I co-authored (with Dwight Chapin) The Wizard of Westwood, a book about John Wooden and UCLA basketball that addressed social questions revolving around college students in L.A. I also wrote The Herschel Walker Story, which deals at length with the civil rights aspect of sports in the South.
I was the L.A. Times’s beat writer for Trojan football and wrote the game story that appeared under Jim Murray’s column, “Hatred Shut Out as Alabama Finally Joins the Union,” on September 13, 1970. It was very clear in talking to Bryant that he understood the social implications of this game. He volunteered that he was bemoaning the fact that USC had Clarence Davis at tailback, that he was born in Birmingham, and he was one who got away. Davis was the symbolism that Bryant was trying to convey. If Davis had stayed in Alabama all those years, he’d’ve been at [the University of] Alabama.
The 1970 USC–Alabama game is a story that few people saw as significant at the time. Murray did, but neither of us really knew how significant it would be over the future years. It was easier for Jim, but both he and I sensed, without saying it, that Bryant was “crazy like a fox.” To play this game at Legion Field, as you know, with the history of racism in the South still very fresh and very much alive at that time. The only sport that had integrated was basketball, and that was very limited.
A little anecdote is, I reported this on the Monday follow-up, I was at the Holiday Inn in Birmingham, and men were sitting around the table, obviously football fans. I overhead both men say, “I bet Bear wishes he had some of them nigra boys on their team.” That was the new sentiment, the post-mortem, and it was revolutionary. It was obvious that things were going to change from that day forward, but I could not anticipate the pace and speed of change.
Later, I went to Atlanta to become our bureau chief there. I covered politics in the South, in Alabama and Atlanta. I interviewed George Wallace in his "comeback" and he pointed out that in California we had race riots yet were quite judgmental. I also revealed the fact that when Wallace made his famed "stand in the schoolhouse door" to block integration of the University of Alabama in 1963, he was posturing. He had made a deal with the Kennedy Administration ahead of time to allow the students to enroll, but was playing to the sentiments of his political base.
I also believe that Wayne Williams was railroaded as the serial child murderer in Atlanta, and wrote a book about it called The List. I discovered that racial politics had changed exponentially since the 1960s, and now blacks were in positions of power. Suddenly, they too could be corrupted, and like all human beings they were just as subject to the seductions of power.
Jeff Prugh was the L.A. Times’s beat writer for Trojan football and wrote the game story that appeared under Jim Murray’s column, “Hatred Shut Out as Alabama Finally Joins the Union,” on September 13, 1970. He is the author of The Wizard of Westwood, The Herschel Walker Story, and The List.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism