The term legend gets thrown around a lot, but at USC many players are worthy of the title. Thus was Charles Young, a sophomore in 1970 and a unanimous 1972 All-American on the “greatest ever” national champions. Inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame in 2004, Young starred for the 1981 World Champion San Francisco 49ers. He also played in the 1980 Super Bowl for the Los Angeles Rams.
Sam’s ability to communicate with blacks, whites, Hispanics on our team was invaluable. He was more than a guy who had ability. McNeill grew up in an all-white environment. I grew up in an all-black one in Fresno. Because my high school coach was Greek, I perceive this about them: . . . they think they’re that much more civilized.
My high school coach would talk about Greek history, and how he was an educator; he mapped out everything, in being an educator, through the superiority of the Greeks. Now John Papadakis is Greek. John had a flair of arrogance.
So all these people are together, and Sam Cunningham is from Santa Barbara, and he knew everybody from growing up—white, black, Hispanic. He brought that team together.
Let me put this biblically: “Pride goes before the fall.” The history of antiquity, from the standpoint of any great team or nation, falls from within, not from without. They fall from within.
This is how we failed. We were great individuals, but we didn’t come together as a unit until we set aside our personal differences. You mention [offensive lineman] Allan Graf; on each team, there are seven guys who are leaders, and those seven have at least three who follow or associate with them. If [those seven] don’t come together, those twenty-eight don’t come together. Then the sixty-two don’t come together. That was our problem: we were a divided team.
On his teammates. We only came together on the field, that’s where Sam came in. Sam was much more than a football player or an ambassador. He was more than “Bam.” He was a diplomat extraordinaire. I learned a great deal from Sam. There was a group of us called the “Big Five.” . . . They came together, all of the extreme talent, and brought it to the University of Southern California. All these different backgrounds.
An example: during that time, if the police stopped me, I’d question the cops and they’d always gave me a ticket. So Sam gets stopped by an officer. He gave this officer only graciousness seasoned with wisdom. When it was through, this officer let him go. The lesson: . . . you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
I believe the best [quarterbacks] have confidence and a touch of arrogance. Jimmy and [Mike] Rae had that. The white guys would console Mike and say he should be playing. The blacks would go with Jimmy. Some blacks raised in a white environment didn’t know what to think. All that season was peppered with all that. Jimmy and Mike, then Sam and Charlie Evans at the running back position, as you found out. Evans still holds some of that after thirty-five years. Then there were other positions: Marv Montgomery, a black lineman; tight end Gerry Mullins, and myself.
But on the bus—people who grew up in the South had different perspectives. Fresno tends to be conservative, but I’m an athlete so I’m not treated like other blacks. I was tolerated, like I was gray, because I had economic value. But driving in that bus, I’m looking at blacks in shanty homes, we call “shotgun” homes. It’s like looking back in time. Tody Smith had a briefcase, and in it, I don’t know if it was a .38 or what, but it was a gun. I asked, “Why do you carry a gun?” He said he grew up in the South and said, “Anything can happen down here.”
There was an agreement between Bear and McKay. Bear gave his word we’d have protection. Bear was the man down there, and in most cases they’d listen to him. He could get things done.
The KKK was still prevalent. A lot of those guys were part of that, if Bryant had been in ‘Bama all that time it’s reasonable to think he had an association with that. They’d had every prominent person involved in that organization. But he was trying to get something done. He used McKay. They used each other.
There was no security in the stands. Most of the time, when assassinations are orchestrated; the thing is the security is usually involved in it. If you truly look at history, when presidents are assassinated, people in the cabinet or in the government had something to do with it. Even John Wilkes Booth had government coconspirators. Caesar was killed by people in his own party. The whole time I saw Hank Aaron chasing Babe Ruth’s record in Atlanta in the early ‘70s, this was probably on his mind.
On the role of religion in the game. My overall philosophy is that God rules in the affairs of man. Even in the time of John Papadakis’s Greek history, the Romans, the Babylonians, the Egyptians—God rules the affairs of men. Look at this country, our Founders came to this country, which was started by King George of England and the King of Spain, Magellan’s voyage. During that time they needed workers to work on things. We came over as indentured servants, some of us as slaves. There were opportunities to bring more slaves; and in order to justify it, they had to dehumanize us. A lot of people came over for religious freedom; others, to make money; some were outlaws. Kings would send undesirables out here to populate the new land and bring back a fortune. It was a business deal, and because of this they enslaved us. But during that process, some people believed it was wrong. They became abolitionists. Most of them were God-fearing people, and they set out to change all of this.
Going back now to its effect on this game, which we’re talking about. The question is, so, is there a divine order in which God intervenes? Yes. If you’re asking am I religious, do I believe in God? Yes. I do understand that God rules in the affairs of man. No matter how strong or brilliant you are, or how much money there is in your bank, you are nothing without God!
This contest was not a football game. It was staged as a football game in order so that change could be made. It was a paradigm shift, not a revolution. Bear was a part of that; he instigated that. I’m not foolish enough to believe that all whites hated blacks or all blacks hated all whites. It was a system. Bryant was in this system. What did I say about empires? Change comes from within. If the devil created the system, then God infiltrated Bear Bryant into that system to do His good work! God used Bear Bryant, whether he was a willing [participant] or knew what was going on, it does not matter. God used Sam; he got his chance and did what Sam’s going to do.
In the history of time, God always raises a person, an individual whose work needs to be done. Now we’re back to Birmingham, where all that philosophy was being unfolded on the playing field of time. Understanding culture at that time, the way education was being disseminated—all of that to be disproven was a shock to people in that stadium, listening on the airwaves or who saw it on TV. On the other side, it was a source of great jubilation for the lowly janitor or maid or guy selling programs, this team from out West coming out with huge, fast African-American vessels of God.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism