What Arkansas coach Bret Bielema Said Two Days After the South Carolina Debacle
Excerpts from Monday’s press conference
“I took over a winning program and took it to an even higher level to go to three three straight championships. I came here to a 3-9 program, we went three and nine and we’ve been on a steady ship trying to build this thing up. We were gonna be at the highest win total a year ago—lost two games at the end of the year that were very frustrating and haven’t been able to get back on track yet.”
“We’ve battled a lot with our injuries and with new players and new faces this year, that we haven’t gotten over the hump. But there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll get it to where it needs to be.”
“The good news is we have good kids who haven’t shown any bad signs of losing [hope], any lack of effort, any lack of discipline, any in fighting or going at one another. It’s more of a message of unity and persevering.”
On whether the problems which plagued the offensive lineman are again hurting Arkansas this year:
“I think the only thing that’s changed on the offensive line from a year ago was the departure of Skip [Dan Skipper] – a guy who played every position but center.
I felt good about where our guys were coming in depth-wise. Obviously, we would like guys to play better at certain time. Hjalte Froholdt is an improvement. Frank has been playing some pretty steady football. Colton [Jackson] does some things very, very well. Johnny Gibson has obviously been a nice continued surprise from where we got him to where we are today….I think he plays better at that guard position than he does at tackle.
It gets frustrating, but again—there are some guys we recruited three or four years ago who haven’t developed into what we want them to be…“My only regret is that four years ago we didn’t make the decision to recruit two more (in the O-line) in each class.”
A coach is only gonna be allowed to coach to the level of what his personnel is. And, again, if we just had a couple more guys depth[wise] that coulda matured and been in a position to play right now. I like the guys’ attitude.”
“I told our guys on Sunday night if I’ve ever been around a team that can change their path in a very short fashion, it’s these guys right here right now. It’s not like they’re a million miles away — they’ve lost an overtime game, they lost a TCU game that went right down to the wire and [against South Carolina] there were in the third quarter of a game that got completely out of control.
Woulda shoulda coulda – I get it. Everybody’s gonna have commentary – I get it. But they really, truly are a team that is not very far away from being where they need to be.”
The rivalry between Satchel Paige and “Dizzy” Dean presaged the big-money boxing bonanza between Mayweather and McGregor
Rocky Marciano and Apollo Creed. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. And now, McGregor and Mayweather. In both fact and fiction, the spectacle of a great white athlete competing against a stellar black athlete often produces box office gold. Last Saturday night’s boxing match between the Irishman Conor McGregor and African-American Floyd Mayweather is only the latest proof. A traditional boxer, Mayweather drew from a sport followed by millions of Hispanic and black fans, while McGregor came from Mixed Martial Arts, a sport with a higher percentage of white fans. Together they made sports history, generating an estimated $700 million.
McGregor and Mayweather only occasionally played up the racial angle of their matchup in the months leading up to the fight. McGregor, at one point, told Mayweather to “dance for me, boy,” and used the term “dancing monkeys” in relation to an all-black gym from a scene in the 1982 movie “Rocky III.” Mayweather, meanwhile, said he was fighting “for all the blacks around the world.”
Despite such comments, McGregor, for his part, downplayed the racial aspect of the fight: “I’m not saying that there are not people on both sides that have this mind-set where it’s black versus white, and this type of thing,” he said. “But it’s certainly something I do not condone. I’m disappointed to hear the way sometimes it’s been portrayed. But I suppose it’s just the nature of the game, with the way things are going on in the world at the moment.”
Beyond the racial difference, what made McGregor-Mayweather especially enticing was the two men’s common shared ground. Both men have stood at the top of their respective sports, and both flaunt outsized, arrogant personas. “McGregor is in many ways a cheap imitation of Floyd’s ‘Money Mayweather’ persona,” Todd Boyd, a professor who studies race and pop culture at the University of Southern California, told the New York Times‘ John Eligon. “But McGregor is white, he’s younger, and his clowning comes with an Irish accent. All of this seems to have endeared him to some in the media and many fans as well. McGregor is being celebrated for the same things that Floyd has been denigrated for.”
