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On this date in 2006, the University of San Francisco gave its undefeated 1951 football team an honorary degree.
This tribute came because of a game it never played. The team sacrificed glory for honor when it refused to leave its two African American players behind during an era of segregation to help secure a bid for a post-season bowl game. USF honored the team for its courage, selflessness, and unity during school commencement ceremonies. The team is often called the most incredible collection of college football heroes to play together.
The USF 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 with black players. They would have been invited to a bowl game if they left behind their Black teammates, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler. 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 Dons made the decision 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.
University of San Francisco
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San Francisco, CA 94117-1080