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Sat, 06.06.1914

Ozzie Simmons, Iowa Football Player born

Ozzie Simmons

*"Ozzie" Simmons was born on this date in 1914.  He was a Black college football player for the University of Iowa and a teacher.  

Born in Gainesville, Texas, Oze E. Simmons grew up as an all-state high school quarterback in a segregated high school league in Fort Worth. College opportunities were limited for Black players at the time. Still, an Iowa alumnus saw Simmons play and suggested he go to the University of Iowa, where Blacks had been team members since 1895. Simmons had heard of the exploits of Black Iowa players like Archie Alexander and Duke Slater, so Ozzie and his older brother, Don, hopped a train to Iowa City and found Iowa football coach Ossie Solem in his office.

Solem asked the Simmons brothers to attend Iowa's practice that afternoon. Iowa was conducting a punting drill, and Simmons returned two punts for touchdowns. After practice, Solem told the brothers, "We'll find you a place to stay."  Simmons spent his freshman year catching up on academics. By his sophomore year in 1934, Ozzie Simmons was ready to shine. In his first game, a 34-0 win over South Dakota, Simmons had a 22-yard scoring run and punt returns for 61 and 32 yards.  He rushed for 166 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown sprint, and he had 138 yards on kick and punt returns in his first Big Ten game, a 20-7 defeat of Northwestern. But Iowa lost every remaining game in 1934, despite the play of Simmons, who was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and a second-team All-American.  

1935 was Simmons' finest year. He scored five touchdowns on runs of 50 or more yards in 1935. Simmons scored Iowa's two touchdowns in a 12-6 upset of Colgate, and his touchdown pass to fellow black Iowa star Homer Harris was Iowa's only point in a loss to Purdue. Simmons' best game in 1935 was against Illinois.  He rushed for 192 yards, intercepted a pass, returned three punts for 33 yards, returned two kicks for 54 more yards, and scored a touchdown in a 19-0 upset of Illinois. Simmons led Iowa in rushing in 1935 and was selected as a first-team All-American. Ozzie was also a first-team All-Big Ten selection, leading the Hawkeyes to a 4-2-2 record.  

Simmons' senior year in 1936 was a disappointment. Though he led Iowa in rushing and scoring, the Hawkeyes failed to win a conference game, and Simmons failed to make any post-season honor teams.  He quit the team for a couple of days after Iowa suffered their worst loss in 20 years, a 52-0 loss to Minnesota. His final game was against nationally-ranked Temple and their Hall of Fame coach, Pop Warner. Simmons scored on a 74-yard touchdown run to lead Iowa to a 25-0 upset.  Ozzie Simmons graduated with 1,544 career rushing yards, the third most in Iowa history at the time. He scored 14 touchdowns in his career, eight of them on plays of 50 yards or more. Though the Hawkeyes had just a 9-11-4 record in his three injury-plagued years at Iowa, Simmons gave Iowa fans something to cheer about when Iowa football was feeling the ill effects of a brief Big Ten suspension and the Great Depression.  

Simmons is probably best known as the central figure in the episode that spawned the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. As a talented Black player in the 1930s, Simmons was a target of opposing players, which accounted for many of his numerous injuries.  Ronald Reagan, then a radio sportscaster in Des Moines and later the 40th, said, "The problems were when you played another team that did not have a black. They would pick on this one man for some reason or another." Reagan then recounted a game against Illinois when Ozzie was injured twice. Reagan said, "I saw (Iowa players) Dick Crayne, and Ted Osmaloski walk over to the Illinois huddle during a timeout, and after the game, I found out...they said, 'Do that to (Simmons) once more, and we're going to run you right out of the end of your stadium.'"  But the worst treatment for Ozzie came in the 1934 game against Minnesota.

Just 12 years earlier, Iowa State's first Black player, Jack Trice, was killed by injuries sustained in a game against the Gophers. In 1934, Simmons was knocked out of the Minnesota game three times due to injuries.  The following year, Minnesota was scheduled to play at Iowa. To defuse the situation, Minnesota's governor wagered Iowa's governor a prize hog that the Gophers would win the game.  Minnesota did win a clean, fair game that was played without incident. Iowa's governor obtained the pig from Rosedale Farms and named him Floyd after Minnesota's governor. Minnesota's governor had a bronze replica made of "Floyd of Rosedale," Iowa and Minnesota have played for the trophy every year since 1935.

Black players were not allowed in the NFL then, and Ozzie Simmons played for the Patterson Panthers of the all-Black American Association in 1937 and 1939. He was a second-team all-league player in 1937 and a first-team all-league player in 1939.  He later became a physical education teacher in the Chicago public school system. He and his wife, Eutopia Morsell, married in 1960 and lived in Chicago, where she was part-owner of a funeral home. He retired from teaching in 1979 after 38 years and then worked with his wife.  Simmons was inducted into the Bob Douglas Black Sports Hall of Fame in New York in 1984. In 1989, Iowa fans selected an all-time University of Iowa football team during the 100th-anniversary celebration of Iowa football, and Simmons was selected to the team as a running back.  

Nicknamed the "Ebony Eel," he was among the first Black All-American football players in the 1930s.  Simmons rarely appeared angry about racism. "I never had any serious problems in my lifetime," Simmons said in 1989. "I respect people, and they respect me. I find that to be wonderful."  Ozzie Simmons died on September 26, 2001, from complications from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. 

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