Today’s Southern Miss vs. Alcorn Game Marks a Milestone in Race Relations
Fans of college football are struggling today to find interesting match-ups, but there is one game on the schedule that I find very appealing. We won’t be able to watch it on TV. It is insignificant in the grand scheme of college football. It will have no bearing on the rankings or the NCAA playoff picture. You might have to concentrate to hear the score on Sportscenter.
Nevertheless, the game has historical significance and serves as a barometer of the state of tolerance and acceptance in our society. The University of Southern Mississippi hosts Alcorn State University.
Despite only winning one game in two years, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles are 18 point favorites. 56 years ago, in 1958, when my father was a freshman quarterback at Alcorn, there would be no spread because the game would never have been played. Alcorn, an all-black school in Lorman, Mississippi, competed in the all-black Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and only faced competition from other SWAC schools. Black schools were never able to test their power against all-white schools from the major universities.
In 1958, Southern Miss rolled to a 9-0 record and an NCAA Division II National Championship. Players such as Hugh McInnis, Bob Yencho, George Sekul, Willie Coats and J.C. Arban led the way for USM. That same year, Alcorn struggled through a forgettable 0-9 season. None of their players even made the SWAC all-star team.
In 1958, the field was wide open for Southern Miss to compete for talent with any other program in college football. Southern Miss was capable of attracting very high quality athletes and they recruited the best that were available to them. But there was one talent pool they and the other major colleges couldn’t, and didn’t want to access: Black players. The best African American players in the country were exclusively on black college rosters.
If Alcorn had played USM in 1958, a reasonable person would assume that a 9-0 team would beat an 0-9 team, right? Southern Miss probably would have won the game, but that same reasonable person would have to admit that it would have been “a game” and not a rout. Honestly, who knows what would have happened.
The landscape has changed.
Tonight’s Southern Miss lineup will feature 20 of 22 black starters. In 1958, those 20 players (or players like them) would be wearing Alcorn’s purple and gold against the Golden Eagles. 9-0 vs. 0-9? Throw the records out and enjoy the game.
In this game, the tables are somewhat turned. Southern Miss is rebuilding, recovering from a 1-11 season 2013. Alcorn enjoyed a 9-3 season last year. Anything less than a SWAC championship would be a disappointment for a team that is returning 9 starters on offense in a pass oriented attack.
“I don’t care who your daddy is.”
Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant was famously quoted as saying, “I don’t care who your daddy is,” when addressing players on his team. He didn’t mean that in all reality. He did care. So did university presidents, boosters and the media. They cared if your father was black. I wish that quote had been true back in the day, but if Alcorn coach Jay Hopson said it today, the truth would ring out! Hopson is the first white head coach at a historically black college. I’m glad we live in a free society where people are given opportunities based on their skills. Tonight, let’s toss race and record aside and enjoy what looks to be an interesting matchup.
My parents met at Alcorn. (I wouldn’t even be here without Alcorn!) My sister graduated from there. Countless aunts, uncles and cousins got their education in the forests of Lorman, Mississippi. Today, I’m pulling for the upset. Go Braves! I’m predicting a close game and Alcorn pulling off the upset. Feel free to make me suffer if I’m wrong in the comments section below.