African Americans and college football, Part 2: The Golden Era of HBCU football

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When African American college football players were excluded from historically white universities because of segregation, HBCUs were a hotbed of talent.

The year 1988 was a banner year for me. We’d moved around a lot and my mother and father had finally bought our first home. We spent November and December of 1987 packing and waiting to close on our home — a process I would come to know as an adult.

Finally, in January of 1988, we moved to the Glen Park neighborhood of Gary, Ind.

January also meant Super Bowl time. I was in the infancy of watching and becoming a fan of football and at eight years old I did not understand the significance of this particular game. The only thing I knew was John Elway made me cry when he came back against the Cleveland Browns — I had adopted them as my team that season.

While I was unpacking boxes in my room — I finally had my own room — my dad had the local radio on, and they were broadcasting the Super Bowl presser. They were interviewing Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams. A reporter asked him, “So what does it feel like to be a black quarterback?” My father was standing in front of the radio looking perplexed. “When are we going to prove we can play quarterback, too? Doug will show them.”

On Sunday, January 31, 1988, my family and I — while sitting on blankets because our couch had not been delivered — watched Williams throw five touchdown passes in the second quarter to beat the Denver Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII. From that moment, I was Williams when I played an all-time quarterback with my friends in street football. He supplanted Joe Montana.

The truth is, at eight years old, I didn’t know who Williams was or what an HBCU was. My father was a high school dropout and my mother had an associate’s degree from the local community college. The only thing I knew was this dark-skinned black man threw the football all over the field and I thought that was pretty cool.

What I would come to find out later was players like Williams played in the “Golden Era” of football at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

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