The news from earlier this week that NFL football will be returning this fall with the end of the lockout has football on my mind! Anyone else? In any case, football inspired today’s Academic Trivia question: USF had a football team?
I’ve said it before: I am no athlete, but I am a great fan! And one of the reasons I love sports is that so often they are about more than athletic ability, stats, plays, wins, and losses. The best story, in my opinion, of how this is definitely true is the story of the USF football team. Specifically, the 1951 football team that went “undefeated, untied, and uninvited.”
First, a bit of a history lesson. Yes, USF did have a football team. Football first began at USF in 1917 (when we were still known as the University of St. Ignatius Gray Fog). The first game was played against what is now UC Davis. We won 13-7. The program ended after one year, though, but returned again in 1924. Interestingly, except for the head coach and the athletic director, all aspects of the program were managed by students. That’s right, students were the assistant coaches and trainers!
The most famous of USF’s football teams is the 1951 football team, which is considered by some to be the best intercollegiate team ever. Nine of the starting players were drafted into the NFL, five became pro-bowlers, and three were inducted into the Hall of Fame. The team had a perfect 9-0 record, with an average score of 33-8. But they didn’t play in a bowl game. Teams that they had beaten were invited, but not USF. They finally received a much-deserved bid to the Orange Bowl, but were told that they could only participate if they left their African American players behind. The team took a stand and declined the bid. Because of the financial losses associated with the program, the 1951 football team was the last team to play football at USF.
The 1951 Dons are the only team in college football history to produce three Hall of Fame players: Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, and Bob St. Clair. Burl Toller went on to the become the first African American NFL referee. And the sports information director at the time, Pete Rozelle, went on to become the NFL Commissioner (check your footballs at home… one probably has his name on it!).
The team was honored during the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Check out the video of their story here:
The members of the 1951 football team were given well-deserved honorary doctorates at the 2006 Commencement ceremonies.
The history lesson comes courtesy of Dr. Alan Ziajka’s book Legacy & Promise: 150 Years of Jesuit Education at the University of San Francisco. You can purchase your own copy at the USF bookstore for $18.55 (get it?). You can also check out the great t-shirt in the bookstore honoring USF’s football history:
So, yes, USF did have a football team. A great one, both on and off the field. Incidentally, I think the story of our football team would make an excellent movie. Any takers, Hollywood?