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USF Football Team Honored for Stand Against Racism

USF Football Team Honored for Stand Against Racism

San Francisco
Some have called it the best college football team ever. Nine of its players were drafted, five played in the National Football League’s Pro Bowl and three are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But this University of San Francisco squad never got the chance to cap off its 1951 undefeated season with a postseason bowl game win because it refused to leave behind its two Black players. In honor of the team’s bold stand against racism, the university awarded an honorary degree to that 1951 team during the school’s commencement last month.

“The team members exemplify the values that remain at the core of USF’s identity as a Jesuit Catholic university: dedication to a common good, rather than the interests of any one individual; respect for the dignity and worth of every human being; and an unwavering commitment to excellence on the field, in the classroom, and in one’s personal and professional life,” says Bill Hogan, the university’s athletic director.

USF President Stephen Privett awarded the degree to the 10 players from the team who were in attendance, including Burl Toler, the first African-American to become an NFL official.

The other Black team member was All-American Ollie Matson, a 1952 Olympic medalist in track. The running back then went on to play professional football for the Chicago Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. The Cardinals traded Matson to the Rams for an unprecedented nine players in 1959.

The story of USF’s 1951 team is told in the 2002 book: Undefeated, Untied and Uninvited by Kristine Setting Clark.

During its regular season, the squad had a perfect record, with no ties, which should have been enough to earn a postseason bowl game invitation that never came. According to USF officials, the team was advised to drop its two Black players so it could receive a bowl invitation. The team ignored that advice and, as a result, never received the bowl invite.

Nevertheless, the team is considered in many circles to be one of the greatest college football teams of all time. Matson, Gino Marchetti and Bob St. Clair are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

USF’s sports information director at the time, Pete Rozelle, would later go on to become commissioner of the NFL, earning his own induction into the Hall of Fame. 

— By Ibram Rogers

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