While the phenomenon of McGregor-Mayweather will likely be contained to a single contest, in team sports interracial rivals meet multiple times. This was certainly the case in the 1930s, when Arkansas native “Dizzy” Dean, a St. Louis Cardinals* superstar pitcher, led all-white barnstorming teams against all-black barnstorming teams headlined by the great Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige. Dean led the Cardinals to the 1934 World Series victory, graced the covers of major newspapers and magazines and was arguably the world’s most famous pitcher. Paige, meanwhile, unleashed legendary speed and won multiple titles in the Negro leagues playing for the likes of the Kansas City Monarchs.
The two men were, in many way, alter egos: “underfed, loose-jointed boys from Dixie whose down-home demeanor belied the sagacity of a Rhodes Scholar and the cunning of a corporate titan,” Larry Tye wrote in Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. “Each preferred his nickname to his real one, and his own rules to his team’s, league’s or society’s. Neither was the kind of guy to whom one would introduce his sister, although fathers and brothers were aching to meet them. Ol’ Diz pitched six of the Cardinals’ final nine games during the stretch drive in 1934, a work ethic only ‘Ol Satch could match.”
While Dean, son of Dixie he was, had no qualms about using the “N-word,” he also praised Paige’s baseball abilities in a national column he penned. At the height of his fame Dean wrote, for instance, “If Satchel and I played together, we’d clinch the pennant mathematically by the Fourth of July and go fishin’ until the Fourth of July.” This kind of praise, coming from a Southern native, was instrumental in breaking down racial barriers in the Jim Crow era and laying a foundation for the Civil Rights movement.
*Circa 2017, the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t exactly catching the world on fire with a .500 record. Still, they are the fourth-most likely team to win the NL pennant, according to the latest betting on baseball.
This Saturday, from 1-3 p.m, I’ll do my first book signing in Fayetteville at the Barnes & Noble across from the Northwest Arkansas Mall.
I’m looking forward to meeting fellow authors,* seeing friends and talking about my book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories. A large portion of the anthology involves Fayetteville history. Below’s an excerpted example:
Some of the families involved in this story — as well as the one in the “Black Razorbacks of the 1930s” piece (illustration above) — are the same mentioned in this OnlyInArk.com feature I wrote on the history of the the African-American community in Fayetteville.
The book’s already gotten some good press, with mentions by the likes of sports columnist Wally Hall and Ozarks at Large host Kyle Kellams, but I feel like it’s time to get out and see folks in person. Make it out if you can!
Good stuff from a Mike Irwin and Frank Broyles interview back in 2007. The below excerpt is from around the 13-15 minute mark.
Mike Irwin: Now one of the things that I’ve also been told is that when you came in here, you were especially initially very respectful of the traditions that were already here. You didn’t come in and say “Well, that’s nice, but we have to do this, we have to do that.” You listened to what [Barnhill] had to say about why things are done the way they are around here. One of the things he told you was “We don’t play Arkansas State here.” There were just all these traditions and reasons why things are done the way they are and you, may have put your own stamp on the program, but initially you were very respectful of.
Frank Broyles: He had built—where Arkansas wasn’t very successful—he had built [a wall] around the state. He had gotten the eastern Arkansas people interested by starting to play more games in Little Rock. And we’ve developed a fan base from one border of the state to the other, which we had to have if we were going to be a national power. We had to have the fan base, where other schools had it close by, ours was going to be 250, 300 miles away—some of it… The one thing I learned from him is “We are not successful without a fan base from all over the state.”
They could support other universities and other colleges at that time. But when the Razorbacks played, everybody stopped and listened. And he had developed that and it was a wonderful opportunity for me. I took the job with the intention of staying. So It’s been 54 years.
