Feb. 4, 2014
SAN FRANCISCO - The inspiring story of how the University of San Francisco’s 1951 football team took a dramatic stance against racism will be told nationwide in an hour-long documentary which will debut Sunday, Feb. 9 at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time on ESPN.
As the cornerstone of ESPN’s Black History Month programming, the ’51 Dons explores the trials and tribulations of a team whose supreme triumph came in choosing not to accept an invitation to a bowl game under the condition the team played without its two African-American players, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler.
The one-hour documentary features interviews with former players Bob St. Clair, Bill Henneberry, Bob Springer, Ralph Thomas and Dick Colombini, family members of the players who have passed away, University President Stephen A. Privett, S.J., Director of Athletics Scott Sidwell and longtime USF play-by-play announcer Pat Olson.
While the team’s season ended with one decision, the story of the ’51 Dons is perhaps the single greatest symbolic victory in the history of college football and is why the University awarded an honorary doctorate to the team in 2005.
Under the guidance of head coach Joe Kuharich, the 1951 Dons posted a 9-0-0 regular season record, becoming the only football team in school history to go undefeated. The squad featured eight NFL players, including Pro Football Hall of Fame members in Matson, Gino Marchetti and Bob St. Clair. Five of the eight players earned Pro Bowl selections at some point in their careers.
Toler, whose playing career was cut short after he suffered a devastating knee injury in the 1952 College All-Star Game, became the first African-American official in NFL history and enjoyed a 25-year officiating career as a field judge and head linesman. Kuharich, who served as USF’s head coach from 1948-51, coached four seasons at Notre Dame (1959-62) and held NFL head coaching positions with the Chicago Cardinals, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. The team’s publicist, Pete Rozelle, served as the commissioner of the NFL for 29 years.
The Dons’ defense held opponents to a net rushing average of 51.6 yards per game while Matson led the nation in rushing with 1,566 yards, collecting touchdown runs of 94, 90, 68, 67, 54, 53, 46 and 45 yards. He was also won a bronze medal in the 400-meters and a silver medal as part of the United States’ 4x400 meter relay team at the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland.
After its debut on Sunday, the ’51 Dons will be repeated seven times on ESPNU during the month of February, including Feb. 10 (8:00 p.m.), 11 (1:00 p.m.), 12 (2:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.), 15 (5:30 p.m.) and 16 (9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.). All times listed are Pacific.
The University discontinued football at USF following the 1951 season due to financial reasons. It was brought back as a Division II program in 1965 but was dropped again following the 1971 season.