(From left) Burt Toler, Ed Brown, Gino Marchetti, and Ollie Matson were all key members of the 1951 USF football team, which went undefeated and is widely regarded as one of the best college football teams of all time. (Photo featured in 1951 Foghorn issue)
On Sunday, Feb. 9 at 4:00 p.m., the 1951 USF football team that famously refused to participate in a bowl game without their two African American players will be featured in a 60-minute ESPN documentary called ‘51 Dons. The documentary will air as part of the television network’s Black History Month Programming, and will tell the story of a team that had a legendary year, but chose to take a stance against racism instead of playing in the season’s most important game.
The 1951 Dons squad enjoyed an incredibly successful season, finishing with a 9-0 record and ranking No. 14 in the country. In Bob St. Clair, Ollie Matson, and Gino Marchetti, the team had three players that would become future NFL Hall of Famers. USF was invited to play in the Orange Bowl, but only under the condition that Burl Toler and Matson, both African Americans, not accompany them to the game. In response to this demand, the Dons made it clear that they would not go to the Orange Bowl without their two teammates, which effectively removed them from the bowl game and ended their season.
Due to financial issues, 1951 was the last year that the San Francisco football team competed as an NCAA Division 1 sport. However, the impact of the Dons’ choice to stand by their teammates and make a statement against racism has been felt long after the end of the football program. Many of the school’s current values, such as the promotion of acceptance, tolerance, and diversity, are reflected in the football team’s decision that was made 63 years ago.
Students who wish to view the documentary amongst their peers can attend a viewing party that will be hosted by Los Locos, USF’s spirit organization, at 3:30 on Sunday, Feb. 9 in the University Center First Floor Lounge.