Mike Irwin: Jeff Long still has that same philosophy. I mean he’s the A.D. now, but he didn’t change that. I mean you know there’s been constant pressure and constant talk about “When are you gonna play other schools? Other schools do this, other states do that.” The policy is still the same.
Frank Broyles: …The wonderful thing is that the [state] legislature has let us decide that… Right now our philosophy is that we don’t play so fans can support both of us—or three of us, or four of us. Whatever schools they want to support, they support us and them. And that’s why we’ve been successful.
The story of the first organized form of protest by University of Arkansas African-American students.
In my last post, I discussed how the first student strike in UA history came as a result of strong disagreement with the standards of the student newspaper. Nearly 60 years after that “X-ray” strike, another student uprising followed conflict with their newspaper’s editors. This time around, about 40 black students blockaded the journalism building as part of a protest that gave rise to a UA organization called Black Americans for Democracy (now called the Black Students Association).
The assassination of Martin Luther King in the spring of 1968 was a major catalyst in black UA students banding together to address an on-campus situation which had become “unbearable,” according to Mordean Taylor Moore, a UA graduate student in his 1972 dissertation “Black Student Unrest at the University of Arkansas: A Case Study.”
Moore wrote: “The [UA] students reacted to the assassination of Dr. King holding memorial services and marching through the campus and downtown. Both black and white students as well as faculty members participated in these events. The expenses for three black students to attend the funeral of Dr. King In Atlanta were paid by contributions from local citizens, and before leaving Fayetteville, the students were given a letter of condolence from the University president to deliver to Mrs. King. In addition to these activities, the official day of mourning was recognized by the University with dismissal of classes.
Following these events, a white student wrote to the school newspaper complaining of all the publicity that was given to the death of Dr. King. This letter appeared In the editorial section of the school paper. However, when a black student* wrote a letter to the editor in response, the school paper failed to print it.
This act triggered the first overt form of protest by University of Arkansas black students.
The black students reacted by barricading the journalism building on campus. Reportedly, about forty black students blocked the building for several hours preventing the publication of the school paper as well as other printing done in the building. This
protest resulted into an open meeting of the board of publication and administration with, the black students.
The black students openly attacked the school newspaper for not representing the whole student body and called for an end of Its publication unless change was made in its discriminatory editorial policies. The black students stated that they felt they had to protest to such a manner because they had exhausted all official channels; a letter had been written to the editor of the school paper requesting that the list of their grievances** be printed, they had spoken to the Dean of Students concerning their dissatisfaction with their situation on campus and had requested a meeting with the board of publication. These attempts through the proper channels were to no avail.
The following fall semester, the black student organization worked hard at improving the situation of black students on campus. They held several black-white conferences on race relations on campus wherein they stated that they felt isolated on campus and [an integral part] of the university.”
* John Rowe
** According to UA archivist Amy Allen, “BAD had a list of thirteen demands, including ending discrimination in room assignments, sororities, fraternities, and athletics; enactment of policies for reporting unfair classroom treatment to a faculty-student committee; creation of a black history course; recruitment of black faculty, administrators, and staff; and banning the playing of the song ‘Dixie’ and the use of black face grease paint at official university functions.”
***BAD formed its own newspaper, initially called The Bad Times. You can read past copies in the UA’s digital archives here.
Below is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here for Part 1.
Within days of The X-Ray’s release, Tillman expelled all 36 editors. In response, most of the university’s 724 students quickly signed a petition pledging to attend no classes until the 36 were reinstated. Only seven students attended class the next day, according to Tackett.
Those students’ names aren’t known, but it’s highly improbable more than a few of them would have been football players. Even in an era in which a roster could be around 16 players*, it’s logical to infer most if not all of the football team participated in this strike. Furthermore, we know that Hugo Bezdek**—the head football coach himself—officially endorsed the students’ Progressive agenda. Bezdek, who would ultimately become a college football Hall of Famer after stops at Oregon and Penn Sate, was also the athletic director and baseball coach.
