Paul “Bear” Bryant and University of Southern California Coach John McKay
In the Integration of College Football in the South
Feature Length Documentary Film From 51-Time Sports EMMY® Award Winner Ross Greenburg, Narrated by Tom Selleck Premieres Friday, Nov. 15 On SHOWTIME®
NEW YORK (Oct. 28, 2013) – Did University of Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and University of Southern California coach John McKay purposefully schedule the first game of the 1970 season – the first time a fully integrated team had played in Alabama – as a statement against segregation? Or was it simply another game between two college football powerhouses whose coaches were close personal friends? What were Bryant’s and McKay’s motives for the last-minute addition of USC, a fully integrated team ranked by some as the No. 1 team in the country, to the 1970 Alabama schedule?
SHOWTIME Sports® examines these questions in the film “AGAINST THE TIDE,” a feature-length documentary from EMMY Award winning producer Ross Greenburg; premiering Friday, Nov. 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SHOWTIME.
Narrated by Tom Selleck (EMMY Award winning star of CBS’ Blue Bloods), the documentary paints a vivid picture of Bryant, the state of the turbulent South during the Civil Rights Movement, and the 1960’s era football program at the University of Alabama, one of collegiate athletics’ most dominant programs in any sport. Across the country, USC was a colorblind, powerhouse program that integrated in the 1920s and revolutionized the game in the 1960s with the innovative McKay at the helm leading them to two national championships.
Through the relationship between Bryant at Alabama and his renowned counterpart at USC, “AGAINST THE TIDE” examines the role college football played in changing deep-seeded sentiments on segregation in the South. Bryant is offered as one of the only public figures in Alabama with the stature to openly oppose segregation.
“This game, and the integration of college football at Alabama under Coach ‘Bear’ Bryant, has been a fascinating and intriguing story for many years,” said Greenburg. “It is our intention to focus on the truth, and let the viewer separate fact from fiction and myth from reality.”
“‘AGAINST THE TIDE’ is a powerful commentary on the complex relationship between sports and race in American society,” said Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President and General Manager, SHOWTIME Sports. “We have a strong commitment to producing high-quality sports documentaries, and our first film with accomplished producer Ross Greenburg exemplifies this perfectly.”
The documentary, which features interviews with former Alabama players Joe Namath, John Mitchell and John Hannah, USC’s Sam “Bam” Cunningham, Jimmy Jones and more, investigates Bryant’s surprising decision to bring a dominant, integrated football team in a then racially-divided Alabama.
Faced with the precedent-setting option to add an 11th game to their college football schedule, Bryant and McKay reached an agreement on a two-game, home-and-home series where the Crimson Tide would host the Trojans at Birmingham’s Legion Field to kick off the 1970 season.
“What coach in his right mind would have a totally inexperienced team book Southern Cal for an opener?” asks John Hannah, who played for Alabama in the historic game. “You might do it toward the end of the season, but why would you do it in the beginning?”
The historic showdown on Sept. 12, 1970, marked the first time a fully integrated team played Alabama in the South and was a particularly risky matchup for the struggling Crimson Tide football program. Alabama was a young, rebuilding team coming off a disappointing 6-5 season; the USC Trojans were three years removed from a national championship and had lost just two games in three years.
Alabama was outmatched on both sides of the ball by a bigger, faster and stronger opponent, losing 42-21. The all-black backfield of USC, featuring quarterback Jimmy Jones, fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham and native Alabaman Clarence Davis, dominated the Crimson Tide, with Cunningham and Davis accounting for 3 touchdowns and 211 yards on 25 carries.
The Crimson Tide welcomed their first African-American scholarship varsity player, John Mitchell, one year later to begin the 1971 football season and went 11-1.
“The point of the game was never the score. The point of the game was reason, democracy and hope. The real winner that night was the South.” – The late Jim Murray, Los Angeles Times Columnist.
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