Marcus Freeman Hiring: New Landscape For Coaches Of Color?

Marcus Freeman (35 years old) will be the 3rd-youngest FBS head coach in the country. Only Kane Wommack (34, South Alabama) and Sean Lewis (35, Kent State) are younger. Per: Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) December 2, 2021 tweet to @d_farmer

Marcus Freeman
The Freeman Family at the press conference, photo courtesy of ND Insider

The Problem

There have been Black head coaches at the FBS level since 1979 when Willie E. Jeffries took the job at then D-1A (AKA FBS), Wichita State. However, they shuttered their football program after the 1986 season. While there Jeffries went 21–32–2 and was a pioneer. In the forty-two or so years since the hiring of Jeffries, the high-water mark was 19 for Black head coaches at the FBS level, during the 2011-12 season.

Currently there are still some open jobs, but just 12 of 130 FBS jobs have Black head coaches. That’s 9.23%, which is actually below the percentage in recent years [the lowest since prior to 2012]. If Jimmy Lake, Derek Mason, Lovie Smith, or Kevin Sumlin do find head coaching jobs, three or four new Black candidates being hired in the FBS could lead to the average trend.

Recently, the University of Washington dismissed Jimmy Lake after only fifteen months. In doing so he became the Power 5 head coach with the shortest regime of the last decade.

Lovie Smith was 17–39 in five seasons at Illinois and has returned to a defensive coordinator position with the Texans of the NFL. Kevin Sumlin was 9–20 after three seasons with Arizona, but he has an overall record of 95–63. Derek Mason was 27–55 after six and three quarters seasons at Vanderbilt and is now the defensive coordinator at Auburn.

The Solution

We’ve identified the problem, so what’s the solution?

There’s no lack of available candidates entering the system. Over 54% of the starters at Power 5 programs identify as Black. Over 49.2% of FBS players identify as Black. However, only 37.63% of the assistant coaches, 14.72% of the coordinators and just 9.23% of FBS head coaches are Black. [Per: The Glass Ceiling of African American Assistant Football Coaches by Eli Aaron Keimach].

A reasonable number of Black candidates can successfully transition to position/quality-control coaches or analysts. The bottleneck would appear to be the coordinator position.

As with the NFL, the most attractive current candidates are very often drawn from the offensive coordinator/play-caller role — and as with the NFL, this is clearly a place where improvement is needed. Even with the FCS included, which includes many HBCU programs, there were only 57 Black offensive coordinators. That’s 57 out of 258 positions in Division 1 football, that’s 22.1%, even with several HBCU programs included. [Per: the NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Database]

In good news, Mel Tucker’s 10-year, 95 million dollar, contract extension announces that he’s now under consideration among the elite coaches in the FBS. Elsewhere, young coaches on the rise include Thomas Hammock at Northern Illinois and Charles Huff of Marshall. Finally, there’s the highly respected and established Penn State’s James Franklin and Stanford’s David Shaw.

Some Numbers

Black coaches at the 65 Power 5 schools hold the following positions: Five offensive coordinators, six co-offensive coordinators, seven defensive coordinators and eight co-defensive coordinators. Black men hired in coaching are mainly involved with running backs. Second most often to coach defensive backs.

There are 49 running back coaches among the 65 Power 5 schools but only eight Black passing game coordinators. [Note: these numbers are currently changing as we speak since the coaching “carousel” is still spinning.]

This begs the question: why aren’t Black coaches hired as offensive coordinators? Josh Gattis, Michigan’s offensive coordinator, just won the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football. Brennan Marion, Pitt’s highly regarded wide receiver’s coach, has been identified as a possible future offensive coordinator.

Defensively, another future coordinator appears to be current Notre Dame cornerbacks coach, Mike Mickens. Whether this comes with the Fighting Irish or elsewhere, he’s on the trajectory to becoming a head coach.

Pitt WR Coach Brennan Marion is a top WR and a possible OC or Head Coaching candidate

In the NFL we have co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville in Miami and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn in Detroit. They join Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich, bringing offensive coordinator total to four. However, 25% of the offensive coordinators in NFL being Black is actually an improvement.

This would be the equivalent to having 32.5 Black offensive coordinators in the FBS. The majority of White head coaches (17 of the 27), have a primarily offensive coaching pedigree. Two out of the three Black NFL head coaches were primarily defensive coaches. It has traditionally been easier for Black coaches to become defensive, rather than offensive, coordinators.


Race and American culture make the quarterbacks coach, offensive offensive coordinator, and/or offensive play-caller role seen as a more cerebral and, by extension, more often a White coach’s place. While that is beginning to change, the change has been painfully slow.

Coaches like Kliff Kingsbury, a Power 5 head coach at age 33 and an NFL head coach at age 39, often experience a rapid rise through the ranks. That almost never happens for offense-oriented Black coaches. Because of fewer chances, Black coaches are most commonly required to spend more time proving themselves.

In the near future if Thomas Hammock, Charles Huff and/or Jay Norvell continue to have success, perhaps one, or all of them will get a chance to be a Power 5 head coach.

An impressive young Black Power 5 coordinator, Marcus Freeman will likely eventually become a Power 5 head coach. Maybe, with the success of Deion Sanders at Jackson State, the landscape is changing for Black coaching candidates. There was even apparent interest in former USC interim Head Coach Donte Williams. There are reasons for possible hope. Although, there are just as many reasons for concern.

Works cited: Wikipedia

NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Database

The Glass Ceiling of African American Assistant Football Coaches

ND Insider


Roger Brown-One Fourth Of Two “Fearsome Foursomes” Dies At Age 84.

When football fans gather gather there are certain things that are likely to be discussed. Which quarterback would you want to win one game? Who was the greatest: corner-back, linebacker, running-back or wide receiver of all time? Older fans often debate which players from the past would be great in today’s game. When a giant of a man closed his eyes one final time on the 17th of September 2021, we bid farewell to a player that I feel was hall of fame worthy in his time, but would have been even better in the pass first version of the NFL.

Where It All Began

Roger Brown was born on the first of May, 1937 in Surry County, Virginia. My father and he actually ran across each other as youngsters. Both spent time in Surry County and Newport News, Virginia. However my father was a 138 pound ‘quick guard’ while by the time Brown started high school he was over 220 pounds and played fullback, later he moved to defensive tackle.

While still in his teens moved to Nyack New York. He would have had chances to play for Syracuse or in the Big 10, but he had some academic inadequacies. He originally planned to play for coach Vernon “Skip” McCain at Maryland State College [now University of Maryland-Eastern Shore], get his grades up and transfer. Instead he found a home and began to flex his entrepreneurial muscles. “Big Nyack” is how he was known as a disc jockey known and party promoter.

While at then-Maryland State from 1956-59 as a defensive lineman he was instrumental to the Hawks outscoring opponents 693 to 213. Brown was the linchpin of  defense that held opponents to 7.3 points per game. He led the Hawks to the CIAA title in 1957, becoming a two-time NAIA All-American and two-time Pittsburgh Courier Negro All-American selection.

The Path Towards Greatness

He was drafted in the fourth round, 42nd overall in the 1960 NFL Draft. When he got to Lions camp they were unable to weigh him at their facility. Once weekly he was taken to the rail-yard where freight was weighed. Weigh-in day came each Thursday, and he was struggling since he was 6’5″ 298 by the end of his college career. In the early 1960s, Brown’s team mandated weight was 280 pounds; for each extra pound he was fined $10.

Despite his size he was a rare athlete. He’d been a sprinter at Maryland State, he ran the 100-yard dash in 10 flat. Once at Lions’ camp ran a 50-yard dash in 5.4 seconds. He used his rare blend of size and speed to become a key member of the first “Fearsome Foursome” in Detroit with Alex Karras, as well as defensive ends Darris McCord and Sam Williams. It was this front that perpetrated the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre,” versus the Green Bay Packers. That day, the team set a franchise-record 11 sacks. Of them Brown had seven of the sacks.

Farewell To Great Roger Brown: A Giant Of The Game

After the 1966 season he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams to replace Rosey Grier who had torn his Achilles tendon. As a member of the sun-drenched Southern California version of the”The Fearsome Foursome” he joined hall of fame members, David “Deacon” Jones and Merlin Olsen, as well as Lamar Lundy. Once there he helped this great defensive line to continue its dominance for coach George Allen. In that season’s finale on December 17, the Rams sacked Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas seven times and Brown was in the backfield constantly.

