USF honors its 1951 football team for courage and integrity

Date: 
Fri, 2006-05-19

On this date in 2006, the University of San Francisco gave an honorary degree to its undefeated 1951 football team.

This tribute came because of a game it never played. The team sacrificed glory for honor when, during an era of segregation, it refused to leave its two African-American players behind to help secure a bid for a post-season bowl game. USF honored the team for its courage, its selflessness, and its unity during school commencement ceremonies. The team is often called the greatest collection of college football heroes ever to play together.

The SF Dons that year went all season without a single loss or even a tie. But despite its undefeated status, the team did not receive an invitation to play a post-season bowl game. In 1951, the Dons were battling a different kind of opponent, racism. That year, the team was one of only a few football teams in the nation with Black players. If they left behind their Black teammates, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler, they would have been invited to a bowl game. For the Dons, the decision was easy: everyone goes, or nobody goes. And so the team came to be known as undefeated, untied, and uninvited.

Dan Boggan, senior vice president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said that night, “When you think about the time the decision was made by the Dons not to play in the bowl . . . it warms my heart and gives me hope that we as people will continue to learn that standing together we are stronger; that’s the American spirit.”

Pictured are the 1951 USF Dons Football team, then (bottom) and now (top). Back row (left-right): Burl Toler, Dick Stanfield, Ed Dawson. Front row (left-right): Bill Henneberry, Mayor Willie Brown, Brad Lynn, Vince Tringali, Jack Meehan.

Reference:
University of San Francisco
2130 Fulton Street,
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080
(415) 422-5555

USF