22 thoughts on “The Old Blue-Gray Game

  1. Bob Huddleston January 27, 2014 / 3:29 pm

    It took a minute – I thought you meant a Blue- Grey board game. But then I saw the seat assignment. And spotted the fine print. I had forgotten about the B-G Bowl game. According to Wikipedia it lasted until 2002 but I doubt we watched even in the 1990s.

  2. neukomment January 27, 2014 / 3:35 pm

    Ouch! Seeing that bottom line sentence is painful! I was only 11 years old back then, living my whole life up to that point in the northern state of Michigan, in an all Caucasian rural area with virtually no exposure to Americans of African descent… That made it a little difficult at that time for me to comprehend and more completely understand the Civil Rights movement. This picture makes it pretty plain. Thank you for posting it…

  3. Bob Nelson January 27, 2014 / 5:21 pm

    You’re talking about the ticket price, right? For those too young to remember, the Blue-Gray Classic (1939-2001) was an all-star game for college seniors usually played on Christmas Day. By the late 1960s, most universities in the SEC, ACC and SWC had integrated basketball teams but many football teams were still all-white. Remember 1970? In those days, universities were allowed to schedule an “extra” game each year. Many universities in the north and west including the University of Michigan refused to play segregated teams such as the University of Alabama. In 1970, “Bear” Bryant convinced USC to play in Tuscaloosa. While many in the stands rooted for the Californians, USC won the game 42-21. The next year, the University of Alabama had its first black player (John Mitchell).

    But the Blue-Gray Classic played a major, if unintended, role in the careers of many black football players. During the 1970s and 1980s with the explosion of college bowl games, many players declined to play in the game because they were preparing for their own bowl games. This opened the door for many African-American players from minor universities to play in the Classic and gain national exposure they might never have gotten. A little-known wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State was the Most Valuable Player in 1984. It was Jerry Rice.

    • Jim Pearson January 28, 2014 / 1:21 pm

      I saw a television special which advanced the idea that Bear Bryant wanted the game to show why he needed to recruit black players.

    • BorderRuffian January 29, 2014 / 6:49 am

      The game does have some signifigance in that respect but it’s blown a good bit out of proportion. Wilbur Jackson was the first black player signed by Alabama (1969). John Mitchell was the first starter.

      “Cunningham’s impact was a myth, because sitting in the stands that night when USC trounced the Tide 42-21 was Wilbur Jackson, a black freshman running back for Alabama. He was not playing because freshmen were ineligible in those days. Bryant had already integrated his team by recruiting Jackson, who was signed Dec. 13, 1969, by assistant coach Pat Dye, who would later be head coach at Auburn.”

      That 1970 Alabama team was not very good. They were also stomped by Archie Manning and an all-white Ole Miss team (48-23).


  4. Patrick Young January 27, 2014 / 5:36 pm

    My anointing as Diversity King led some friends to think up other royal titles:
    Emperor of Equality
    Multicultural Mufti
    Duke of Democracy
    Lord of Leveling

    • Andy Hall January 27, 2014 / 6:59 pm

      I’m holding out for Poobah of Pluralism.

    • Thelibertylamp January 28, 2014 / 6:33 am

      You make monarchy look acceptable!

  5. mitch werksman January 27, 2014 / 5:43 pm

    That is interesting, didn’t think that happened at a game, but it was alabama.

  6. Patrick Young January 27, 2014 / 8:05 pm

    As I wrote elsewhere: This was sadly common at the time. My own alma mater,the University of Buffalo, turned down an invitation to play in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando because of this. Here is the accurate wikipedia account:
    “The University at Buffalo’s first bowl bid was to the Tangerine Bowl in 1958. The team unanimously voted to skip the bowl because the team’s two black players would not have been allowed on the field.”

    If you know Buffalo, these were a bunch of blue collar guys who wouldn’t put up with this injustice.

    • BorderRuffian January 28, 2014 / 8:03 am

      Let me guess…

      The two black players on the Buffalo team were roommates and lived in a separate dorm?