The stalemate between students and administrators lasted almost a week. “There were some tense moments for those who were expelled, who didn’t know whether they were going to have to finish their college careers elsewhere,” Fayetteville historian Charlie Allison told Brady Tackett. “Even those who were struck weren’t what would happen.”
As the week rolled on, the tide of public opinion shifted in the students’ favor. Local Fayetteville merchants, for instance, capitalized on the unrest. Some put up posters displaying their support for the students, Allison said. Local theaters even offered free admission to students during the strike.
On March 2, 1912, only a week after The X-Ray’s publication, Gov. George Donaghey (then chairman of the board of trustees) arrived for a specially convened board meeting with UA faculty and students. There, the student’s representatives argued for the reinstatement for the 36 on the grounds that the The X-Ray’s mission had been to improve the school’s overall quality. Their arguments impressed Donaghey. So the governor decided to repeal the 1905 law and reinstate the 36 students with a promise that faculty would investigate their complaints.
The students, in turn, acquiesced to Donaghey’s request for no celebratory parties or parades. Instead, student-faculty relations were to be quietly mended. Indeed, on March 4, a student representative submitted a formal request for extra class work to make up for time lost in the protests, Tackett wrote.
Although the Mizzou and Arkansas protests differ in so many ways, one strong tie is the amount of stress they caused for their respective university presidents. In 2015, Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation in the immediate aftermath of the football Tigers’ strike. But back in 1912, before the onslaught of instantaneous news coverage and video, it took a little longer. President Tillman quietly announced his retirement at the 1912 commencement ceremony.
*The 1912 team was 16 players, which was a typically thin roster in the Hugo Bezdek era, according to A Story of Arkansas Football by Orville Henry and Jim Bailey. According to Phil Huntley, who played on the 1909-1911 Razorback teams, the talent and overall team attitude took a dip in 1911 and 1912, a time when the roster had too many “prima donnas.”
Huntley recalled traveling to Austin for a game against the University of Texas in 1911, “a game we should have won.” Instead, Texas won 12-0. “The Texas coach came by afterward and said, “‘You know something, Hugo? Five of your men damn near beat my 11.’ He knew.”
PS: The 1911 opener featured the biggest blowout win in Razorback history: a 100-0 home shellacking of SW Missouri. The 2017 Razorbacks are expected to win their opener against the consistently woeful Florida A&M, too, but don’t expect quite the same margin of victory. It should be greater than the 31.5-point line in the Rice-Stanford opener according to major sportsbooks.
**According to “The X-Ray Incident,” written by Chris Branam, in the Winter 2012 edition of the Washington County Historical Society’s Flashback.
The Razorback rosters which Houston Nutt coached from 1998-2007 produced 22 NFL draftees on the defensive ball. In the decade since then, Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith and Bret Bielema have produced a total of six defensive NFL draft picks.
It is true that Houston Nutt, on the whole, recruited more highly talented defensive players. Ahmad Carroll, for instance, was rated at the top of his class of cornerbacks coming out of high school. But the disparity between decades doesn’t just boil down to talent. It involves attitude, too, a group of former Nutt players recently told sports radio host Bo Mattingly.
Two of them—Ken Hamlin and Quinton Caver–were drafted in the second round. Below are edited excerpts from the quartet’s discussion of what has changed in the last decade, and especially with last year’s especially grievous defensive debacle.
Ken Hamlin: One thing that I’ve said, and we talk about it a lot amongst ourselves, but the energy, just the type of tenacity that I think we had when we played, when we were there, I haven’t seen it. I don’t know if I’ve seen it since we’ve left… I can’t say it’s a knock on the players or not, but it just it doesn’t seem like we get the people in that really want to …
The inconsistency I saw last year, it was so bad in key games. You think about A&M being a key game, going into the Alabama game the following week, and you give up almost 40 points. [45 points, actually] I think we led the SEC in big plays over 20 yards and, I think, we broke a record for Arkansas within like four games, five games of the season. It’s just too many big plays and not any guys that are going to step up be the one to say, “You know what—no more.”