A Lasting Legacy

Though he died still waiting for that call to Canton, he has received many honors including being named to: The University of f Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks Hall of Fame in 1982, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, the College Football Hall of Fame (2009) and the Black College Football Hall of Fame (2015). In 2018, he, Karras and Herman Moore were made members of the “Pride of the Lions” ring of honor at Ford Field.

Here’s part of what Bart Starr wrote in a letter of support he sent the the Pro Football Hall Of Fame’s Senior Committee: He and Brown faced each other many times, so they came to develop a tremendous respect for each other. He wrote, “I personally believe the strength and character of an exceptional Sports Hall of Fame are directly commensurate with the quality of its members. Roger Brown brings that quality with him and deserves to be inducted in our Hall of Fame.”

A Second Career

Once his career ended, in 1969, Brown originally started in the restaurant business in Chicago. Later he opened restaurants closer to his childhood home. With no more train-yard weigh-ins, his once powerful frame swelled to 448 pounds. There are so many stories of players, particularly former linemen who have died, many with heart problems or diseases related to the amount of weight they carried.

In the 1990’s Brown was upstairs at his namesake sports bar in downtown Portsmouth VA, one of the eight restaurants he owned after his NFL career, when he passed out, hitting his head on the steps. Roger Brown, who had formerly commemorated successful weigh-ins with bountiful dinners with teammates, including 16 side dishes, and many bottles of wine, he reported, was now a victim of his appetite.

Brown was eventually hospitalized since he’d developed an irregular heartbeat and a defibrillator was inserted into chest. “A hell of a way for your body to say: ‘Stop eating.’ ” He said in an interview with the Washington Post.

The next great weight challenge of his life had nothing to do with avoiding a fine. Instead he was trying to preserve his life itself. He started accompanying his wife, Kay, to the YMCA, leaving more of his meals on the plate. He walked more and treated himself to feasts less. In the last decades of his life he weighed 227 pounds.

By The Numbers

In his career he started 124 of the 138 games he played in the NFL, he totaled 79 sacks [unofficially, the sack became an official statistic in 1982], he had seasons of 14.5, 14, 12 and 11.5 sacks despite playing in the era of 14 game seasons and offenses that were run dominant, he also tallied 2 interceptions and 3 safeties. I hope that his family, friends, former teammates, and football fans will finally get to see one of the true giants of the game and one of the game’s greatest interior linemen finally receive his final and ultimate honor.

Sources cited:

Going To The Mat With Gender And Race: Black Professional Wrestlers In The ‘Pre-TV’ Wrestling Era.

Wrestling as both a martial art and sport is thousands of years old. There are cave paintings in France and Mongolia depicting grapplers that are over 15,000 years old. There are shockingly modern looking grappling holds and take-down defense depictions that have been found in the 5th Dynasty tomb of Ptahhotep. The 5th Dynasty was approximately 2,400 years BCE.  In Greece there was a wrestling champion named Aristocles, but you likely know him as Plato, the nickname came from the word ‘Platon’ meaning “wide or broad-shouldered” and Socrates wrote: “I swear it upon Zeus an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler”. 

In 1520, a twenty-nine-year-old King Henry the VIII of England challenged another royal wrestling enthusiast, King François of Angoulême, the 1st of France, age 23, to a wrestling match at the historic “Field of the Cloth of Gold” meeting. This was  an attempt to preserve the peace established by the Treaty of London of 1518. The signatories were Burgundy, France, England, the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, the Papal States and Spain, all of whom had agreed not to attack one another and to come to the aid of any that were attacked. Additionally this created an alliance against the Habsburg emperor, Charles V, who had been elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519.

The affair was quite the bacchanal: over 4,100 animals were slaughtered and many barrels, casks and jugs of strong drink were imbibed. Both monarchs exchanged gifts and declarations of their “undying love and loyalty” to each other.  In the midst of all that spectacular entertainment, Henry beat François in an archery contest, and since he had a king sized ego, he challenged his Valois guest to a wrestling match.

François, by all accounts initially demurred, likely because he feared that if he bested the notoriously vain Henry Tudor, it would spoil the chance at  a lasting alliance. But François was to his very quick a sportsman, he loved archery, falconry, horseback riding, hunting, jousting, tennis [courte-paume] as well as wrestling, was man of chivalrous nature and high aspirations, so he finally consented to wrestle his Tudor peer.  

Historical accounts of the bout itself are scarce. The two kings went in search of a suitable place for a match.  I’d imagine that they were both attired in brocade and other royal fineries. Both men were renowned for their great height. Henry excelled in Cornish wrestling (a style established in Cornwall in South-West England), several centuries hence.

The referee is known as a ‘stickler’. It is believed that the popular meaning of the word to be persnickety or unduly precise originates from this term. The wrestlers in the Cornish style both wear tough jackets enabling them to gain better grip on their opponent. All holds are taken upon the other wrestler’s jacket, grabbing of the wrists or fingers is forbidden as well as any holding below the waist. Although all holds are to be taken upon the jacket the flat of the hand is allowed to be used to push or deflect an opponent.  

The objective of Cornish wrestling is to throw your opponent and make him land as flat as possible on his back. Three sticklers (referees) watch and rule on each bout whilst also recording the points scored. Four pins are located on the back of a wrestler, two at the back of each shoulder and two either side just above the buttocks. If a wrestler manages to throw his opponent flat onto his back, simultaneously scoring with all 4 pins they score four points in that single throw and this is called a “Back” to which the bout is then finished and the throwing wrestler is the winner.

François wrestled Gouren (a style of folk wrestling that was established in Brittany), or Breton wrestling. In gouren the grapplers wear special white shirts or vests(roched) tied with a belt and black trousers (bragoù), and try to throw each other to the ground by grappling the other’s roched. A victory (lamm) is declared when the opponent is on his back on the ground, with the winner standing. Victory is only achieved when both the opponent’s shoulder blades hit the ground at the same time, and before any other part of the body.  The primary difference between these two styles was in the type of jacket used: the Breton jacket was tight, while the Cornish wrestler wore it loose.

François was able to throw the older and larger Henry to win the match, the two were said to have left on good terms, but despite appearances, either Henry’s historically bad temper or the mostly volatile relations between England and France eventually doomed the pact. So France remained geographically encircled by the Habsburg monarchy and François turned to alliances with the Lutheran princes of the Holy Roman Empire and the Sultan of Turkey. However Henry would later align with François again in 1527 when they signed the Treaty of Amiens which bound the two together against Charles V.

The New World

Despite the popularity of the sport in England, King Henry the VIII was both a fan and participant, the British colonies in the ‘New World’ that would come to be the foundations of the United States hadn’t always been a haven for sports. The Puritans frowned upon most diversions that weren’t directly related to labor or religious practice. 

But it didn’t take long for wrestling to get a hold on the new Americans. The Indigenous people of the Americas had very established wrestling traditions, however the scholarship has been fairly sparse with regard to the format, rules, the techniques and training for their grappling arts. Some have theorized that in addition to physical training and combat applications, there may have been some religious ritual applications of wrestling.    

During the 17th and 18th centuries wrestling once again was transformed back from a form of combat into a popular spectator sport. It became the major contact sport among men of all classes in America. The primary wrestling style of that day was ”collar and elbow”, named for its starting position: standing face to face, each wrestler placed one hand behind his opponent’s neck and the other hand behind his elbow. This form diminished dirty tactics, such as “bull rushing” and throwing dirt in the opponent’s eyes, and allowed for different techniques specific to a wrestler’s size and strength. 

In the back-country of Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas, wrestling was quite popular, particularly in the settlements of Scots-Irish colonists. Matches often were rough enough that the Assembly of Virginia got involved and forbade illegal holds prohibiting “maiming ‘by gouging, plunking or putting out an eye, biting, kicking or stomping upon'” an opponent. However, like plenty of laws, the back-country largely ignored these restrictions. The aforementioned Cornish wrestling was the progenitor of this type of grappling and over time this coalesced into a style known as “Catch-As-Catch-Can.

Rev. James Maury’s Academy at Fredericksburg, Virginia, was an institution which turned young men from good families into scholars and, in the case of young George Washington, into able wrestlers. By the age of 18, the big, shy Washington apparently held a collar and elbow wrestling championship that was at least county-wide and possibly colony-wide. Washington never lost his touch. At the age 47, ten years before he became the first President of the United States, the Commander of the Continental Armies was able to defeat seven consecutive challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.

Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler as a young man. According to, he was defeated only once in approximately 300 matches. Carl Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln says he once challenged an entire crowd of onlookers after defeating an opponent. “I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns,” Lincoln reportedly said, but there were no takers.

Lincoln is featured in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s “Presidential Grapplers” exhibit with the U.S. Presidents who wrestled, including the aforementioned, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who in his fighting trim of 225 lbs, was an intramural heavyweight champion at Yale, and was a fourth generation wrestler in the Taft family. A total of 14 US Presidents wrestled either competitively or recreationally, making it number one with our chiefs of the executive branch. 

In part due to the cross-pollination of regions and cultures that took place during the Civil War, wrestling boomed afterwards and it was common to see wrestling at county fairs, carnivals, holiday celebrations, and military exercises. Of the many styles practiced during those days, only catch-as-catch-can [sometimes shortened to Catch] survived. Over time it evolved into “Folkstyle” , the style used now at the scholastic and collegiate level.

Meanwhile in Europe, at about the same time Graeco-Roman (or Greco-Roman) wrestling (sometimes also called classical wrestling) was also booming. From England to Turkey and even in India, several great champions emerged.  Folkstyle,freestyle and the other descendants of catch-as-catch-can, all allow the use of the wrestler’s or the opponent’s legs in offense and defense unlike Greco-Roman which prohibits holds and trips below the waist.

While I am going to focus on Black participation in wrestling post-Civil War. By no means were slaves and free Black people absent from wrestling in the Antebellum period, however for obvious reasons slaves can’t be professionals since they can’t truly benefit from their own labor, skills and talents. But even in the North free Blacks were largely forbidden to wrestle Whites Slave turned Boxer Tom Molineaux’s owner granted him his freedom plus a sum of $500 as a reward Molineaux after he’d earned his master what would be the equivalent of hundreds of thousands in today’s dollars. So Molineaux, America’s biggest and first boxing star, was able to go on to box in the bare-knuckle ring against top White fighters. He even had two epic donnybrooks with Tom Cribb, the best bare knuckle fighter of the time.

African wrestling survivalisms among enslaved populations came from a variety of traditions, including the Nigerian of Mgba and its feminine counterpart Mgba Umunwanyi as well as the Sengalese art of Laamb, which is the Wolof word for wrestling, is derived from Serer Fara-Lamb Siin and often featured leg-wrapping techniques, which distinguished it from Collar-and-Elbow practiced by the growing Irish and Scottish immigrant populations in the U.S. The winner is whoever puts his opponent on the ground, that can mean his back, rear, stomach, or hands and knees. It is ancient and meets at the nexus of ritual and sport, planted in the sand, rooted in the essential village traditions that some Africans carried with them into their bondage in the New World.

In addition to occasional boxing matches and races, slaves wrestled each other to, as Frederick Douglas wrote, “win laurels” and display their physical prowess to young women in the audience. Douglas noted that sports were encouraged by plantation owners, including wrestling and boxing, which Douglas deemed “wild and low sports peculiar to semi-civilized people,” but that “rational enjoyment” was not. Douglas felt that encouraging slaves’ participation in ‘low’ sports, was in part to prevent other pursuits: reading, writing, or perhaps, planning a rebellion. He explained that plantation owners encouraged slaves to vent their aggression this way since it was “among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection.”

In the sport of wrestling on American shores it took the emergence of a freed man Viro Small, AKA Black Sam or Sam Hadley to have a Black man become a champion. He became a wrestler in Vermont and New York from 1874 until a few years prior to the century’s turn. At 5’ 9 ¼” 184 he would have been more than two inches and about 40 pounds above the average for a man born in his time, [like many enslaved people his exact date of birth is unknown] it’s believed he was born in 1854, in Buford, South Carolina. 

By his mid-teens, now freed, he was boxing and perhaps wrestling up north. In 1870 he went to St. Albans, VT., and remained until 1881, when he came to New York to give  wrestling exhibitions at Owney Geoghegan’s Old House at Home. While in Vermont he won numerous matches, defeating Jack Callan, William Downey and others.

On April 27, 1882, he defeated William Johnson, of Rutland, VT., in a collar-and-elbow match for a purse. In St. Albans and Rutland VT. Small won 63 matches between 1882 and 1892 and the Vermont Collar and Elbow Championship twice. These wins made him possibly the first champion of African descent in the United States, but there are conflicting accounts and competing claims about this distinction. These titles also gave Small the chance to work the county fair circuit. 

As previously indicated, biting, gouging, kicking, punching, scratching and slugging were all forbidden in collar and elbow and frowned upon, but rather common, in catch-as-catch-can. In catch-as-catch-can the membrane between boxing wrestling was often quite permeable. 

In September 1882, Small had a fight with Billy McCallum. McCallum clearly took the argument between them to heart and made an attempt on Small’s life, shooting him in the neck. For attempted murder McCallum was sentenced by Judge Cowing to State Prison for eighteen months.The slug had to be left in his neck,but by October 16, 1883 he was able to defeat George Hicks. 

A report from The New York Times–October 16, 1883: “The match was collar and elbow, two out of three falls.  Black Sam was evidently the favorite, and his herculean proportions showed the contestants to be badly matched.  Hicks acted on the defensive in the first round, which lasted eight minutes, and resulted in his overthrow by the formidable right leg of Black Sam.  The second round lasted 10 minutes, the colored man being thrown, much to the disgust of the majority present.  The third round was tedious, and lasted nearly 20 minutes.  Three times Hicks nearly threw his opponent, but was finally overcome by the superior strength of the black man.” 

Based out of the Bastille on the Bowery, Small wrestled and boxed against both Black and White opponents and worked on the side as the establishment’s bouncer. Charles Morrow Wilson, in his 1959 book “The Magnificent Scufflers”, writes: 

“Viro was the right man of any hour. He was warm natured, courteous, and sympathetic toward the live and let live customers, yet he was also strong of body and will power. Though Viro stalwartly declined to get rough with any customer with minor transgressions such as running out of money, any patron who was disposed to start fights or bully or use objectionable language was as good as in the gutter the moment he opened up. Viro was also a man of extremely rapid motions and almost uncanny talents for removing pistols or knives and replacing drawn weapons with fractured arms or wrists or tranquilizing uppercuts, but always, of course, in a courteous manner.

It appears his last collar and elbow match was in 1885, but it appears he continued on in catch-as-catch-can and boxing matches until about 1887.  There is a very fine documentary by Elliott Marquez on Viro Small, entitled “Black Sam’s Statue”-

After Small, a Black circus strong-woman named Irene Bess may have become Europe’s first Black professional wrestler during her carnival days in the late 1800s and early 1900s (although I have yet to locate any supporting documents), but it was two of her sons who would make the history books as two of the best Black personalities in the early days of Great Britain’s pro wrestling industry. Also, a wrestler named Ila Vincent performed in America in the early 1910s but struggled to find opponents, finding more success in Russia and several European cities. 

                                                                                                                                                      The next great Black grappler to make a mark on history was Reginald Berry AKA Reginald Siki, 1st World Colored Heavyweight Champion, tall, 6’2 ½” He was able to speak 7 languages fluently. He was the first Black man to win the Wrestling Heavyweight World Championship. By 1923 was traveling the wrestling world and when the Zybysko brothers stranded him in Europe one year he was able get around with ease because he spoke fluent Arabic. He returned triumphant to the USA with his White, Estonian wife, Jarmilla and 

Berry was keen on resuming his career as a top level wrestler. The ring name of Siki was undoubtedly a reference to the Senegalese-born boxer Battling Siki, who became a world-wide phenomenon in 1922 when he stunned boxing fans by defeating light heavyweight champion Georges Carpentier in Paris, France.

