Helluva (Unsung) Team

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Helluva (Unsung) Team

I didn't finish researching this during "Black History Month," but when NFL Network (Cable 219) aired "Forgotten Four," about a quartet of players who broke the color barrier in professional football, it had a photo of three members of the 1939 UCLA football team...

l-r: Woody Strode, Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington

...the middle one, wearing #28 and perhaps not immedi­ate­ly recognizable without his celebrated #42, is a historic figure, Jackie Robinson.

Wearing #13 on the right is Kenny Washington, officially the first black player in the National Football League, while #27 on the right is Woody Strode, who, after a brief post-WW II pro career, is better known later in life as a actor, mostly as a solid member of director John Ford's "stock company" headed by John Wayne.

With three such heralded players, it's not surprising that UCLA finished the 1939 season undefeated with a a 6-0-4 record of wins, losses and ties.

The Rose Bowl bid, however, went to crosstown University of Southern California with a 8-0-2 record after the Bruins eschewed a short field goal attempt at the end of their season-ending match-up and failed on a fourth down pass into the Trojans' end zone, leading to a scoreless tie.

But look at the equipment, especially the leather helmets, Strode, Robinson and Washington are wearing compared to the CTE-prone football players of today.

Those gridiron athletes of 75-80 years ago were not only talented, they were tough, the more so because of their hue!


1. Fjmarkowitz said...


Exactly! They were a little before my time, on another coast, and before any wide spread reach of television, so I'll have to delve into some contemporary newspaper coverage to see if anyone outside of Southern California realized how special that team was, both in terms of talent and racial integration.
– Dean

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