Quinton Caver: Ken Hamlin, Eddie, and also Brandon can attest to this, as Coach [Bobby] Allen used to tell us: Once we cross that white line, you got to turn the switch on, it’s all attitude. You have to want to do it when it comes down to it. You have to be the one like, “I’m going to make this play,” or “I’m going to make this stop.” Everybody had that mentality on the defense, not just one person.
We all wanted to be around the ball, we all wanted to make a big play. That’s what you have to have, and you have to have someone that’s going to step in and step up and say, “Follow me, let’s get this done, regardless. We have to get this dealt with, we have to get this done.” It’s all about your mentality.
I know the guys have it here, they’re just making sure that they translate that not only on the playing field, but also in the classroom as well, when you’re studying the film. You got to hold each one accountable.
Mattingly: Brandon Holmes, is it different now with players than it was when you guys were around? How do you think locker rooms might be different now?
Brandon Holmes: I’m pretty sure they got a lot of different distractions, but at the end of the day, it’s about the core nucleus, man. It’s about how you were brought up, and what you wanted to accomplish. That was one of the reasons why I came to Arkansas. Going from seeing other schools, I was like, “This is a true family atmosphere and there’s nothing like anything else I’ve seen.” I would definitely say it’s just the will to want to be able to make something happen.
Ken Hamlin: Regardless of how many bells and whistles you have—I know we have all the updated facilities and everything—[but] you still got go back to the grind that got you here. I think a lot of them lose that grind that really got them to this point. It goes to getting a little bit comfortable because we start getting spoiled. As a defensive player, you got to be ready to get down and dirty. It’s not about coming out of the game clean. It’s about having some bruises, and being beat up, and trying to beat somebody else up.
I think we have to get back to that mentality of, you know what? We’re going to go and enforce our will. We had a “Code Red” when we played. That needs to be reinforced because it just doesn’t seem that we have a defense that wants to force their will on someone else. We want to react, and we don’t want to be ones that make that offense react.
We used to have defenses where we knew the quarterbacks weren’t going to hold the ball for longer than two seconds. We got to get back to that.
Eddie Jackson: When we was in it, our defense was the offense. The team thrived, they got pumped up on how well we would do. When we all came in, we came into a situation where we had the Kenoy Kennedys, the David Barretts in the secondary and those guys, we followed their lead. When we all came in as the secondary—me, Ken Hamlin, Tony Bua, Lawrence Richardson, Marvin Jackson, Batman[Ahmad Carroll]—all these guys we had these guys that, basically, showed us the ropes.
I just feel like, right now, there’s a disconnect with, like what Ken is saying, it’s basically having that dog mentality: “When we go out there you know what? Don’t forget the offense but we can create our own plays, we can do our own thing and not just rely on the offense.” That’s what we used to think.
We used to have a situation where we would compete over batted balls, interceptions, we would try to create plays within a game on our own, and not rely on the offense. That’s, ultimately, why we had basically the top secondary in the SEC when we were playing.
The above originally interviews were originally given on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly.
Arkansas is the SEC’s eighth-most likely team to win the 2017 national championship—behind Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M—according to major sportsbooks.
In coming out with a book highlighting the African-American sports heritage of the state of Arkansas, I have already been asked why I should highlight racial differences in a book about Arkansas sports history. I have a feeling that after the book publishes later next week many people will be turned off by its racial focus, and perceive I unnecessarily stress past divisions at the expense of future unity.
This isn’t the place for a full explanation of why I write so much about African Americans. This isn’t the place to get into the ramifications of the fact that the (white owned) Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has produced more than 300 combined years of archived history, as a daily, while the (black owned) Arkansas State Press has about 30 years of combined history while being published only weekly.
All that will come.