One story has it that American soldiers who had seen Battling Siki fight in Europe gave the name to Berry after seeing him box, though it is more likely that Berry either adopted the name himself, or was given it by a promoter hoping to capitalize on Battling Siki’s sudden fame. He traveled throughout Canada as well, but it was in Europe where he became perhaps second only to Jack Johnson as the biggest Black American sports star in the world. His time in mainland Europe was nearly idyllic, he was a top draw in countries like France, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, and Bulgaria to name a few, where he faced some of Europe’s best and won often. While he most likely still felt racism in various parts of Europe, at least in Europe he was able to pit his skills against the elite of the pro wrestling circuit, including men who were in line for multiple European championships.

after converting to Islam, he became, Kemal Abdur Rahman, marrying Mildred, who was now Mildred Abdur Rahman. The last name was sometimes spelled as one word, “Abdurrahman.” With the change also brought a promotional tactic of billing him as an Ethiopian wrestling hero, and he was billed that way in advertising pieces. A reported 45,000 spectators attended back to back nights to see Bulgarian wrestling star Dan Kolov, a 3-time European Heavyweight Champion, face Regis Siki in Sofia, Bulgaria.

He finally lost the World Colored Wrestling Championship in 1935 to George Godfrey in a contest in Brussels, Belgium. Feab Smith Williams AKA George Godfrey or The Leiperville Shadow was 6’3” 220-260, 249 when he boxed Primo Carnera. While he was mostly a boxer,he showed ability as a wrestler.  A Congolese boxer and wrestler, Jim Wango, had his popularity in Germany suddenly curtailed by the rise of Nazism and he was denied basic services to include medical care. Once he fell ill his fate was sealed and he died of kidney failure 3rd April 1935.

Another prominent Black wrestler who traversed the period when America’s infatuation with radio was changing to a love affair with TV, was Jack Claybourne often referred to as “Gentleman” Jack Claybourne. He was a professional wrestler who had successful stints in England, Canada, Australia, Hawaii, and the United States.  He was 6’0” 210-230 he was also known as Happy Jack, Elmer Claybourn and for a while, in an attempt to slip through the grasp of Jim Crow, Pablo Hernández.. Claybourne won the Kentucky Negro Wrestling Championship from Hallie Samara in Louisville, KY. The following year he lost the title to LeRoy “King Kong” Clayton.

Jack Claybourne won the Negro World Heavyweight and the Light Heavyweight Wrestling Titles in the United States. At the start of his career he worked as “Happy Jack,” he was very close to playing into a Jim Crow era, Black stereotype, but in time he settled on “Gentleman Jack” instead.  Jack Claybourne stood out not only because he tried to break color barriers, but in terms of his in-ring style.  Claybourne’s ability and his ability to connect witn viewers influenced numerous agile wrestlers, most notably “Leaping” Larry Chene and “Sweet Daddy Siki”.  

Another New World: TV Is Coming

Jack Claybourne’s physical gifts are clear, but when he saw that he was never going to reach the top of pro wrestling was when his Pablo Hernández ‘Cuban’ ruse was employed. It was ultimately exposed, so he was locked into the “Chitlin Circuit.”

Just prior to WWII in the 1940s, Claybourne was treated as a little more than a novelty act. He was likely the most well-traveled claimant to the “Negro championship” as he was billed as such in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, California and Hawaii throughout the 1940s and into the mid-1950s.  Claybourne notably worked with many top heavyweights in the era, his most significant title being the British Empire Heavyweight title, which he exchanged with Billy “The Whip” Watson, when Watson was only a few years from his NWA title reign.  He found more success outside of the continental US, but returned, perhaps he became homesick?

In 1952, Claybourne joined the short list of pro-wrestlers who married in the ring when he tied the knot in an Albuquerque ring.  As pro-wrestling took off in the post-war years thanks to television, Jack Claybourne was among the wrestlers of color who found themselves rarely featured on TV and therefore in less demand.

The first Black Wrestler to find some success when TV took wrestling into the homes of millions of Americans, was George Hardison, who wrestled as Ras Samara, Haille or Seelie Samara. Ras AKA Seelie Samara had a solid career and was  billed at times as “the Sepia Wrestler”, the “Joe Louis of Wrestling”, the “Dusky Samson” or the “Negro Sensation.” There was an incident where a San Jose wrestling promoter had to rearrange the lineup for his May 24, 1944 wrestling card because Jim Henry, who was white, refused to wrestler Samara due to his color.

Despite that he was so widely respected by some in the industry that the great Lou Thesz, who never, ever allowed “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers to “go over” [be scripted to defeat] him in the ring, put the legendary Samara over when given the chance. In his career he held the: Pacific Coast Heavyweight Title (San-Francisco-Version)  NWA Canadian Tag Team Titles (Calgary-Version) and NWA Canadian Tag Team Titles (Calgary-Version).

Another holder of the ‘Colored’ or Negro belt was Jim Mitchell, born in Louisville, Kentucky, Mitchell was one of themore successful Black pioneers in professional wrestling. Mitchell was one of the first Blacks in the modern era to break the color barrier, wrestling against white opponents for major promotions.

Early in his career, Mitchell wore a hood to the ring. He called himself “The Black Panther,” and he did battle with other non-white wrestlers. He was in good company, often battling fellow Black stars Seelie Samara and Gentleman Jack Claybourne. 

Jim Mitchell was far from the first Black person to make a living in the sport of professional wrestling, but the Louisville, Kentucky native was among the first to become a star. Trained by the great welterweight champion Jack Reynolds, Mitchell broke into the business in the early 1930s, becoming a main event superstar in the Indianapolis territory by the age of 23.

Mitchell was a proven draw, an athletic and gifted wrestler, with a successful European tour and stops all around the US and Canada, he ended up in Los Angeles, and was a regular at the Olympic Auditorium. Mitchell soon found the confidence to remove the mask and wrestled under his real name. In the late 1940s the LA promoters took a chance and put Mitchell in the ring against White opponents. Mitchell had to work these matches as a “babyface” for fear of what might happen outside the ring if he were a heel. It was still a risk, but Mitchell’s battles with White opponents proved to be a hit, opening the doors for others to follow.

From his adopted home base of Northwest Ohio,to the Boston area, the Pacific Northwest and sunny Southern California as well as tours in Europe, Canada, and Australia, he feuded with some of the biggest heels of his era including Danny McShain, Wild Red Berry, and Martino Angelo. His most storied rivalry was with none other than Gorgeous George, a feud that culminated in a riot in the hot summer of 1949 at the Olympic Auditorium. After George tossed Mitchell from the ring, an angry fan rushed into the ring to take a swing at George. George dispatched the fan quickly, but when he did, the fans rose up and rushed the ring. George and Mitchell slipped through a hidden tunnel to the locker room while a riot, divided largely along racial lines, raged inside the Olympic.

 He was a trailblazer whose exploits were overshadowed by the age of television and the rise of a new generation of stars, not the least of which was Bobo Brazil. In addition to “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell, Seelie Samara, Woody Strode, Bearcat Wright, and Luther Lindsay, had all known what it was like to being limited at times to only working with other Black wrestlers, or mostly non-Whites, except in areas such as Canada, Hawaii,the Northwest and of course overseas. 

If Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode were born in 1974, 1984 or 1994 instead of 1914 he would have been a huge star at something, movies, professional wrestling or TV acting, Strode was born in a time when his good looks and powerful physique were largely squandered on smaller roles and mid-card wrestling slots. He did get to battle with Kirk Douglas in ‘Spartacus’ and played the title role of Sergeant Brax Rutledge in the 1960 film Sergeant Rutledge. As with Jim Mitchell, the highlight of his wrestling career was tangling with Gorgeous George.”   

Lester Lindsay was able to find the most sustained success of all those I just named. Born Luther Jacob Goodall he was known as Luther Lindsay. In the early 1950s and ’60s, Lindsay was billed as the U.S. Colored (or Negro) Heavyweight Champion and took part in among the first interracial professional wrestling matches in the United States. Between 1953 and 1956, he faced NWA World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz in a series of matches.

Those matches were mostly time limit draws, but he was the first Black to make a challenge to the title and earned Thesz’s respect during these bouts. The champ publicly praising his wrestling ability. He played college football for Norfolk State and nearby Hampton Institute [Now Hampton University] where he was also a CIAA wrestling champion. He played 2 years in the CFL. At 5’9” 235 he was among first proponents of weight training in the world of pro wrestling and benched 450+. He was in many ways the ‘Jackie Robinson’ of Professional Wrestling’.He faced Thesz in Texas in 1955 and Ron Wright in Kingsport TN, with the National Guard called up as a deterrent to rioting. Race kept him from being a world champion, but he bested Lou Thesz in 1961 and handled an extremely ugly incident, on-air, when Ike Eakins hurled racist slurs at him. In his career he won several national and regional titles,he’s been named to the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame and WWE Hall of Fame. He was able to be ‘put over’ even versus popular White wrestlers. Like most Black wrestlers of this era he was a “babyface” or face. 

Not until “The Big Cat” “King of Wrestling” Ernie Ladd was there a truly successful Black “heel.” ‘Thunderbolt Patterson, ‘Sailor’ Art Thomas AKA “The Body” “Hercules” or “Seaman’’ Art Thomas had varying levels of success. Thomas particularly had some highlights: he challenged “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, he won the NWA Texas Title, which was his first Championship in 1962. He and Bobo Brazil defeated Gorilla Monsoon and Bill Watts for the WWWF tag-team belt, also he wrestled and lost to WWWF World Heavyweight Champion, Bruno Sammartino, but won the WWA Title from Baron Von Raschke. Others like: Don Kindred Alex “Black Panther” Keffner, Joseph Alvin Godfrey AKA The “Original” Rufus Jones, [not Carey L. Lloyd AKA Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones], Frank James all held verious versions of the Colored/Negro belt, but more miltant Claude “Thunderbolt” Patterson, swam against the current.

Dusty Rhodes, Blackjack Mulligan and others admittedly borrowed from his promo style. He had enough size at 6’0” 242-255, he looked the part, he had ‘pop’ in wrestling jargon that means charisma that comes across in the ring. He was one of the best and most innovative talkers of all-time.  Patterson embraced the black vernacular unlike most of his early TV era brethren. He developed a distinct delivery and coined clever catch phrases long before that was common.  Black wrestlers had long been special attractions and were often unwilling to challenge promoters and peers for fear of losing their spot.  Patterson was willing. He was an athletic, energetic performer with exceptional interview skills. 

His former nemesis Killer Karl Kox said of Patterson: “He could talk the talk and walk the walk.”At shows he would fire up the crowd with a pre-fight chat with Solie, strut to the ring and deliver the goods.”  Even in the largely segregated south, audiences either loved him or loved to hate him. Patterson was a trailblazer who did some of the same things the Rock would do later. Patterson was one of the few Black wrestlers touring the South in those days and had to endure racial slurs, taunts from fans and hate mail. Some nights were tougher than others, but he never backed down.

He also spoke out against poor working conditions for wrestlers and sued for racial discrimination, as a result he was blacklisted from wrestling. He had been complaining about racism from promoters for many years (he said later only Dory Funk Sr. had his back) and wanted to start a wrestlers’ union, a dream he shared with former NFL player and wrestler Jim Wilson, himself blacklisted. Career: NWA Brass Knuckles Championship (Florida version) NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship, Continental Wrestling Association-World Heavyweight Championship, George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Lou Thesz Award, Georgia Championship Wrestling-NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship (3 times) -NWA Georgia Television Championship (2 times) NWA National Tag Team Championship, International Championship Wrestling-United States Heavyweight Championship, Maple Leaf Wrestling-NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (Toronto version) Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, NWA Atlantic Coast Tag Team Championship, NWA Big Time Wrestling, NWA American Tag Team Championship (4 times)- NWA Tri-State-NWA Brass Knuckles Championship (Tri-State version), Western States Sports-NWA Brass Knuckles Championship (Amarillo version) (4 times)  World Wrestling Association World Tag Team Championship.

Racism Is Heavy But Sexism Is Deep

The struggles and successes of Black professional wrestlers were an intricate and maddening challenge for the men and for the women; it was all of that with a sexism cherry on top! We know that Blacks have always been over-represented in the audience of professional wrestling, [over ¼ of the audience has been Black/African American in audience surveys for many decades] and women have been between 33% and 41% of the audience since audience survey data has been available. Despite that it’s only recently that Black women and other women of color have been given real opportunities to reach the top of the profession.

Mary Horton, Ethel Johnson, Babs Wingo, Marva Scott, Kathryn Wimbley AKA Kathleen Wimberly, Louise Greene, Ramona Isbell, Etta Charles, Dinah Beamon were some among the Black women who contended for the “Colored” title. Another was Sweet Georgia Brown, born Susie Mae McCoy she was known during her wrestling days as ‘Sweet Georgia Brown,’wrestled mostly in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. She was a talented wrestler who came through the pro wrestling circuit at a time where men dominated the ranks and Blacks were treated as second class citizens. Many times, Sweet Georgia Brown had to be smuggled into arenas in trunks of cars because the Ku Klux Klan was looking for “Negroes.”


She was raped and abused by male promoters on multiple occasions, she hardly ever received fair payment for the work she did inside the ring. Her manager and booker, Mary Lillian Ellison AKA The Fabulous Moolah, collected all proceeds and divvied out payment after taking her cut. To make it worse, just as  Billy Wolfe had attempted to do to Ellison earlier in her career, it’s been said by several women that she trained, that she pressured “her girls” either into liaisons with her, her husband, Buddy Lee or with promoters. McCoy also alleged that she was given drugs, and made an addict in an intentional effort by Ellison and Lee to control her. By the end of her career, Susie Mae McCoy was left destitute and penniless. She had to work an assortment of menial  jobs to feed herself and her family. Because of the abuse she withstood during her career, She hardly ever socialized with people outside her family. Sadly, she died in 1989 from breast cancer. Only in the last few years has her story received it’s due. 

While things have certainly improved greatly, the days of Black Wrestlers being named, “Burrhead Jones” have thankfully passed, professional wrestling is still a place wherein some fairly coarse and questionable content is still prevalent. Many college, educated middle class professional wrestlers are encouraged to make it clear that their origins are “street” flashy clothes, chains, not always jewelry, at times literal chains and a certain pimpish flair is still de rigueur for men and since nearly all the women are hyper-sexualized, with Black women the tendency is to simply move it up a notch.  

Quoting the work of Nicholas Porter, “The Dark Carnival: The Construction And Performance Of Race In  American Professional Wrestling” “McMahon opted for a parade of outlandish new non-white faces who fit his new,  racier (and increasingly tasteless) business plan. The racial characters he unveiled were explicit caricatures, and became very popular on the strength of the wrestlers performing them. The Godfather (a Las Vegas pimp) and “Sexual Chocolate” Mark Henry caught on with fans, but theirs were characters almost exclusively designed in questionable taste that highlighted the WWF’s fervent quest for “edgier” material. Nonetheless, the comedic elements of both made them cult favorites with fans who, thanks to the Internet and wrestling newsletters, were aware of the contrived nature of wrestling and the calculated ridiculousness of many characters. 

The fact that both these comedy roles were blatant (and dated) racial parodies raised question marks regarding representation and positive, multi-dimensional ethnically-marked characters. On the surface, the African-American Godfather was damningly negative, perhaps almost racist in the wrestling tradition of assigning ethnic wrestlers pejorative cultural roles. The image of the pimp in popular culture was one of violent chauvinism of the worst kind, one often applied to ethnic groups in the poor inner-city, such as Puerto Ricans. Yet Charles Wright, the man behind The Godfather (and Papa Shango), invested his character with a smiling vibrancy and charm (his “Ho’s”, typically portrayed by local strippers, always seemed to be having a great time—even when Godfather would “pimp” them out to his opponents)…[B]ut the Attitude Era at least tried to lend some positivity to his character.

“Sexual Chocolate” was a different story. Seemingly designed to punish Henry for some behind-the-scenes transgression.The questionable matter of taste within pro wrestling was broached repeatedly by such intentionally vulgar creations, and yet the self-referencing (Wright and Henry always seemed to enjoy playing their gimmicks) could be read on the other hand as a deconstruction of old stereotypes, if one was willing to view the ‘Attitude Era’ as a complete break with wrestling’s outdated past. More often than not though, the actions of Henry in particular were sufficient to incite widespread disgust, thus validating the shock/trash ethos of the new WWF.”

By the mid 1960’s the influence of television, as it had with so many facets of American life, reshaped the destiny and direction of professional wrestling. This brought many new opportunities and challenges for the Black men and women who were involved with professional wrestling. That’s a story worth telling, if anyone wants to hear about it let me know.   

10 HBCU Football Players Who Deserve To Be Considered For Canton

At the most recent Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony that just took place in Canton, Ohio, three more players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Harold Carmichael, Donnie Shell and Winston Hill were added to 346 members of the Hall of Fame. So now 33 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are HBCU players, that’s almost 10% of the recipients of gold jackets.

