led from behind. USC shunned Black athletes in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the program followed an unwritten quota limiting the roster to a half-dozen or so Black athletes through the 1960s.
The oversights from the sports media avoiding race created a 1960s blank canvas. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the blank canvas was painted with a false narrative Bryant secretly scheduled integrated USC in 1970 with the aid of McKay, his old friend, as a game to lose. His grand scheme was to convince his bigoted fans with a loss it was time to let him recruit Black athletes.
However, neither coach mentioned such a grand plan in their books published in 1974. In a 1980 Time cover story fawningly reflecting on Bryant’s career, there was not a single word about the 1970 USC-Alabama game changing history. Bryant apologists consider the 1970 USC-Alabama myth Bryant’s crowning moment and proof he wasn’t a segregationist.
It’s true USC routed all-white Alabama 42-21, but it’s also true a year earlier integrated Tennessee routed Alabama at Legion Field, 41-14.
The linchpin to the 1970 USC-Alabama myths easily spreading was a fictional scene portraying Bryant inviting USC’s Sam Cunningham, a Black fullback, into the Alabama locker room to show his players “what a football player looked like.”
Cunningham admitted in 2003 it didn’t happen. He explained he got caught up in the story. The fictional scene was created by John Papadakis, a 1970 USC linebacker, for a screen play. The movie was never made, but retelling the scene, with its perceived humor, spread the myth into lore.
Those guffaws overlooked the racial overtones of a slave market – white players studying Cunningham’s body as he stood on a bench.
The regurgitated and unvetted stories also overlook USC was among the schools following an unwritten quota of a half-dozen or so Black players. The Trojans’ 1962 national title team had only five Black players and the 1967 national championship roster only seven.
UCLA’s eight Black players in 1961 grew into double figures later in the decade. The Associated Press reported in 1962 Michigan State’s 17 Black players was the most in major college football history. In the 1966 Game of the Century, Michigan State lined up 20 Black players and 11 Black starters against Notre Dame’s one Black athlete, Alan Page.
Schools like USC and Notre Dame were behind the times.
The 1970 Trojans were stilling shedding the residue of the quota years. USC had only five Black starters that night in Birmingham. Most of the 18 Black players on the roster had been recruited in the previous couple of years, including Cunningham, a sophomore playing his first varsity game.
Another fact omitted from the myth was Bryant didn’t need to lose to USC to convince his fans it was time to recruit Black athletes. He had already signed Wilbur Jackson the previous winter. Jackson watched the 1970 USC-Alabama game from the stands with the freshmen team.
Oddly enough, Alabama authors shaped narratives that also blamed Murray’s 1961 stories for costing Bryant a national title five years later when the Crimson Tide finished No. 3 to No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State.
The Irish and Spartans, after a season-long buildup, played to a 10-10 tie in the Game of the Century on Nov. 19, 1966 at Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame and Michigan State retained their 1-2 rankings in the final poll at the end of the regular season.
One of the Alabama authors claiming reverse racism was Keith Dunnavant, who wrote “The Missing Ring: How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football’s Most Elusive Prize.”
Bryant author Allen Barra (“The Last Coach,” 2005) reviewed Dunnavant’s book on Sept. 2, 2006 in the L.A. Times. Barra wrote Dunnavant’s bias claim “is based far more on emotion than logic and some of that emotion is borderline irrational.”
Nevertheless, Dunnavant’s stance gained platforms in HBO’s 2008 “Breaking the Huddle,” Showtime’s 2013 “Against the Tide” and ESPN 2019 and 2020 films portraying Bryant as a crusader.
A segment in “Against the Tide” juxtaposes a quote from Murray’s 1961 column as if it was written in the 1966 season. As narrator Tom Selleck read his lines suggesting the 1966 vote was biased, Selleck describes Murray as “the lead voice.” The screen then flashes a quote from Murray’s 1961 story – “An all-white team has no business being No. 1.”
Selleck needed to send the sloppily researched film back to rewrite.
When Murray was awarded the 1990 Pulitzer Prize, he humbly deflected praise with a quip.
He said winning for commentary, “should have to bring down a government or expose major graft or give advice to prime ministers. Correctly quoting Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda shouldn’t merit a Pulitzer Prize.”
Murray didn’t bring down a government with his 1961 Alabama stories, but he set back a segregationist coach. He exposed Bryant’s ’s plot and credited the courage of UCLA students and players to challenge Bryant.
If not for Murray’s stories, Hamilton doesn’t meet resistance and likely extends Bryant’s wish for an Alabama invitation. Another way to put it, though, what if Burt Hooten had not spoken of Ohio State and Minnesota possibly declining a Rose Bowl bid? The prospect spurred the reaction at UCLA and then Murray’s attention. That’s another reason to think Bryant would have gained his desired bid.
And finally, the unanswered question that no doubt would have generated the most humorous response: What would have been Murray’s reaction to Bryant and his apologists years later casting Murray as the bad guy?
We can only imagine his humble quip. There was only one Jim Murray.
He might even have had something to say about the 2022 Rose Bowl broadcast Ohio State won 48-45 over Utah. The ESPN crew failed to mention the 1962 Rose Bowl and its 60th anniversary during the game or pre-game shows.
Chris Fowler, the play-by-play broadcaster, made a historical reference about the 1922 Rose Bowl, although the broadcasters are limited by the topics and research editors and producers present to be aired. Fowler noted in the first half of the game Washington and Jefferson’s Charles Fremont West was the first Black quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl in a 0-0 tie against Cal.
That may be technically correct, but it overlooks Brown’s Fritz Pollard, a quarterback and halfback in his career, played for Brown in the 1916 Rose Bowl.
American sports can provide a stage for social change but telling the stories about race in American sports after often complicated. Major media platforms avoid tangled race stories, especially if one implicates a legend such as Bear Bryant.
The 1962 Rose Bowl remained forgotten on its 60th anniversary.
College: Michigan State
Background: I grew up in Big Rapids, a small Michigan town, captivated by Michigan State’s 1965 and 66 football teams. I knew they were different with the number of Black players on the roster and Jimmy Raye as a Black quarterback long before I understood why. Eventually, my curious, young mind and career came full circle following four fun decades writing for the Oceanside Blade-Tribune, San Diego Tribune and San Diego Union-Tribune. I researched and wrote, “RAYE OF LIGHT, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and integration of college football.” I also will have two more books out on the subject. As for my winning FWAA entry, it befits a David Maraniss quote I list in my email signature: “History writes people out of the story. Our job is to write them back in.” Hopefully, I wrote UCLA’s eight Black players back into history. With the support of Jim Murray, they stared down a segregationist coach before the 1962 Rose Bowl. My previous awards include the National Football Foundation San Diego Chapter’s Distinguished American Award; James S. Copley Ring of Truth newspapers first-place award; multiple wins in the San Diego Press Club; the San Diego-Imperial USATF’s President’s Award; and the Southern California Football Coaches Association’s Brevin “Bud” Dyer Award.