Black History Month always features stories about the integration of college football in the 1960s. Usually, the accounts focus on the first African-American players who broke the barriers to play at powerhouse schools in the South.
However, there’s a significant and often overlooked part of this saga that took place at Michigan State. A new book by Tom Shanahan, “Raye of Light,” examines how Duffy Daugherty built the great Spartans teams of the 1960s by actively recruiting elite African-American players such as Bubba Smith and George Webster. The starting quarterback on his great 1966 team was Jimmy Raye, an African-American.
In fact, that team had 20 African-American players at a time when even Northern schools had limited minorities on their rosters.
The book is a fascinating story about how Daugherty had a huge role in integrating the game. Here’s a Q/A with Shanahan.
What motivated you to do the book?
Shanahan: As a kid growing up Big Rapids, Mich., I knew there was something unusual about a roster with a black quarterback and numerous black stars, but I was too young to understand the social significance. With my love of history, the seed remained planted until I had the opportunity to research a sports story with a Civil Rights backdrop. It became clearer to me Duffy and Jimmy Raye have not received their proper credit for leading the integration of college football. Duffy for his “Underground Railroad” recruiting the segregated South; Jimmy as the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title and as a long-time trailblazing black college and NFL coach. I write Bubba Smith was the most famous of Duffy’s passengers, but Jimmy is the most socially significant as a quarterback and mentor to so many coaches, including Tony Dungy. When Dungy was a kid, he sat in Spartan Stadium and was inspired to see Raye play quarterback.
There has been revisionist history surrounding the role of the 1970 USC-Alabama game, but the ground Duffy broke forced Alabama to play teams outside the segregated South. When Martin Luther King spoke at Michigan State 50 years ago on Feb. 11, 1965, he answered a question about waiting for the right time to push integration: “Time is neutral,” said MLK, “and the time is always right to do right.” That was Duffy. He did not wait for the alumni to tell him the right time to recruit black players or to start a black quarterback.
What should people know about Duffy Daugherty?
That only Duffy had a recruiting network in the segregated South. The first time Duffy was invited to speak in the South, he was appalled black high school coaches couldn’t attend. He subsequently staged a clinic in the South for black coaches and invited them to future clinics at Michigan State. Minnesota coach Murray Warmath also was a pioneer recruiting black players, but his contacts and the contacts of other Big Ten coaches were anecdotal – they learned about a player from a friend of a friend. It’s a shame there is no Big Ten Award named for Duffy Daugherty and Murray Warmath. Instead, the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award is named for Woody Hayes, a bully fired for punching an opposing player on the sidelines, and Bo Schembecher, who never won a national title.
It also became clear researching the book it was important to debunk myths that Alabama coach Bear Bryant sent southern black players to Daugherty. My research revealed none of the 44 black players Daugherty recruited from the South between 1959 and 1972 (his last season) were from Alabama. In the late 1960s, Civil Rights attorney U.W. Clemon revealed in court depositions that Bryant had virtually no knowledge of black athletes in the South. Bryant also said on archived film in the 2008 HBO documentary “Breaking the Huddle” that he couldn’t find black athletes qualified academically and athletically – a contradictory statement. To believe such myths is an egregious injustice to Duffy’s legacy. It reduces him to sitting at his desk, answering the phone and granting a scholarship to an athlete sight unseen. In reality, Duffy was the one with his boots on the ground in the South.
It should be noted Duffy’s 1966 roster with the then-unheard number of 20 black players influenced more than the South. USC has a long history of integrated teams, yet the Trojans had only seven black players on their 1967 national championship team. That total jumped to 23 on USC’s 1972 national title squad.
What stood out in interviewing the players and hearing their stories?
How much they enjoyed their time escaping segregation and gaining an education at Michigan State. Gene Washington rarely went home to Texas rather than be subjected to segregation humiliations. George Webster of South Carolina said he had never known black and white people to get along and attend school together. Charlie Thornhill of Virginia said he never trusted a white person until he came to Michigan State. Clinton Jones of Cleveland said Michigan State was an oasis from racism he knew in a northern urban city and the violence taking place in the South.
They are proud of their role in the integration of college football and their accomplishments on the field. No school has come close to matching Michigan State’s four first-round NFL draft picks among the first eight – Bubba Smith, No. 1; Clinton Jones, No. 2; George Webster, No. 5; and Gene Washington, No. 8. Also, they are the first four seniors from the same class named to the College Football Hall of Fame since Boston College in 1940. And as such they are the first foursome of black players.
Bubba Smith was a great player and a unique character. What do you think it was like for him when he first arrived on the campus?
Everyone has a Bubba story. That tells me Bubba loved his time Michigan State. There is a story of him encountering white students at the sprawling Brodie dorm complex in a water balloon fight. They invited Bubba to join in. In a gymnastics class, the 6-8, 285-pounder would jump off a trampoline with an Olympic-styled finishing pose. He joined a Jewish fraternity. When I asked Jimmy Raye why, he said, “Because he could.”
The best story, though, was when he was pulled over for $300 in parking tickets on the eve of the “Game of the Century.” He was driving his self-proclaimed Bubba mobile in an impromptu parade down Grand River Avenue packed with rabid fans on the sidewalks. Bubba loved embellishing that story over the years, but Jimmy Raye was a passenger with a true account.
Either way, I think it would make for a great Kenny Mayne-styled ESPN story to reenact the parade and arrest – perhaps on the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Game of the Century. The 2008 HBO documentary “Breaking the Huddle” unfairly portrays Bubba in a short segment as a goofball. In reality he was a bright and sensitive gentle giant.
Nearly 50 years later, how did the players feel about the famous 10-10 tie?
The players have come to realize, thanks to a gracious letter from Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian upon their 30th reunion, the 10-10 tie made them immortal despite finishing No. 2 to the Irish in the AP and UPI polls. The “Game of the Century”was a quasi-BCS national championship game. Can you name another team that finished second remembered as respectfully as Michigan State’s 1966 powerhouse? The players say Duffy told them they were national champions despite the controversial finish in the AP and UPI polls.
So who should have won the national championship in ’66?
That National Football Foundation is the only organization that got it right by presenting Michigan State and Notre Dame the MacArthur Bowl as co-national champions. NFF officials correctly stated you can’t separate two teams with identical records that played to a 10-10 tie on the field. However, there is a case to be made for Michigan State as No. 1. The Spartans were top-ranked the first half the season and Notre Dame climbed from No. 6 in the preseason poll to No. 2 before the Irish eventually surpassed the Spartans despite Michigan State not losing a game.
There has been revisionist history that Alabama’s unbeaten 10-0 team should have been No. 1. Notre Dame backup quarterback Coley O’Brien, who rallied the Irish to the 10-10 tie, said Notre Dame always felt the national title was between the Irish and Spartans from the day Notre Dame lost to Michigan State in the 1965 regular-season finale. The 1966 all-white Alabama team was never tested outside the segregated South. The Crimson Tide played eight games at three home fields – Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Mobile – and never traveled further than neighboring Mississippi and Tennessee. None of Alabama’s 10 opponents were ranked. Alabama fans complain they were victims of reverse racism. I don’t know how anyone can make that case with a straight face.
What is Daugherty’s legacy?
Duffy’s legacy extends generations to the children of players he recruited. To dismiss his recruitment of the segregated South merely to win football games is a gross misperception. He had six southern players from the South on his 1965-66 teams earn All-American or All-Big Ten honors. Well, no one goes six for six in recruiting. The 44 players were grateful for their chance to escape the South and had a 68-percent graduate rate at a time when academic support systems aren’t what they are now. In the 1980s, the NCAA-reported graduation rate for black players was in the 30s before the NCAA cracked down with established standards.
Clifton Roaf never played a down due to an injury, but he is retired after 40 years as a dentist. Roaf’s son is Pro and College Hall-of-Famer Willie Roaf, but he also has a daughter who is a professor at Northern Arizona. Roaf says he is “indebted to the people of Michigan State.” Ernie Pasteur was injured but went on to a distinguished career in education. His son is a West Point graduate and his daughter a college law professor at Michigan State. He says he owes his career to Duffy.