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Sat, 09.12.1970

First all-Black backfield in Division 1 college football plays

Sam Cunningham running well

On this date in 1970 the racial landscape of American college football changed for ever. John McKay and the University of Southern California Trojans beat Bear Bryant's Alabama Crimson Tide. The final score of USC 42, Alabama 21, was only part of the story. That USC-Bama game remains one of the most proclaimed in college athletics.

When the Trojans went down to the deep South, they were the first fully integrated team to play in Alabama. An all-Black backfield of quarterback Jimmy Jones, running back Clarence Davis, and fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham led Southern Cal. College football in Alabama and in the South was never the same. As former Bryant assistant coach Jerry Claiborne noted, "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes that night than Martin Luther King had accomplished in 20 years." Jimmy Jones, among the first wave of Division I black quarterbacks, put it more concisely: "It was no ordinary day."

In 1992, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported that after Cunningham had ripped through Alabama's defense, "Suddenly, it was clear to Bryant that signing black players was no longer an issue of conscience: It was now a matter of winning. That night Bryant told his closest friends that he would begin recruiting black players."

The National Collegiate Athletic Association
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