For now, I only want to relay the words of James Baldwin, the renowned African-American author and civil rights activist. In 1968, he appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” and began discussing some of his experiences as an American black man who had lived abroad. Cavett brought on Dr. Paul Weiss, a Yale philosophy professor, who began expostulating on the existentialist dilemma of all men before peering into the ether and asking: “So why must we always concentrate on color?”
I’ll tell you this. When I left this country in 1948, I left this country for one reason only. One reason. I didn’t care where I’d go. I might’ve gone to Hong Kong, I might’ve gone to Timbuktu, I ended up in Paris with $40 in my pocket with the theory that nothing worse would happen to me there than had already happened to me here… You had to be able to turn off all the antennae with which you live, because once you turn your back on this society, you may die. You may die.
And it’s very hard to sit at a type writer, and concentrate on that, if you’re afraid of the world around you. The years I lived in Paris did one thing for me: They made rethink that particular social turn is not the terror of my own mind, visible in the face of every cop, every boss, everybody.
I don’t know what those white people in this country feel. But I can only conclude what they feel when the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know that we have a Christian which is white, and a Christian church which is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday. That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.
I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.
Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.
I am not black. I don’t know how it feels to be black. But I have listened to many African Americans discuss race issues, and they tell me that the world they and their loved ones have experienced, and the pain they have felt, often differs from what I as a white man have experienced. That difference matters, and to me it hardly matters whether it’s “perceived” or “real.” The result is real anguish and frustration nonetheless.
Michael Jordan has been an NBA owner since 2006, when he bought a minority stake in what was then the Charlotte Bobcats. He’s seen some talented, high-scoring guards come through the franchise in that time, including Jason Richardson, Corey Maggette, Ben Gordon and Kemba Walker. He occasionally dishes advice to his players and has even played a few one-on-one.
Before this week, though, Jordan never had the opportunity to mentor someone who plays like him. That changed Thursday night, when the Charlotte Hornets drafted Lepanto native Malik Monk.
Even when Malik Monk was a sophomore in high school, I pointed out he’s the closest thing Arkansas has ever produced to its own M.J. The rest of the nation began catching on in full this past December after his 47-point explosion against Jordan’s alma mater. In that UNC detonation, broadcaster Bill Raftery compared him to M.J. (and Jerry West, to boot).
Monk finished his only season in college as a 20-point scorer with a devastatingly effective midrange jumper. He doesn’t yet have the fadeaway M.J. developed, but his three-point shot (he made nearly 40% of his nearly 7 attempts per game) is already superior. Many speculated he would be drafted by the New York Knicks with the No. 8 pick of this year’s draft. When he dropped out of the Top 10, his college coach John Calipari said he knew he wouldn’t slide past Charlotte at No. 11. “I knew that he wasn’t going to fall by Michael,” Calipari said. “He plays like Mike.”
As talented, explosive, skilled and fundamentally sound as Malik Monk is on the offensive side of the ball, don’t expect him to evoke M.J.’s otherworldly defense any time soon. For starters, at 6-3, he doesn’t have the length of an M.J., who stood 6-6 and had longer arms. And Monk himself has said he needs to learn to give max effort on that side of the ball each time out.
But, then again, Malik Monk just needs to be a good defender—not a great one—to do what the Hornets will need him to do in order to improve their bottom-of-the-barrell 2018 NBA Championship odds according to major sportsbooks.
In Jordan’s era and earlier in the 21st century, NBA rules allowed more physical contact, which allowed defense-first players who couldn’t shoot well (e.g. Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace) to play major roles on championship teams. The modern NBA, however, allows for far less physical contact and puts a premium on players’ ability to create and make shots. The Golden State Warriors, the modern era’s best team, regularly unleash at least four players on the court at the same time who can not only create for themselves, but others.
