A 1947 Rose Bowl program, listed on EBay, with bids starting at $10.50.
Jan. 1, 1947: On the program’s cover, the players are white…
… but the Sentinel’s sports section highlights five African Americans playing in the Rose Bowl: Claude “Buddy” Young, Ike Owens, Bert Piggott and Paul Patterson of the University of Illinois, and Bob Mike of UCLA.
Much could be written about this game, in which Illinois dealt an upset to UCLA 45-14, but that’s way beyond the scope of this blog. I’ll stick to the five African Americans playing in the game, highlighting Claude “Buddy” Young, a 5-foot-4 running back who scored two touchdowns, the first by an African American in the Rose Bowl.
Note: For those who just tuned in, we’re going to reboot the concept of the 1947project (founded by Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak) by going day by day through 1947 – but using the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American weekly, rather than the very white and very conservative Los Angeles Times. We promise you an extremely different view of Los Angeles.
(The historic Los Angeles Sentinel is available online from the Los Angeles Public Library. We encourage anyone with a library card to delve into the back issues and explore the history of black L.A.
Young signed professionally with the New York Yankees of the All-American Conference, and played for the Dallas Texans and Baltimore Colts of the NFL. He later worked for the Colts and became an executive with the NFL, where he was director of player relations. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968 and was the first Baltimore Colt to have his jersey number, 22, retired.
According to the the Fighting Illini website:
One incident Young often discussed was a game against the Baltimore Colts during his rookie season with the Yankees. A crowd of Colts fans covered their faces with black shoe polish and berated the running back with racial epithets outside of the locker room.
In 1983, Young died in a one-car crash while driving to Dallas to catch a flight to Chicago, having attended a memorial service at Northwest Louisiana University for Kansas City Chief Joe Delaney. Young was 57.
Ike Owens played professionally for the Chicago Rockets in 1948. He died in 1980 at the age of 60.
Bert Piggott played professionally for the Los Angeles Dons in 1947. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois and a doctorate in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He coached football at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where he was athletic director. He died in 1999 at the age of 78.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who played under Piggott at North Carolina, wrote in tribute:
I remember so well the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington.
Our practice for the fall season had already begun, but I had an overwhelming sense of urgency to be part of that demonstration; to be part of the historic moment. So when my friends who went to other schools were told by their coaches, “If you go to the march, keep marching and leave your scholarships behind,” I called Coach Piggott. He said, “We’ll be a few days late and we’ll have to work harder. But if you feel compelled to make that stand for dignity, I stand with you.”
He put winning and losing in perspective. All that I do and all the places I go, Bert Piggott is central to my life – today, our hearts must be gladdened by his life and his legacy. We treasure his memory. We treasure his lessons.
Paul Patterson played professional ball for the Chicago Hornets in 1949. He was later a scout for the Chicago Bears. Patterson died in 1982 at the age of 55 after a long illness.
Bob Mike played professionally for the San Francisco 49ers in 1948 and 1949, the second African American on the team. Over at Bleacher Report, Gary Mialocq tells the story of Mike’s release from the team. He died in 1981 at the age of 62.