Despite all success that HBCU players have had, there are still several that have been overlooked. I will be reviewing a few of the players that have been thus far excluded.

10. Jimmy Lee Smith Jr. [Jackson State] A Wide Receiver who was a second-round draft pick, 36th overall, of the Dallas Cowboys, he went on to five Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl and to compile 12,287 yards, on 862 catches and 67 touchdowns. As a Cowboy he only appeared in seven games due to a broken right fibula as a rookie and later a bout of appendicitis which was initially misdiagnosed, resulting in an emergency appendectomy and an ileostomy, prior to being waived, once he’d won his salary grievance against the Cowboys. He was briefly an Eagle and was released in 1994.

His NFL career began in earnest in 1995 when he tried out for an expansion team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was a reserve and special teams’ contributor initially. Next season he moved up the depth chart and when Andre Rison was released after game eleven in 1996, he was named a starter. Soon he and Keenan McCardell formed one of the top receiving tandems of the era. He had a game for the ages versus a great Ravens’ defense in 2000 when he had 15 receptions, 291 receiving yards (5th in NFL history) and 3 touchdowns on 19.4 yards per catch. In 2011, he was named to the Jackson State University All-Century team. In 2016, he was inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars (the franchise’s ring of honor).

9. L.C. Greenwood [Arkansas-Pine Bluff/Formerly Arkansas AM&N], Was a Defensive End and he was an integral part of the ‘Steel Curtain’. He was a four-time Super Bowl champion, Six-time Pro Bowler, who played in 170 games, was named to NFL All-Pro teams in 1974 and 1975 and was All-AFC five times. He also led the Steelers six times in sacks with a career total of 73 ½ sacks [unofficial]. He showed up in the biggest of games: he had four sacks in Super Bowl X (“unofficial” Super Bowl record) for a total loss of 29 yards and five career Super Bowl sacks. In Super Bowl IX he batted down three passes. In his career he had 14 fumble recoveries, including five in 1971, which tied for the NFL lead. L.C. Greenwood was an inaugural member of the Steelers Hall of Honor as a member of the Class of 2017. He was another one of Bill Nunn’s finds as a 10th round draft pick and if you are trying to imagine the type of player he was, he was very similar in physique and playing style to Charles Haley. Shockingly Joe Greene is still the only member of the “Steel Curtain” defensive line to be enshrined in Canton.

8. Greg Lloyd [Fort Valley State University] Linebacker, he was one of the linchpins of the “Blitzburgh” defense. While at Fort Valley State he was a Three-time All-SIAC selection and in his senior season, was selected as the SIAC Player of the year. He was also First Team SBN All-American and was selected 150th overall, by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 6th Round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Considered a bit undersized when he arrived, he quickly proved that the 6th round pick was a steal for the Steelers, in the same breath with John Stallworth. He went on to be a First Team All-Pro Selection three times: (1993, 1994 & 1995) with five Pro Bowl Selections, (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 & 1995), he also twice led the NFL in Forced Fumbles (1994 & 1995). He tallied 397 tackles, 54 ½ sacks, 24 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. Also, he was Two-time Steelers Team MVP and is a member of the Steelers All-Time Team and the Black College Hall of Fame.

7. Robert Porcher [South Carolina State] He had a quietly impressive career with 95 ½ sacks, 673 tackles, including 429 solo and 56 for loss, 18 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries with one scoop and score. He was thrice selected to the Pro Bowl and was named to three Pro Football Weekly All NFC Teams. In his 13 seasons he was selected to three Pro Bowls and named All-Pro three times. In his Lions career, he played in 187 games which at the time of his retirement was the third highest total in Lions’ history.

6. Lemar Parrish, [Lincoln (Mo.)] CB 1970-82. The flashier half of the Bengals’ stellar corner tandem, was an Eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro, he had 47 interceptions, returned for 462 yards and 13 fumble recoveries in 176 games with the Bengals’, Washington and the Bills. He was a terrific track and field athlete in high school. His speed and quickness helped him to six Pro Bowls in the first eight seasons of the 1970s. He also returned 131 punts for 1,205 yards and 61 kickoffs for 1,504 yards His speed allowed him to total 13 return touchdowns spurred by his 60 career takeaways. He took two punts back in 1974 and that 18.8 yards per return average for the season is still the league’s best since the merger. Parrish is one of six corner-backs with at least eight Pro Bowls and the only one not in Canton. The Bengals were in the NFL’s top ten defensively four of the seven years Riley and Parrish were a tandem and reached three playoffs.

5. Lander McCoy “Coy” Bacon, [Jackson State] DE, Dallas, Los Angeles Rams, San Diego, Cincinnati, Washington and Washington Federals [USFL]-Bacon was a pass rushing menace, and though the “Sack” was not recognized as a statistic until 1982, some scholars believe Bacon may have recorded a season with as many as 26 sacks, although some more thorough analysis has placed the number at 21½, still this was in a 14 game season that’s nothing of which to be ashamed. He was selected to three Pro Bowls and was twice selected All-Pro. He was listed at 6’4” but was closer to 6’3” and played most of his career at around 273. He grew up in Ironton, Ohio, attended Jackson State University and was a fine player, but left college prior to graduating.

The NFL didn’t draft Bacon, instead he signed with Charleston of the, now defunct, Continental Football League. He was later signed by Dallas as an un-drafted free agent, however George Allen, who never met a draft pick he didn’t want to unload, traded a 5th round pick to add Bacon to the, now aging, “Fearsome Foursome.” After backing up for most of 1968 he was activated when Lamar Lundy was hurt and the next year when Roger Brown fractured his hand. Bacon then took over the Right Defensive Tackle position, next to Merlin Olsen. Lundy retired in 1969 and Bacon became the starter at DE until he was part of a trade in 1971 that landed the Rams John Hadl. As a Charger he was reunited with “Deacon” Jones. He went to school once more in the presence of the game’s greatest pass-rusher. In 1976 Bacon was dealt to the Bengals for future Hall of Fame WR Charlie Joiner and proceeded to have a year for the ages that netted him his second Pro Bowl and first election to All-Pro.

In 1978 he was traded once more, together with CB Lemar Parrish to bring back a first-round draft pick. He was now with Jack Pardee, an acolyte of George Allen, the NFL coach who had believed in him first. He was credited, [unofficially] with 15 and 11 sack seasons, but he was slowing and when Pardee was replaced by the much more regimented Joe Gibbs, it was clear his days were numbered. Gibbs released him in 1981 and his playing career ended with the Washington Federals of the USFL in 1983. After football he battled personal demons and drug abuse. Later he was the victim of a shooting, following that he cleaned up, became a juvenile corrections officer and returned to Ironton for the last phase of his life. He died December 22, 2008, he has been credited, again unofficially, with 130 sacks in his 14 NFL seasons. When you factor in that he was a reserve for most of the first three years of his career, also that he spent time inside at tackle and that this was during the run, run and run some more days of the NFL, his consistency and productivity as a pass-rusher is even more compelling. He seems very deserving of serious Canton consideration.

4. Jethro Pugh, [Elizabeth City State] As a valuable and versatile member of the Doomsday Defense” Dallas defensive linemen, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey “Too Mean” Martin and ‘The Manster’ Randy White to form a defensive wall that was not far behind The Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” and of course the ‘Steel Curtain’ as the top lines of the era. From 1965-78 he played defensive and tackle in Coach Landry’s ‘Flex’ defense, and averaged 12½ sacks 1968–1972. Pugh is unofficially credited with a career total of 95.5. He led the Cowboys in sacks each season from 1968 to 1972 with a high mark of 15.5 in 1968, a team record that stood until 2010 when DeMarcus Ware broke it. But keep in mind that most of Pugh’s damage was done from the interior of the line, he often had to beat multiple blockers. He’s still ranked sixth on the Cowboys all-time sacks list.

3. Harold Jackson [Jackson State] Wide Receiver for the Los Angeles Rams, [two times], Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, drafted by Los Angeles Rams in the 12th round of the 1968 NFL Draft, the 323rd player chosen overall he was excited.

“I felt like going to the Eagles, somebody wanted me. Somebody was going to give me a chance to play,” Jackson says. “Coming from a small school like Jackson State, I just didn’t know that I was going to get the opportunity to play in the NFL. I was a small guy and weighed probably about 155 pounds coming out of college, and always felt like guys in the NFL were big, huge guys. And so, when I got traded to Philly, man, I was blessed, and felt like I had an opportunity because I felt somebody saw something in me. I felt like that was a chance for me to get an opportunity to really make a name for myself and prove that I could play in the NFL amongst those big ol’ guys.”

He more than proved he could hold his own, despite the fact that he played in a more physical era. Until 1978 receivers had to fight to get free until the ball was thrown, that changed when the illegal contact rule, often called, at the time, the ‘Mel Blount Rule’ barred contact with wide receivers beginning five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The clear intent was to open the game. This was one of many rules that ended football’s “Dead Ball Era” But by the time this openness came Jackson was a decade in the NFL. He has several accolades and awards: Black College Hall Of Fame, a First Team All-Pro Selection (1973) and a Second Team All-Pro Selection (1972) He was a Pro Bowler Five times: (1969, 1972, 1973, 1975 & 1977) He led the NFL in Receptions (1972), Receiving Yards twice (1969 & 1972), Receiving Yards per Game twice (1969 & 1972) and Most Receiving Touchdowns in 1973. He had three 1,000-yard seasons, two of them were in 14 game seasons, and a 13-touchdown season in 1973, a 14-game season.

He completed his career with 579 receptions for 10,372 yards and 76 touchdowns. He was in the top five of all categories he retired in 1983, but things have changed. Nonetheless a few Hall of Famers, Raymond Berry among them have said that they think he deserves to be in Canton.

2. Roger Brown [Maryland Eastern Shore/Formerly Maryland State] Defensive Tackle, Detroit and Los Angeles Rams- At 6’5” 305 Brown was 1 of the game’s 1st great player to weigh over 300 pounds players. But he was far more than just a giant. He was also astonishingly athletic and agile for his size he was a truly a revelation while at Maryland State, [now Maryland Eastern Shore] he was timed at 10 flat in the hundred-yard dash and was timed at 5.4 for the 50-yard distance. As Detroit’s fourth-round draft pick in 1960, Brown played some amazing games at Memorial Stadium. As a rookie, he stripped the ball from Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and recovered the fumble in a 20-15 Lions victory. Two years later, Brown tackled Unitas in the end zone for a safety in a 29-20 win. And in 1966, he blocked a Colts field-goal attempt as Detroit triumphed, 20-14. In Detroit, he teamed with Alex Karras, Sam Williams and Darris McCord to form the first defensive front that the media dubbed the “Fearsome Foursome.” Acquired by Los Angeles in 1967, he replaced Rosey Grier who had been forced to retire due to a torn Achilles, on a unit with the same name and played alongside Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy, in the second, but much more well known, “Fearsome Foursome.”

Unfortunately, in his era so few defensive statistics were official, that it’s difficult to get a sense of his dominance. But in the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre” game against the Green Bay Packers in 1962, according to newspaper accounts, he sacked Bart Starr either six or seven times, including one for a safety. The PFRA has credited him with 78 [unofficial] sacks. He was a Pro Bowl player for six straight seasons (1962–1967) and a 2-time first-team All-Pro (1962 and 1963). He was a member of both of the great “Fearsome Foursomes” in Detroit and with the Rams in Los Angeles. He has been elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame; and now has been inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

1.Ken Riley [Florida A&M] Corner-back-A standout quarterback in both high school and college he came to the Bengals having never played corner a day in his life at any level of football, but he became a day one starter and retired with 65 interceptions in 207 games, including eight in his final season with two TDs. More than 30 years after retiring from the Bengals, Riley still ranks fifth in career interceptions with 65; Riley is one of six greats that were named to the 2015 class of the Black College Football Hall of Fame. Riley, enshrined on the 28th of February, was joined by: Roger Brown, Richard Dent, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd, Donnie Shell and former Jackson State head coach W.C. Gordon.

Riley was a fine quarterback at Florida A&M University. Where he played for the legendary Jake “The Snake” Gaither, when he was a starter, the team had a record of 23-7 and he helped lead his team to Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles each season he started. All four of the players ahead of Riley on the “Career Interceptions List” are in the Hall: Paul Krause (81), Emlen Tunnell (79), Rod Woodson (71) and Dick “Night Train” Lane with (68) interceptions to complete the top 5. Some cite Riley’s lack of Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections as a reason for his being overlooked. The paucity of Pro Bowl selections could be due to the fact that: Mel Blount, Willie Brown, Mike Haynes, Jimmy Johnson, [Rafer’s brother], Lester Hayes, Roger Wehrli, Louis Wright and his own teammate Lemar Parrish were often selected instead. Of that group only Hayes, Hayes, Wright and of course Riley aren’t in Canton.

Shockingly Riley was not even a finalist, in his years of regular eligibility or since then as a possible Senior’s Committee candidate. By way of comparison, Roger Wehrli, who was similar to Riley in length of career, but Wehrli had 25 fewer interceptions with the St. Louis Cardinals and he was voted into the Hall years ago. Riley was a 1st Team All-Pro only in 1983, however his best seasons were 1975 and 1976; there were four times he led the NFL in interceptions, he recovered 18 fumbles, scored five TDs and was selected to Pro Football Reference 2nd team All-1970s Team.

My sincere thanks go to: Wikipedia,, the Professional Football Researchers Association, the Professional Football Hall of Fame and, The Black College Football Hall Of Fame, {Where are they now?} without the research information that they’ve provided I would have been in darkness and grasping at straws.

Billy Joe: From Rookie Of The Year To Coach Of The Year

Billy Joe: From Rookie Of The Year To Coach Of The Year

Born on October 14th, 1940 in Aynor, South Carolina, to Hammie and Sarah Belle (Williams) Joe. He had siblings, David Joe and sister, Dorothy Tucker (nee Joe), as well at two other brothers who were exceptional athletes, John who was older and Abel Harold Joe, the youngest. He was raised a in South Carolina until his family moved to Pennsylvania while he was still young. He attended Scott High School in Coatesville, PA. Coatesville is about an 35 miles west of Philadelphia on US route 30 and 1-76.

He was All-State in football and was also and set the shot-put record on the track team. “I had the longest shot-put in the nation at 59 feet, one inch,” he said. He was highly recruited for both sports, however he contracted rheumatic fever the spring of his senior season which had an impact on his athletic career. Joe graduated from Scott High, spring of 1959. He is still the only professional football player to ever come from Scott High School. His older brother John was a Little All-American football player at Lycoming High, in nearby Lycoming, PA and Abel Harold Joe, his younger brother still holds the school’s discus record.

The youngest Joe brother was a star in: football, track and field, basketball as well as baseball, was a member of the 1973 Pennsylvania Big 33 All-Star Team. He and Tony Dorsett (of the Dallas Cowboys) were starters in that Big 33 backfield. They were both drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.Abel Joe was all Ches-Mont in football, basketball and track. In 1972 he was voted to the All State First Team in football and was he a Scholastic Magazine All-American. He won the Maxwell Club Award for Outstanding Area High School football player as well as the Order of the Purple Heart Award presented to Chester County’s top football player.

In the final game of his high school career, the pivotal Thanksgiving Day, game versus Downingtown, Abel scored five touchdowns and kicked extra points. In the same contest he rushed for 291 yards on 19 carries. He established individual season and career records for points scored. His at 172 feet, in discus, remains the school’s record, he had a shot put of over 55 feet and high jumped over 6-feet, 5-inches.

After graduation, he enrolled at Cheyney University, where older brother, Billy, was head coach. Abel Joe led the conference in rushing as a senior and was All-Conference First Team in 1975 in 1976. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1976, but due to an injury, his professional career was curtailed.

Billy was more fortunate. In football, at Coatesville High, under coach Bob Bowman, Billy ran for nearly 1000 yards his senior year, scoring 18 touchdowns. He became the first Red Raider back to win the Ches-Mont scoring crown. That year he earned all Ches-Mont and All-State honors. Coach Quentin Diedrick is credited with developing Billy into a nationally ranked high school shot putter. In 1959, Billy shattered the district one shot put record with a toss of 59 feet and 1 inch.

After graduation, Billy went to Villanova University on a track scholarship. But he also made a name in football, Assistant coach Joe Rogers said of his blocking, “He’s one of the best college blockers I’ve ever seen. He blows them out of there. He doesn’t leave his feet, he just goes right through them.” Joe finished his junior season with 267 yards rushing on 57 carries and scored six touchdowns. He was second on the team in scoring and third in rushing. Head coach Bell said about his powerhouse fullback, “He can block, he can tackle and he’s a helluva runner. He’s strong as a bull, 235 pounds of muscle.”

In preparation for the Sun Bowl, the team had some fun at a breakfast hosted for them on a ranch near the border of New Mexico. At the conclusion of the breakfast the Wildcats were requested to perform song and dance. Joe stole the show as he gave an imitation of Chubby Checker. The morning paper described Billy’s performance the next day this way: “He resembled a rhinoceros shaking off water as he twisted back and forth, his muscular arms flailing in one direction and his torso moving the other way.”

Despite that Joe was all business once game time came. He led the Wildcats to a 17-9 upset victory over Wichita State. He scored the team’s first touchdown on a 19-yard sweep, while plowing through four would-be tacklers, he gave Villanova an early 7-0 lead, and set the tone for the game. He was the leading ball carrier in the contest with 63 yards. In track and field, his record throw at the 1962 IC4A Championships of 60 feet and 6 inches is still the Villanova record. He also represented the United States at the Pan American games in 1963 and won a silver medal in the event. Meanwhile, Villanova had another excellent season in Billy’s senior year. The Wildcats put together another 7-2 regular season record with their only losses to nemesis Boston College and a one-point disappointment against the University of Massachusetts. Their defense again was extremely strong, allowing only 95 points, finishing 15th best in the country. They pitched two shutouts and held five other opponents to 10 points or less.

Joe rushed for 267 yards on 75 carries and scored one touchdown for the season. He caught one touchdown pass while also playing outstanding defense at linebacker. Joe was injured in the Boston College game and his ankle bothered him for the remainder of the season, although he played in every game. Despite his injury, he was named to the Associated Press All-East All-Star team at the conclusion of the season at fullback. Joe was selected by Washington, December 2, 1962, with the seventh selection in the ninth round of the NFL draft, #119 overall. He was also selected by the ASL’s Denver Broncos, on December 1, with the fifth selection in the eleventh round, pick #85. Billy and his teammates earned a second consecutive Bowl bid, this time to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., against the Oregon State Beavers. The Wildcats lost a hard-fought 6-0 decision. Villanova was a two- to three-touchdown underdog to the Beavers. The Wildcats played toe to toe with Oregon State and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Terry Baker.

Despite the loss, Joe was named the Most Valuable Back in the game. He ran through and around the Oregon State defense. He rushed for 66 yards and had a 12-yard touchdown run called back on a penalty.l and gained the attention of NFL scouts, including the legendary Bucko Kilroy, who was watching for Washington: “It was one of Billy Joe’s two greatest games. The other was in the Sun Bowl last year.”

He finished his track career at Villanova in fine fashion. In the NCAA Championships in Oregon he took third place in the shot-put behind Dallas Long and Gary Grubner, making him an All-American. He also competed at the Pan American Games in Sao Paolo, Brazil, finishing second in the shot-put competition to fellow American Dave Davis. Joe had a throw of 17.77 meters or 58-feet, 3.6 inches.He graduated from Villanova with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics.

He signed with the Broncos May 18. He’d been sought by Washington, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League and Denver. He chose the Broncos because they gave him a two-year, no-cut contract and the most money. A fullback, he was the 1963 Rookie of the Year while with the Denver Broncos. Two seasons later, he helped the Buffalo Bills win the league championship.Then following the 1966 season, he was released by the Miami Dolphins.

“As soon as I got cut, (Jets head coach) Weeb (Ewbank) called. I don’t think he gave anybody a chance to call me or to serenade me, and I wasn’t willing to wait around,” Joe said. “I knew the New York Jets had a better team and a better future than the Miami Dolphins, so I was excited.

“Weeb told me he was bringing me to back up Matt (Snell). He thought Matt was getting injured a lot and he wanted to have a good backup. I was willing to do that because, of course, I was happy to have a job, and happy to be closer to home, Philadelphia.”

In 1967, Joe’s first season playing closer to home and in a reserve rule with the Jets, he finished fourth on the team in rushing behind Emerson Boozer, Snell, and Bill Mathis, with 154 yards and two touchdowns.

“We got along beautifully. I had no issues, no problems,” Joe said. “I had a great relationship with Matt and a great relationship with Emerson, as well. And I still have an unbelievably close relationship with Earl Christy.”

The following season during an October 27 game against the Patriots at Shea Stadium, Joe steamrolled himself out of the shadows and into the spotlight when he rushed for 7-, 15-, and 32-yard touchdowns. Three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter!

“What I remember mostly is running over (Patriots linebacker) Nick Buoniconti. I had an opportunity to run over him a few times in that one quarter,” Joe said with a laugh. “(My teammates) were fired up and excited because I did it after we already had a sizeable lead. The game was already over, but they were excited that I had a chance to really carry the ball and score.”

Three weeks later, the Jets played in Oakland, in a game which became known as the “Heidi Bowl.” With New York leading 32-29 in the fourth quarter, at 7 p.m. EST, NBC switched to the children’s movie, Heidi. One problem: The Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final 1:05 and won 43-32. Television viewers didn’t see the Jets loss, and they also didn’t see Joe suffer a career-ending knee injury.

“I was running down for a kickoff, and a gentleman, I remember his number, 65, his name slips me, but he came out of, it seemed like, nowhere. All it was was a blur coming at my left knee and I got hit,” Joe said. “I spent six weeks in the hospital, three weeks at the UCLA Clinic on the west coast and then three weeks in the Lennox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“I had an infection and almost lost my life. But I did come back for summer camp in 1969 and worked with Dr. (James) Nicholas, trying to get the knee strong. And, of course, it never did come around.”

With his playing career at an end he found a place at Cheyney State in 1970, as an assistant coach and assistant admission director. In 1971 he was an assistant coach on Coach Roy Lester’s staff at the University of Maryland, becoming the first African-American assistant coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Cheyney State hired him to be there head football coach in 1972. He had 31 wins – 32 losses from 1972 to 1978. From 1979 to 1980 he was a backfield coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. This was the year the team won the NFC title and played in the Super Bowl. At Central State University from 1981 to 1993, Billy’s coaching record was 120 wins 30 losses and four ties. From 1994 to 2004, in his 11 seasons at Florida A&M, where his team made six straight playoff appearances; a streak that included an black college national championship in 1998. As well as FAMU’s infamous 1998 RAC Boys set NCAA records for points, yards and total offense, in his “Gulf Coast Offense.

Billy Joe with former Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel

His teams advanced to the national semi-finals in 1999, and after a three year hiatus he coached for five seasons at Miles College, for the 2008 season. He stayed at this Division II college in Fairfield, Alabama, for three seasons and then retired in 2010 for good this time. When Billy Joe was finished he’d compiled .654 winning percentage with an all-time record of 246-131-4, second only to Grambling’s Eddie Robinson among coaches at HBCUs. 13 of the players that he’d coached went on to play professional football, Hugh Douglas, Terry Mickens and Erik Williams are among his more well-known former players.

Why was he so successful as a coach? In his own words: “I think because I had an opportunity to play professional football for four different teams, so I learned a lot of different schemes and a lot of concepts playing under some great coaches,” Joe said. “Having that experience of coaching in the pros, playing in the pros, when I became a head coach, I was really well prepared. I was well schooled.

“I really enjoyed the fact that I could make an impact on the players’ lives, help them grow, develop, mature, and be all the person that they can be. Making an impact on their lives, that was very important to me, very gratifying, and quite rewarding personally. Helping them realize their dreams, goals, and aspirations, I really enjoyed that part of coaching.”

Joe was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. One of 10 Halls of Fame to which he’s been inducted as a coach.

“That was very special and unexpected. I wasn’t expecting the call,” Joe said. “But they called and said, ‘You’ve earned your way in. And we’re going to induct you the same year as Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.’

Works cited: Black College Football 1892-1992: One Hundred Years Of History, Education And Pride, by Micheal Hurd Published by The Donning Company, 1993

The Pro Football Researchers Association

The Black College Football Hall of Fame


Where Are They Now: Billy Joe-Catch Up with the Former Jets Fullback