This has created an evolved style in which great offense tends to beat good-to-great defense on most days. To beat the Warriors, or the Cavaliers or Spurs for that matter, the Hornets “got to put the ball in the basket. That becomes your defense,” Kenny Smith, Michael Jordan’s college teammate, said on the NBA Draft 2017 broadcast. “If [Monk] learns how to score the same the way he did in college, against taller, bigger, faster players, then he is what they needed.”
We’ll see how rapidly Monk can pick up the intricacies of Charlotte’s offense and get the consistency of defensive effort up to an acceptable level. He, for one, shows no lack of confidence involving anything to do with basketball.
After the draft, Monk gushed about the opportunity to learn from Michael Jordan. “I think he’ll teach me a lot and I’ll take an even bigger step each year. Each year I’m going to try to learn as much as I can from him.”
And if he gets the chance to play M.J. one-on-one?.
“I’m going to beat him,” Monk said with a smile.
All-Time Highest Selected Arkansan Guards* In the NBA Draft
1.(t) Eddie Miles (North Little Rock): Pick 4, 1964 Draft
3. (t) Fat Lever (Pine Bluff): Pick 11, 1982 Draft
3. (t) Malik Monk (Lepanto): Pick 11, 2017 Draft
*I’m looking at players who primarily played guard in both college and the NBA. Sidney Moncrief and Scottie Pippen both were Top 5 draft picks, but the former played more as a forward in college while the latter played forward in the pros.
Nowadays, black quarterbacks are commonplace on the NFL landscape. It appears no native African-American Arkansan has yet suited up for an NFL team as a quarterback, but all the same the state does have some tangential connections. Former Razorback Tarvaris Jackson, an Alabama native, played a decade in the NFL and got a Super Bowl ring in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks.
Less well known is that Stuttgart native Eddie Boone nearly tried out to be a black NFL quarterback pioneer in the early 1960s. At Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Boone had been the teammate of future NFL star Elijah Pitts and after graduation drew interest from the Los Angeles Rams for a tryout, he told me. At this point, though, black quarterbacks were an extreme rarity. Those who did get into the league, such as Willie Thrower and Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins, barely got any playing time at the position at all. Most prospects (e.g. Sandy Stephens) were moved to other positions, and that’s what the Rams wanted to do with Boone.
Around the same time as Boone’s almost-professional foray, Chicago Bears coach/owner George Halas discussed the state of the black quarterback with the Muhammad Speaks newspaper. Click here for the first part of his 1963 interview. Below is the second part:
Asked if he would like to become the Branch Rickey of football, Halas answered, ‘I already am. Remember Willie Thrower* about eight years ago?’ We tried him out at quarterback but he didn’t have the arm.”
The Bear mentor said there is “quite a scramble going on now among professional teams to get players from Negro colleges. You can understand my interest,” Halas explained, “when you consider such men as Willie Galimore and Herman Lee, who came to us from Florida A&M University (Tallahassee).
“Jake Gather, coach of the Florida A&M Rattlers, is one of the best football minds in the country. He sent us four players from his squad and we now have signed him as a scout.”
Halas went to his files and showed a Muhammad Speaks reporter some of the scouting reports he has on players at Negro colleges. He said he had high hopes for one player, whose name he did not want to disclose at this time. The veteran coach thinks he helped the team in the latest football draft and said, “Our chances of winning the championship (1963) are fairly good.**”
*Willie Thrower played the Chicago Bears in 1953. “He was “the first black NFL quarterback of the modern mold,” according to former Deadspin writer Greg Howard. “He led his Michigan State team to a national championship in 1952, his senior season. Thrower went undrafted but was signed by the Chicago Bears, serving as George Blanda’s backup for his one year in the league. His only stats came in relief duty on Oct. 18, 1953, when the coach benched the struggling Blanda for a bit. Baby steps.”
**Well played, Georgy boy. Halas called it: the 1963 Bears would indeed win the NFL championship after an 11-1 season. Don’t expect such glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most insiders have the Bears finishing with a losing record that begins early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.