  7. Carmichael January 27, 2014 / 9:52 pm

    Below a link to an article, written in 2005, describing the pervasive racism in Buffalo. This quote is, I think, especially enlightening:

    “And that’s the thing – they deny that there’s racism in Buffalo when in fact the area reeks of racism. Buffalo is defined more by its racism than by just about anything else…”

    Here’s the link (and plenty more where that came from). So yeah, we know Buffalo.


    • Patrick Young January 28, 2014 / 10:53 am

      Great source. Some guy’s blog. Nice attempt to show that young men refusing to participate in segregation were in fact more racist that those who institutionalized racial separation.

      For those who did not get my point, these young football players were not well-to-do-intellectuals but rather men from blue collar families.

      • Brooks D. Simpson January 28, 2014 / 12:45 pm

        And now that both sides have had their say, we end the discussion of this particular theme.

  8. Chris Evans January 28, 2014 / 8:31 am

    Yes, I enjoyed watching the game during the ’90s and early 2000s. It was briefly brought back in 2003 at Troy University’s stadium.

    HBO had a excellent documentary on black players in College football a few years back called ‘Breaking the Huddle: The Integration of College Football’ which I highly recommend.


  9. Thelibertylamp January 28, 2014 / 1:12 pm

    We are talking about football, right? At first I thought it was some kind of old board game…

  10. Bob Nelson January 28, 2014 / 2:55 pm

    I think it is really difficult to look objectively at what went on during the 1960s. I was in college, remember Kent State, the March to Selma, Pettus Bridge, those horrible black and white scenes on the television news and more. Also when our college basketball team (1964?) was denied service in a restaurant because one of the players was black. I am glad that my generation had something to do with changing the status quo in America.

    On a similar tack, let’s remember Pete Seeger who died yesterday at the age of 94. A terrific 5-string banjo player, few will probably remember that he was also an accomplished 12-string guitar player and was one of the first to popularize that instrument into folk music. He was also the man who changed the name of the folk song “We Will Overcome” to “We Shall Overcome.” RIP Pete. You done good bro.

  11. Bob Nelson January 28, 2014 / 2:59 pm

    BTW, when we’re discussing the Blue-Gray Classic, it might be well to remember that it continued as a major senior all-star game for some 25 years after college football was totally integrated. In 1980, a little-known defensive end from Villanova won the MVP, which jumpstarted his pro career. His name is Howie Long.

    • Dan Weinfeld January 29, 2014 / 1:52 pm

      You may be entirely right, but did Al Davis actually say somewhere that Long’s BG game performance influenced his picking Long in the 2nd round in ’81? Also, you mentioned Jerry Rice above, another BG MVP. Rice was an All-American, a top 10 Heishman candidate and set receiving records that stood for 20 years. Is there any evidence that the 49ers drafted Rice based on his BG performance?

      • John Foskett January 29, 2014 / 4:00 pm

        If anybody has insight into what Al Davis was thinking about anything, he/she probably should see a medical professional. Bay area sportswriters had code for every breaking story about the next lunatic move by Al – ITRS (It’s The Raiders, Stupid).

      • Bob Nelson January 29, 2014 / 5:25 pm

        Obviously, Dan, I don’t know. Seems logical that their great performances in an all-star game whether it be the East-West Shrine Game or the BG Classic certainly didn’t hurt their careers. Obviously, Villanova and Mississippi Valley State were not elite Division I schools in those years. Both Long and Rice would have been drafted and would have had terrific NFL careers without the BG Classic. Your point is well taken.

  12. Virgil Crawford October 8, 2016 / 5:07 pm

    I’m not exactly sure but I believe the first black players to play in the Blue/Gray game were Gene Thomas [FAMU] and Elijah Gibson [Bethune-Cookman], both runningbacks, in 1966. I am a graduate of FAMU and I saw Gene Thomas play in college a few times. Thomas played pro for the Kansas City Chiefs of the old AFL, and he played in Super Bowl I.

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