A Look Back at the 1951 Football Team

College football: The Cal-Stanford rivalry, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, our Jesuit-sister schools Georgetown and Boston College. No one ever thinks about  the ‘51 Dons football team – known as arguably the best in the history of college football.

In 1951 the USF football team had nine players that were drafted into the NFL, three of whom were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Linebacker Burl Toler went on to become the first African-American on-field official in the NFL, as Coach Peter Rozelle went on to become the NFL commissioner.

The ’51 Dons were a perfect 9-0 with an average winning score of 32-8, but were not allowed to play in a postseason game because the team had two black players, Toler and running back Ollie Matson. The team was asked to attend without Toler and Matson, an offer that the Dons unanimously rejected.

Without a bowl check to fund the program, USF was forced to drop the football team in 1952.

So that’s that. We’re in 2009 and USF does not have a football program due to the aftermath of students standing up to racism in 1951. USF has a moral obligation to bring back this program on the basis of nostalgic pride and alumni respect. The University has done its best to honor the ’51 team by giving of an honorary degree at the 2006 commencement ceremonies.  Kristine Setting Clark wrote a book in 2002 “Undefeated, untied, and uninvited: a documentary of the 1951 University of San Francisco Dons football team” to honor and remember their legacy. However, are these gestures truly enough?

Reestablishing a football program seems like the perfect solution to honor and remember the ‘51 Dons, but unfortunately is deemed impossible. Funding a team would cost millions of dollars, and USF simply does not have the finances to do so. The average annual cost for college football teams ranges between 2.5 – 4 million dollars a year, not including the expense of  building a stadium.

Many schools view football teams as more of an investment rather than a financial burden. Tom Yeager, NCAA commissioner, commented on the expensive sport, “If it was straight accounting, it’s not going to make money, but what it does potentially for the identity of the student body, the affiliation on campus, getting alums back on campus, the pride, that’s the immeasurable part of it all.”

Colleges that have great football programs are known to have equally great academic programs. The aforementioned UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Boston College are three examples of prestigious universities with known football teams. Vince Lombardi once said, “A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall.” Football creates that school spirit that is necessary for a well-rounded education. Even those who are not football fans must agree that this football-created school spirit is beneficial to the prosperity of USF. Financial support from student and athlete alumni would increase, providing funding for new and/or improved academic programs.

The numbers of prospective students would multiply due to the advancement in athletics and academics. The USF mission is “To educate hearts and minds to change the world.” Remembering the ‘51 Dons through reestablishment is possibly the most constructive way to honor this mission.

Some of the greatest athletes in NFL history studied here at USF: Gino Marchetti, Ollie Matson, and Bob St. Clair, who are all in the NFL Hall of Fame.

It just seems natural that USF have one of the greatest football programs in the country. Unfortunately, with the country in such economic turmoil and with USF being a small, private institution, financing a football program is impossible. The idea must be put on the back-burner while we make priceless efforts to keep this legacy alive.

5 thoughts on “A Look Back at the 1951 Football Team

  1. USF students and alumni need to forget about ever having a football team at USF again. It will never happen! Instead, USF should throw more support towards its rugby team.

  2. It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or tips. Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read even more things about it!

  3. Hi! I work for athletic development and I’m involved in the planning for the 60th anniversary for the ’51 football team. Reading snippets of what had happened in the past and your article really hit me hard. It would be nice if USF had more school spirit and a football team once again. You brought some valid points about how we would benefit from this investment.

    If there is anything I can do to try to propose of such plan, please feel free to contact me.

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