21 Oct

When Razorbacks First Competed Against African-American Football Players

1965 Cotton Bowl

The all-white Razorbacks finished their glorious 1964 with a landmark Cotton Bowl showdown.

For the most part, integration of big-time college sports in the South happened in phases from the 1950s through early 1970s. In 1965, for instance, SMU’s Jerry Levias became the first African-American football player in the Southwest Conference. Two years later, Kentucky’s Nat Northington became the first in the SEC.

With Arkansas, like with many other programs, there are multiple pioneers. Little Rock’s Jon Richardson, the first scholarship black Razorback, came aboard in the fall of 1969. In the spring of 1969, though, Pine Bluff’s Hiram McBeth had become the first black Razorback to play in a varsity-level Arkansas football game when he played in the red-white game.

Then there was Darrell Brown, the walk-on from Horatio who played on the freshman team in the fall of 1965 and spring of 1966. He quit after suffering multiple injuries and never made varsity.  This was right in the heyday of legendary Arkansas coach Frank Broyles, and Razorbacks were a force to be reckoned with. Broyles, who coached the team from 1958 until 1976, became an all-time Arkansas legend in 1964.

After finishing his previous three Southwest Conference Championship winning seasons 9-2, 8-3 and 8-3, Broyles led Arkansas to an 11-0 record in 1964, outscoring opponents by 231 to 64. He had an especially strong defense which pitched multiple shoutouts in the second half of the season. Exhibit A: Razorback linebacker Ronnie Caveness, who was selected to the 1964 College Football All-America Team, and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Johnson, the future Super Bowl-winning head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, also played for that team. So did Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who got pretty emotional this past summer when he learned he was going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now if his team could overcome their 20/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, I’m sure he’ll get way more emotional.

It’s interesting to note that the Razorbacks’ legendary 22-game undefeated run that included this championship-winning season started with a victory over Texas Tech, a game that was played the day after President John F. Kennedy died in 1963. That was the only SWC game played that day, and the Hogs tried as best as they could to get with business as usual, future Super Bowl-winning coach Barry Switzer told me. That win started an incredible run extending throughout the 1965 regular season when Darrell Brown scrimmaged against the varsity as part of the freshman team.

The high point of the run, of course, was Arkansas’ 10-7 win over Nebraska in the January, 1965 Cotton Bowl. That victory cemented Arkansas as the national champions, according to the two major organizations.  It was also the first time Razorback football players took the field against an integrated football team.

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While Razorback football players hadn’t officially competed against black football players before 1965, decades before the program had helped a group of African-American Fayetteville natives named the “Black Razorbacks.” I tell that long-forgotten story in my new book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas.