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Thu, 05.01.1930

Ollie Matson, ahead of his time in the NFL

Ollie Matson

*Ollie Matson was born on this date in 1930. He was an African American football player, teacher, and coach.

From Trinity, TX, Ollie Genoa Matson II was the son of Ollie and Gertrude Matson. After the family moved to California, he graduated from George Washington High School in San Francisco in 1948.  Matson attended the City College of San Francisco prior to transferring to the University of San Francisco. While in school, Matson became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.  In 1951, Matson's senior year at USF, he led the nation in rushing yardage and touchdowns en route to leading the Dons to an undefeated season.

Matson finished only ninth in the 1951 Heisman Trophy voting behind winner Dick Kazmaier of Princeton. He was named a first-team All-American, but at defensive back, not running back. "They weren't ready for me," he said in 2001 of the lack of respect he received from Heisman voters. "But I'm not angry.  Those were the days when we were growing up, so you have to take the bitter with the sweet. My days at USF were just beautiful." Despite its 9-0 record, the 1951 San Francisco team was not invited to a bowl game.  It was later reported that the Orange, Sugar and Gator Bowls - all in the American South - did not consider inviting any teams that had Black players, and the USF refused to play without its two African American teammates.   USF honored the 1951 team in 2006 for their courage and integrity.

Matson also won a bronze medal in the 400-meter run and a silver medal as part of the United States 4x400-meter relay team in the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland.  He married his wife Mary, whom he met when both were San Francisco teenagers in the mid 1940's, in 1952.  Drafted #1 by the Chicago Cardinals, he went on to share 1952 Rookie of the Year honors with Hugh McElhenny of the San Francisco 49ers. During his 14-year career, Matson also played for the Los Angeles Rams (traded by the Cardinals for nine Rams players following the 1958 season), the Detroit Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was named to the Pro Bowl six times (1952, 1954 to 1958).

When Matson retired in 1966, his 12,799 career all-purpose yards were second only to Jim Brown. Matson was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976.  Matson was a member of The Pigskin Club Of Washington, D.C. National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor Roll.

Ollie Matson died in his Los Angeles home on February 19, 2011 of respiratory failure, surrounded by family.  He and Mary lived in the same Mid-City Los Angeles home from the time he played for the Los Angeles Rams until his passing.  The site is being nominated as the 'Ollie and Mary Matson Residence', a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, as an historic house museum and interpretive center. Museum and Interpretive was Land marking 2007-2008, being prepared by students of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Program in Historic Preservation.

Reference:
The Associated Press, permissions
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