After starring for John McKay and playing in the NFL, Brown was tapped as USC’s first black assistant coach. He was on the staff of the 1970 team. Today he works in the university’s athletic department.
I was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My family moved to Long Beach, California, when I was 18 months old. I graduated from Long Beach Poly High School, played for Coach McKay from 1960–63, and graduated in 1964. The Los Angeles Rams made me their first round draft pick. So did the Chargers of the American Football League, as this was prior to the merger. I signed with the Rams and played with them for three years, then with the Philadelphia Eagles for three years.
On tension before the game. McKay and Bryant set up the 1970 Alabama game, and it did volumes for race relations. Prior to the game, though, there were a lot of concerns on the part of our black players, going in to the South. Politically, there was a lot going on. Racially, there were incidents happening all throughout the country.
I talked to Charlie [Weaver] the other day. I heard that [he and Tody Smith] had guns, and I’m not surprised if they did. A lot was riding on it. We received hate letters sent to McKay and some of the players, so going back to the Deep South, our guys were not used to that, and now they’re exposed to that situation. I heard about that gun story, but I didn’t see it. But I’m not surprised.
On attitudes in the South. Bear Bryant and McKay were close friends and all. Bear offered me a job to go back to Tuscaloosa. I would have been one of the first black coaches, but I didn’t want to go back to the South. My father had grown up there. My father recalls going to ’Bama games and sitting in the section for blacks, high in the stands. He went to Spelman College. The University of Alabama would give ’em hand-me-down equipment. You know, though, as much prejudice as there was, the black community, they thought the Crimson Tide was their team. When we played in that ’70 game, I had relatives pulling for me but who still wanted ’Bama to win!
I remember black people outside the stands, cheering for USC, plus people in the stadium, blacks jumping up and down cheering. They recognized the bus and cheered us after the game. They surrounded the bus, there were blacks everywhere, and they were very happy. They were rooting for us; they’d come down and were cheering for us. Our black players just took it all in, and did it with wonder. As I sat in the bus, I did recall they held candles and Bibles; people were crying; it was very emotional. This was not a regular game. It was just monumental. The players, who normally would be rowdy after a win, they were quiet. They’d played well, and the players knew something important was going down!
Sam Cunningham was someone who played a big part in it, to what Paul Bryant was trying to do. It was he and McKay, trying to set up something. He did come in our locker room and all. I think Sam did meet some of their players, maybe not on a stool but individual players, plus the press was all around Sam.
It served a wonderful purpose, a wonderful purpose. Man, I really believe sports transforms lot of things. It just helped relationships; it pushed it along.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism