Legacy of the Greats: How the Wolf Pack teams of the 1940s beat Jim Crow

The University's black players helped bench college football's "gentleman's agreement" and changed college football forever

Sherman Howard, pictured in middle, and his 1948 Wolf Pack football teammates played a major role in the breaking college football's race barrier during that season with Howard's appearance in a game at Tulsa University. Howard, along with Alva Tabor, was the first black athlete to play in a major college football game between two predominantly white schools in the state of Oklahoma.


2/8/2018 | By: John Trent |

All of the football games, and almost all of the players who played in them, belong to memory now.

They represent an important, yet complicated legacy for the University of Nevada, Reno. It's important because the University, faced with the inequality and the inhumanity of the laws of Jim Crow of the 1940s, did the right thing. It's complicated, though, because of why the University had to choose to do the right thing in the first place.

There is no way of redacting the offending language from other institutions directed toward black student-athletes at the University.

There is no possibility that the harsh, hateful words used by some of the opponents toward the Wolf Pack's black players will completely dissipate.

There is no chance that the stain of Jim Crow can be wiped away.

Old memories die hard. But that's the point. Most eventually do.

Old prejudices, though, are an entirely different matter.

Sherman Howard considers these questions, and many more like them, during a recent hour-long phone conversation.

Sherwin Howard running with a football

Sherman Howard, running with a football during practice in 1948.

Howard turned 93 years old in November. He served in a segregated unit called Port Battalion during World War II, and was a star running back for the University of Nevada Wolf Pack in 1947-48. He then enjoyed a five-year career in professional football for the New York (football) Yankees and Cleveland Browns. Howard is the oldest current living African-American former NFL player.

He has been retired since 1985, after a distinguished three-decade-long career at Chicago's Harlan High School as a coach, teacher and administrator. He's a person who has had a profound impact on those he's taught and coached.

"His high school students, and his players, especially, looked at him almost like he was their father," says Howard's youngest daughter, Vietta Robinson. Vietta has chronicled the life of her father in the book, "Sherman Howard: Football and Beyond, The Legacy of an African-American NFL Pioneer." She has also created a website about her father's life and legacy: www.shermanjhoward.com

"He was a person who most definitely helped break down barriers, and who did so because he wished to help others," Vietta added. "Not only did my father break up the prejudices of his time, he helped break up the prejudices and the limitations that these young people he taught and coached might have experienced in their own homes. He treated them all the same, and they loved him for it.

"There are some of his former students and players who are now in their 70s and to this day, white or black ... and they all love him because he helped integrate their lives."

When you ask Howard about things that happened a long, long time ago, his words are carefully chosen. When he speaks, his voice is courageous in its civility and thoughtfulness. There is a constancy -  and a sense of strong commitment -  to his words, which as you listen seem to encompass the pride, promise and pain of being black in America. He's experienced prejudice all his life. He's lived in the world of Jim Crow and the world of today. He's distilled the experience of his life down to its essentials, and found the proper path because of it.

"As I often said to my students, your experiences prepare you for what's going to come next," Howard said. "My life has certainly been that way. My experiences, whether it was being exposed to a number of really great influences and mentors when I was young, or serving in World War II, or playing football at Nevada or in the pros, they've always helped prepare me for what I was going through. It's always about your attitude, and how you adjust to situations.

"You can't live in fear. You just can't. You can't give in."

A long time ago, the University was faced with the ultimate test. In 1946, and then again in 1948, the football team was posed with a simple question: Did the University condone the inherent prejudices of the Jim Crow laws of the present?

Should a small group of black student-athletes like Howard be left behind, like they didn't count, so that the rest of the white team could travel to play games in Jim Crow states such as Mississippi and Oklahoma?

If the University had chosen to leave them behind, today's memories might be quite different.

Or as Sherman Howard puts it, his words a reminder that our past is both receding and looming large over today, "The lessons you've learned ... you hope you've always done the right thing ... so that you can transfer those lessons to others. It hasn't been easy, but it's been worth it."

MARION MOTLEY: THE LEGACY IS BORN

The Jim Crow laws, a series of state and local laws that ensured that segregation remained an integral part of American society, were in full force in the 1940s. Public schools, public places and public transportation, among other things, were all under the doctrine of "separate but equal," which was prevalent in the south. And it was prevalent in Reno. Even in Reno in the 1940s, entertainers could not stay in the same properties where they performed.

In the book "Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football, In Their Own Words," Howard told author Andy Piascik about the Reno he encountered after serving in World War II. "At that time, there were areas in Reno you couldn't go," Howard said. "For example, you couldn't go in the gambling houses."

Marion Montley holding a football and looking up

Marion Motley

A young black athlete like Marion Motley faced many of the challenges, and the realities, of Jim Crow, while playing football for Nevada.

Motley, who was born in 1920, grew up in Canton, Ohio and was recruited to Nevada in 1940 by Coach Jim Aiken. Motley's teammates and coach were supportive. But players and coaches from other universities were a different story.

Motley later told the University's Oral History Program, "They called us names and everything, and I just wouldn't even talk to them. If I caught one in my way, I ran over him. I ran smack over him ... we got a lot of respect that way."

In a game against Idaho, Idaho's coach wouldn't let Motley play.

Nevada Coach Aiken was born near Wheeling, West Virginia, attended high school in Ohio and went to college in Pennsylvania. He was a gravel-voiced coach who wasn't afraid to yell. Off the field he could be genial and warm. On the field, he was fiery. At Idaho, as Motley's exclusion played out before him, Aiken grew incensed.

"When (the Idaho coach) told Jim I couldn't play, I had to grab Jim and pick him up around his waist and hold him off the ground ... He was going to punch this guy in the mouth," Motley said.

Message received. Motley played in that game. And in many more.

When he left the University in 1942, eventually for military service in 1944, Marion Motley was the Wolf Pack's greatest player.

Motley, along with Bill Willis of the Cleveland Browns and Kenny Washington and Woody Strode of the L.A. Rams, would go on to break professional football's color barrier in 1946 ... a full year before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947.

1946: THE LEGACY GROWS

The words in the telegram from Starkville, Miss., were veiled in the polite-sounding, well-mannered yet thoroughly threatening Jim Crow language of the times.

Mississippi State University Athletic Director C.R. Noble wrote the University of Nevada, that, "It is not custom in the South for members of the Negro race to compete in athletics with or against members of the white race nor members of the white race to compete against the Negro race in athletic contests. I am sure that you understand this traditional custom which Mississippi State college cannot under any circumstances violate."

Noble's words were not uncommon for intercollegiate athletics during this time. It was part of what some called the "gentlemen's agreement" among universities and their departments of intercollegiate athletics. In his 2016 book, "The Game Changers: Abner Haynes, Leon King and the Fall of Major College Football's Color Barrier in Texas," author Jeff Miller wrote: "When schools in (south) sought to play inter-sectional competition that happened to include blacks on their rosters, a custom euphemistically referred to as the gentlemen's agreement was employed.

"The mixed team, generally featuring only a small number of black players, would agree to field an all-white roster for the game in question. There sometimes were negotiations in which the all-white school tried to achieve some sort of competitive compromise if a star player was being held out by volunteering to hold out its own player of near-equal athletic value."

Mississippi State made it clear the Wolf Pack's two black players, Bill Bass and Horace Gillom, were not welcome in the state of Mississippi.

William "Billy" Bass, who was born in Greensboro, N.C., was a running back who would go on to become one of the first black players to break the color barrier in the Canadian Football League in 1949 with the Toronto Argonauts. Bass would become a CFL all-star and in 1951 earn a nomination for Jeff Russel Memorial Trophy, which during Bass' era was awarded to the CFL player who best demonstrated skill, sportsmanship and courage. He would later be a player-coach in Canada.

End Horace Gillom battles for a high one with St. Mary's Wedemeyer in packed Kezar Stadium

End Horace Gillom battles for a high one with St. Mary's Wedemeyer in packed Kezar Stadium

Gillom had grown up, like Marion Motley, in Ohio. In high school he was coached by Paul Brown, who would become a legendary NFL figure as coach of the Cleveland Browns. It was Brown, in fact, with the Browns, who would sign Motley in 1946 to a professional contract. A year later, in 1947, Brown signed his former Massillon (Ohio) High School standout, Gillom, to a professional contract.

Prior to coming to Nevada, Gillom fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, earning three bronze stars. Gillom played on the defensive line, was a sure-handed receiver for the Wolf Pack during the 1946 season, and was the team's punter. He led the nation in punting that season.

Like so many of the black Wolf Pack players of the time, Gillom would go on to change professional football in some way.

"Gillom revolutionized the position," sportswriter Jim Thomas wrote in 2009 of Gillom's play at punter. "He stood farther behind the line of scrimmage - 14 to 15 yards instead of the 8 to 10 yards that was common at the time. The extra room allowed him to punt the ball so far and high that it was unbelievable to those who watched."

Gillom's punting records in the pros would stand for more than 60 years.

Faced with Mississippi State's ultimatum, Coach Jim Aiken gathered his players. The team agreed that if Bass and Gillom weren't allowed to play, the Pack wouldn't play.

Dick Trachok, a Wolf Pack player and would later become Nevada's Athletic Director, told sportswriter Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal in a 2015 interview that the Pack's players, coaches and administration were equally adamant.

They voted to cancel the game.

The contract between the University and Mississippi State stated that if one school were to cancel the game, it would have to pay the other $3,000 - a significant amount of money for the era. No matter. The $3,000 sum was worth it.

George Ross, a University journalism graduate who would become one of the country's most influential Bay Area journalists, wrote in the Reno Evening Gazette in 1946 that, "Most Nevadans believe that Nevada is above the need for a caste system which demands hooded riders, peonage and two standards of opportunity. In the world of sports, where individual prowess and team play are better measures of equality than the color of skin, most of the nation is as proud of the feats of one race as of those of another."

Bass and Gillom were respected Wolf Pack players, well-known and well-liked on the University campus. Wrote Charles Martin in his 2010 book, "Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890-1980,": "... the University of Nevada refused to leave at home its two black starters, both military veterans, and instead called off its match against Mississippi State in Starkville. Nevada students, led by white veterans, had opposed any concessions to Mississippi State."

For perhaps the first time in history, a predominantly white school had cancelled a major college football game rather than travel to and abide by the Jim Crow laws of the post-Confederate South. It started a national trend. A day later, Penn State cancelled its game at Miami.

"The mere presence of a black player in a college game played in the South between predominantly white institutions," Miller wrote in "Game Changers," would not happen until the following season, in October 1947, when Harvard lineman Chester Pierce played at the University of Virginia.

1948: THE LEGACY REAFFIRMED

Pierce's appearance was a major breakthrough. Still, the inroads against Jim Crow in the months following were sporadic.

In the fall of 1948, the Wolf Pack once again stared down Jim Crow in collegiate athletics.

Oklahoma's Tulsa University warned against bringing the Wolf Pack's black players, Alva Tabor and Sherman Howard, to their state. Again, it was a telegram to campus, this time from C. I. Pontius, the president of Tulsa University, which brought what was at stake into clear focus.

End Horace Gillom battles for a high one with St. Mary's Wedemeyer in packed Kezar Stadium

Alva Tabor (36) and Sherman Howard (45) would make history in 1948 with their appearance in the Oct. 23, 1948 game at Oklahoma’s Tulsa University.

Pontius wrote that although there were no explicit rules against "Nevada Negroes playing" in the game, "Nevada is aware of the traditional background of athletics in the state of Oklahoma ... and the decision is the prerogative of Nevada."

Tabor, from Savannah, Ga., was a jack-of-all-trades type of player, who not only could run with the ball but could throw it just as well. He also played tennis for the Wolf Pack. Before the war, while a student at Tuskegee Institute, he had won a national tennis championship. Tabor would go on to teach and coach at a number of historically black universities, such as Wiley College, Southern University, Tuskegee and Fort Valley State. He was on the first coaching staff of the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967, and would also become the first fulltime black assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns in 1972.

Howard, born in New Orleans, moved to Chicago at age 10. In 1938, when he was just 13, his mother and father died two weeks apart, his mother from cancer and his father from a heart attack. Young Sherman, living with his relatives, turned to all sorts of activities, excelling at games like ping pong and marbles, then graduating to volleyball, baseball, basketball, track, and of course, football.

Howard was raised by his aunts and a series of stepfathers following the passing of his mother, Loretta. He said the critical difference for him as a youngster, though, was being mentored by some of the most famous athletes of his time. The future NFL great Buddy Young was a classmate and close friend. At the Chicago Boys Club, he met legendary figures such as heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson, Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, College Football Hall of Famer Duke Slater, who would go on to have a groundbreaking career as a judge as the first black member of the Chicago Superior Court, and Fritz Pollard, who had gained fame as the first black head coach in the National Football League.

Howard was a gifted athlete, and a serious student. Those around him taught him how to compete.

"Growing up in my neighborhood," Howard said, "you'd get run over if you weren't competitive. I learned from an early age that I liked being on the move, on the go, all the time. I remember Tom Landry (a professional football teammate of Howard's with the New York Football Yankees and a lifelong friend) once asking me, 'Don't you ever get tired?' I remember telling Tom, 'I don't know what it feels like to be tired.' That was how I grew up - to always be competitive, and to always try my best at everything I ever did. I had a very good background in terms of people influencing me to always do my best."

After World War II, Howard attended the University of Iowa on the G.I. Bill. He encountered prejudice in Iowa City almost from the beginning of his time there. He quickly realized, however, that he still had options regarding his education.

"If you were on scholarship, the coach had you," Howard said. "But I wasn't on scholarship. I was on the G.I. Bill. If I wanted to change schools, and go to another school, I could. And, after my experience at Iowa, I did."

Howard, after transferring from Iowa to Nevada, found the campus located on a hopeful bluff above downtown Reno to be friendly and welcoming.

"When I got out to Nevada, it was different than Iowa," he said. "Marion Motley had been there. I knew Bill Bass and Horace Gillom had played there, too. I thought to myself that if Motley, Gillom and Bass had played at Nevada, maybe it was the type of university that welcomed black students. They paved the way for guys like me. The people on campus, the professors, the students, they all treated me very well. It was a good environment, compared to others. The University of Iowa wasn't a very pleasant experience for me; the University of Nevada was."

Howard and Tabor both found their teammates to be especially supportive.

"They were just a wonderful bunch of guys," Howard said. "We only had 35 guys, and we didn't substitute a lot. We didn't have the depth that teams have today. But we could pass the ball (quarterback Stan Heath would re-write many of college football's passing records and would finish fifth in the 1948 Heisman Trophy voting), we had people like Tom Kalmanir (who would go on to play with the Rams) who could run the ball, and a good defense. Every game was a test for us, because we didn't have the depth like other teams had. We grew pretty close because of that."

In her book about her father, Vietta Robinson writes about the progressive backgrounds of many of the Wolf Pack's players, and how the shared experience of serving in the war created close bonds for Howard and his teammates. Howard said to Vietta, "Most of my white teammates came from New Jersey, Pennsylvania or California. Many were veterans of World War II and several of them grew up and played with blacks in their neighborhoods. We were like a big, and close family."

The Wolf Pack was faced with yet another Jim Crow decision in 1948. And once again, the Wolf Pack knew what they had to do.

Lineman Bill "Wildcat" Morris, who grew up in Las Vegas, later said: "Alva and Sherman were our classmates, our friends, our brothers. We weren't going to let them down and cancel the game. If we had to, we would've played the game in a goddamned parking lot."

"We knew we had the support of the team," Howard said. "That meant a lot."

The Wolf Pack traveled to Oklahoma with Howard and Tabor. And the Tulsa Golden Hurricane never stood a chance.

Howard, at 197 pounds and with sprinter's speed, started the game at fullback. He was the first black player to ever play in a college football game between two predominantly white universities in the state of Oklahoma.

Howard had his jersey ripped at one point. He kept his composure and scored two touchdowns. Tabor, the team's backup quarterback, threw a 55-yard touchdown pass.

Howard, who served in the European Theater of World War II in a transportation unit which would unload guns, trucks, tanks and other cargo from ships, said the threats from Oklahoma didn't deter him.

"I had been through a war. I had seen devastation. I had fought for our country," he said. "Those treats from the Tulsa game? That hadn't bothered me. There wasn't any fear."

The Wolf Pack won, 65-14. It was Tulsa's worst loss in 31 years.

Years later, Vietta Robinson traveled to Tulsa, in order to research her richly evocative book about her father. She combed through old newspaper articles. The headlines spoke to what was at stake, and how closely people were watching if Howard and Tabor would be allowed to play in the Oct. 23, 1948 game. Some of the headlines read: "Nevadans Have Rough Trip - No Decision on Negroes"; "Coach Won't Say Who'll Play or Warm the Bench"; "Wolves Come in by Air."

In her own mind, she knew how difficult of a return from the war her father had experienced following his service in World War II. In December 1945, Howard and other black soldiers were denied transport on the USS Philadelphia by the ship's captain, and were instead brought home on an Argentine vessel.

She wrote in her book about her father, "Three years later, flying into Tulsa with a team of mostly white men showed a degree of progress toward racial parity in accommodations if not yet in other areas. It seemed as if the heavens were preparing to reverse a cycle of hatred and suffering by rewarding a team that practiced love and chose to integrate."

During her extensive research of the Tulsa game, she read the words of how precedent-setting and groundbreaking the play of Sherman Howard and Alva Tabor had been that day. In conversation with Sherman about the game, the time, and the team, she said she was also struck by how tight of a friendship existed between Howard, Tabor and their white teammates.

"My teammates said they wouldn't play if I didn't play," Howard told Vietta. "We had a strong working relationship that was held together with courage, integrity and cooperation. ... All the guys on the Nevada team were real close. All of us looked out for one another. There was not a person on the entire team who would not do his best for you."

"There were only two blacks on the team," Vietta said. "My father said he always knew he had the respect of his teammates. He said those young men on the Nevada team were like family to him. My father is kind of humble about (his playing in the Tulsa game), but I know he's proud of the fact that his teammates were very strong in that if my dad wasn't going to play, then they weren't going to play.

"He doesn't brag about anything. He's more about how he saw it then. I'm sure, though, that the importance of that game has sunk in for him."

In 1950, the Wolf Pack again made history, when they traveled to play in Denton, Texas, against North Texas University. Miller wrote that the game was what "appears to have been the first integrated visiting team to play at North Texas - if not the first at any major-college campus across (Texas)."

Looking back on his participation in the Tulsa game, Howard said he's proud that his teammates chose to do the right thing.

"Whenever you do anything in life," he said, pausing for a moment as the years of his life stretch out, neatly unfurling in his mind like the folds of an accordion, "you need to always think, 'When everything is gone, and years later someone hears your name, what are they going to remember?' If you choose to do the right thing, hopefully they are going to remember who you were and why chose to do it."

2018: REMEMBERING THE VOICES OF A LEGACY

Sherwin Howard fights off a tackler

Sherman Howard fights off a tackler while playing for the Wolf Pack.

Every morning, Sherman Howard follows the same routine. He still does the pushups, sit-ups and stretching that characterized his life as a fit young athlete who neither smoked nor drank and who craved constant competition. He reads all three Chicago newspapers, meticulously poring over every section.

"My father's legs are getting weak, and he has to use a cane or a walker," Vietta said. "But he's doing great. Mentally, he's incredibly sharp. This is a period of his life where gratitude just springs forth from him."

Howard, who could sprint 100 yards in 9.5 seconds while at Nevada, chuckles as he describes how he moves these days: "I'm not going to complain. I'm able to walk with some degree of cohesiveness. But it's like they always say, 'It's always more about your attitude and how you adjust to situations that makes all the difference.'"

When Howard finishes reading his newspapers, he turns to the Bible. He will spend two or more hours each day reading the Bible. He finds solace in the Good Book's words. Howard discovers anew, each day, the power in the Bible's many lessons and how they represent a roadmap for a good life. He feels an abiding sense of comfort in knowing he has spent his life working hard to impart the meaning of those lessons to others - so that they can listen, learn and live in their own way.

There are days when 1948 feels like it was only yesterday. As he was watching the recent AFC Championship game, it struck him how Patriots quarterback Tom Brady "always puts the ball where the receiver is going to catch it ... before the receiver even turns to catch it. A great quarterback knows how to put the ball right where you need it - where all you have to do is turn, step forward and get the pass." It was that way when the great Browns quarterback Otto Graham threw him passes in the early 1950s - "Turn your head first and the body will follow ... he'd throw the ball before  you'd even turn your head." And it was that way on the practice field of "old" Mackay Stadium, down in the bowl where the Mack Social Science Building now sits, in 1948 with "Slinging" Stan Heath.

And, there are moments when Sherman Howard can close his eyes and remember working with the greats of the modern NFL. Howard was a scout for the Green Bay Packers and their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi. He also scouted for the New York Giants, and for many years for his teammate with the New York Yankees, Tom Landry, after Landry became coach of "America's Team," the Dallas Cowboys. Howard was one of the first black scouts in the NFL, and was respected for his meticulous work, which was informed by what one of his professors in college once told him: "Never make a decision based on improper data."

"Oh, Coach Lombardi was fire and brimstone," said Howard, who scouted for the Packers for "six or seven years" before scouting for his friend Landry and the Cowboys into the 1980s. "Tom Landry and I were very close. Buddy Young and I had played with him on the Yankees, he and (Emlen) Tunnell (the first black man inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame) were close friends. That's where Tom got his view on race. He got it by being teammates with people like Buddy, Emlen and I."

There are also days for Howard when the passage of time feels immense.

He's lost family members, friends and teammates.

His friend, the lineman "Wildcat" Morris, died of a heart attack at age 70 on July 18, 1998.  Morris, an attorney, casino owner and former member of the Board of Regents, was in a car that was headed to Carson City that afternoon for the annual Governor's Dinner, one of Wolf Pack athletics' largest fundraisers.

"Bill Morris was my good friend," Howard said. "He was a good man."

Motley, who was the second black player ever inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, in 1968, died in 1999. Alva Tabor passed away in 2002.

"At this stage of my life, I reflect quite a bit," Howard said. "I was blessed to have such a wonderful group of guys as my teammates. Reno was Reno ... it was a reflection of the times. But the University itself, it was welcoming. I was treated very well on campus. I really treasure that experience. The friendships I made and the respect I have for my teammates ... have lasted ever since."

There are fewer voices left from the legacy that was established a long, long time ago. As one of those left, Howard remains proud of the decision his team made 70 years ago, when the 35 members of the Wolf Pack and their coaches boarded a chartered airliner and flew to Tulsa, Okla., for a college football game.

65-14. The game. The score. What it represented. It all still resonates.

"Whether people want to believe it or not, life hasn't changed," Howard said. "But people do."

And yet, Howard knows that as much as people have changed since the days of Jim Crow, there is still much left to be done. Big questions remain. He doesn't know if he has all the answers. But he does know one thing.

"When you do things in this life, you hope you've done them the right way," he said. "You hope that when someone mentions your name -  Sherman Who? -  they react by saying, 'He always tried to help others, he always tried to do what was right.' Your criteria in life should never be, 'How much money did I make?' That was never the criteria I used in my life. My criteria always was, 'What contribution can you make? What sort of difference can you make?'"

His voice, as it does throughout the conversation, remains constant, calm and content, his words providing a vivid example of a lived-in and well-lived, life.

It is a voice that reminds us that a long time ago, Sherman Howard and his teammates, steadfastly, determinedly, did not allow the prejudices of the time to deter them.

It is a voice that represents a University's proud legacy, reminding us that the pain of past prejudice is still great. And greater still if we choose to forget it.

(Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, it was stated that Marion Motley could not live on the University campus. In October 1940 Motley was convicted of negligent homicide in California following an accident the previous March in which the car he was driving tried to pass another car, and crashed head-on into the vehicle in the opposite lane. One of the passengers in the vehicle later died (Reno News and Review, Aug. 24, 2017 and Washington Times, Sept. 19, 2012). In the book "Tackling Jim Crow: Racial Segregation in Pro Football," author Alan Levy writes that Motley received three years probation and paid a $1,000 fine, much of which was raised by University students and boosters. As part of Motley's probation, "He would spend the three years of probation on the Nevada campus, with a Nevada English Professor, Paul Harwood, administering the probation." Harwood at the time was the faculty member who was head of Lincoln Hall.)

SOURCE MATERIALS AND NOTES

"Howard is the oldest current living African-American former NFL player": "The Legend and Legacy of Pioneer NFL Player," Florida Courier, Feb. 18, 2016.

"His high school students, and his players, especially, looked at him almost like he was their father": Interview with Vietta Robinson, January 2018. When Howard retired from teaching at Harlan, the Chicago Tribune wrote in a May 20, 1985 article about his influence on his students. One of Howard's students was the award-winning sportswriter William Rhoden of The New York Times. Rhoden said in the article of Howard, "He was always a subtle kind of coach. Some of the things he said went over my head. He used to tell us how soft we were and how easy things were for us. Then I didn't understand what the hell he meant, but the older I got, the more I realized what he was trying to tell us."

"As I often said to my students, your experiences prepare you for what's going to come next": Interview with Sherman Howard, January 2018.

"At that time, there were areas in Reno you couldn't go": Sherman Howard quoted in "Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football, In Their Own Words," by Andy Piascik (2009).

Motley, who was born in 1920, grew up in Canton, Ohio and was recruited to Nevada in 1940 by Coach Jim Aiken: "Marion Motley: Nevada Athlete, All American Hero," by Shelby Harris, Digital Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Knowledge Center.

"They called us names and everything, and I just wouldn't even talk to them": Marion Motley quoted from "Breaking the football racial barrier," Nevada Silver and Blue Magazine, Fall 2007; other Motley quotes, April 1992 interview with University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Program.

Coach Jim Aiken background: "Ex-Duck Grid Coach Jim Aiken Dies," Eugene Register-Guard, Nov. 1, 1961; "Genial, bull-voiced Jim Aiken reviews campus, grid roster," Eugene Register-Guard, Jan. 17, 1947; "Jim Aiken, a biography," Eugene Register-Guard, Dec. 25, 1958.

Motley, along with Bill Willis of the Cleveland Browns and Kenny Washington and Woody Strode of the L.A. Rams, would go on to break professional football's color barrier in 1946: It's important to note that there were two professional football leagues in 1946. Marion Motley and former Ohio State standout Bill Willis signed with Coach Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC); Kenny Washington and Woody Strode signed with the National Football League's Los Angeles Rams. Most football historians give Motley, Willis, Washington and Strode equal billing in breaking professional football's color barrier. Led by Motley's rushing, the Browns would win four AAFC championships before the Browns were absorbed by the NFL. Not missing a beat, Motley led the NFL in rushing in 1950 and the Browns won another championship. In the books "The Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football" and "The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football," the legendary Sports Illustrated football writer Paul Zimmerman (known as "Dr. Z") wrote that Motley, who also played linebacker, was the greatest player in the history of professional football.

Mississippi State University Athletic Director C.R. Noble telegram: "The time racism kept the Wolf Pack from playing an SEC team," Reno Gazette Journal, Sept. 18, 2015.

"Gentleman's Agreement" and "When schools in (south) sought to play inter-sectional competition that happened to include blacks on their rosters, a custom euphemistically referred to as the gentlemen's agreement was employed": "The Game Changers: Abner Haynes, Leon King and the Fall of Major College Football's Color Barrier in Texas," by Jeff Miller (2016).

William "Billy" Bass background: "Bass star with Alouettes," Sept. 7, 1948, Ottawa Citizen; "Bass nominated for Jeff Russel," Nov. 8, 1951, The Leader-Post; "Bass to play and coach with Balmy Beach," Aug. 23, 1955, Calgary Herald; "Negroes banned, tilt cancelled by Nevada," Nov. 5, 1946, Milwaukee Journal.

Horace Gillom background and impact on pro game: "The time racism kept the Wolf Pack from playing an SEC team," Reno Gazette Journal, Sept. 18, 2015; "Hall inductee: Horace Gillom was Massillon's Scoring Machine," CantonRep, July 10, 2009; "Cleveland Browns' 100 best all-time players: No. 78 - Horace Gillom," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 7, 2012.

Bass and Gillom were respected Wolf Pack players, well-known and well-liked on the University campus: "Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890-1980,"by Charles Martin (2010).

"For perhaps the first time in history, a predominantly white school had cancelled a major college football game rather than travel to and abide by the Jim Crow laws of the post-Confederate South. It started a national trend. A day later, Penn State cancelled its game at Miami": Many football historians acknowledge the importance of the Mississippi State cancellation, and usually couple it with Penn State's cancellation. The two cancellations happened very quickly, with Nevada's announcement coming the day before Penn State's announcement. The reverberations of the cancellations were immense. In the days that followed Penn State's announcement, Syracuse University, which did not even have a black player on its roster, rejected Miami's offer to serve as Penn State's replacement, Louis Moore writes in "We Will Win The Day: The Civil Rights Movement, The Black Athlete And The Quest For Equality" (2017).

$3,000 sum lost because of Nevada's cancellation and George Ross quote: "The Wolf Pack took a bite out of segregation," Reno Gazette-Journal, Nov. 6, 2005.

George Ross background: "George Ross, Journalism's 'man on the mountaintop' passes away at 98," Nevada Today, Oct. 8, 2015. George Ross, who graduated from the University in 1946, was one of the most accomplished journalists of his time. He served as sports editor of the Oakland Tribune from 1961-75, and then managing editor of the paper until 1979. He was both a sounding board and a watchdog for the public when dealing with major Bay Area sports figures such as Raiders owner Al Davis. He was known for his crusading columns that championed the black athletes of his time. He said in an interview years later that his favorite athlete of all the Bay Area stars he covered was Giants outfielder Willie Mays, who had encountered racism throughout his life. "Willie could talk baseball, and he could talk about life," Ross said. "Whenever I needed good stuff for my column, stuff that was often beyond the realm of baseball and sports, I always went to Willie's locker first."

Telegram from Tulsa's C.I. Pontius: "Legacy: 100 Years of Wolf Pack Athletics" (1998).

Alva Tabor background: "Alva Tabor appointed Jaguar football coach," The Afro American, May 8, 1969; "Alva Tabor named Cleveland assistant," Cumberland Evening Times, May 6, 1972; "Legacy: 100 Years of Wolf Pack Athletics" (1998); "Former Jaguars coach Tabor remembered by SU faithful," The Advocate, Aug. 27, 2002; Tuskegee University Athletic Hall of Fame website.

Sherman Howard background: "Sherman Howard: Football and Beyond, The Legacy of an African-American NFL Pioneer" by Vietta Robinson (2015).

Sherman Howard athletic influences: "Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football, In Their Own Words," by Andy Piascik (2009).

Sherman Howard quote on Tom Landry: Interview with Sherman Howard, January 2018.

Sherman Howard quote on G.I. Bill: Interview with Sherman Howard, January 2018. Sherman Howard quote on Nevada different than Iowa: Interview with Sherma Howard, January 2018.

"A wonderful bunch of guys": Sherman Howard interview, January 2018.

Sherman Howard on progressive attitudes of his Wolf Pack teammates: "Sherman Howard: Football and Beyond, The Legacy of an African-American NFL Pioneer" by Vietta Robinson (2015).

Bill Morris quote, "We would've played the game in a goddamned parking lot": "Legacy: 100 Years of Wolf Pack Athletics (1998).

"I had been through a war. I had seen devastation": Sherman Howard interview, January 2018.

Vietta Robinson's trip to Tulsa to research the Tulsa game: Vietta Robinson interview, January 2018.

Newspaper headlines for the Oct. 23, 1948 game: "Sherman Howard: Football and Beyond, The Legacy of an African-American NFL Pioneer" by Vietta Robinson (2015).

USS Philadelphia's racism and Sherman Howard returning from World War II in an Argentine vessel: "Sherman Howard: Football and Beyond, The Legacy of an African-American NFL Pioneer" by Vietta Robinson (2015).

"It seemed as if the heavens were preparing to reverse a cycle of hatred and suffering by rewarding a team that practiced love and chose to integrate": "Sherman Howard: Football and Beyond, The Legacy of an African-American NFL Pioneer" by Vietta Robinson (2015).

Vietta Robinson on her father today: Vietta Robinson interview, January 2018.

Sherman Howard sprint speed: Bill "Wildcat" Morris interview, 1998. Morris also noted during the interview just how quick several players on the 1948 team were. Charles Springer, who would go on to become a Nevada Supreme Court Justice, "was almost as fast as Sherm Howard," Morris said. "And little Tommy Kalmanir, once he got out in front of you, you couldn't catch him."  In "Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football, In Their Own Words," by Andy Piascik (2009), Howard said he always tried to be the first finisher whenever the teams he played for lined up for sprints. He said his speed sometimes surprised him: "You know, sometimes you don't know your own ability until you get out there."

Sherman Howard's daily routine today: Interviews with Sherman Howard and Vietta Robinson, January 2018.

Howard on Tom Brady, Otto Graham and Stan Heath: Sherman Howard interview, January 2018.

Howard on Lombardi and Landry: Sherman Howard interview, January 2018.

Howard's meticulousness as an NFL scout, informed by what one of his professors in college once told him, "Never make a decision based on improper data": In addition to Vietta Robinson's excellent book on her father, "Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football, In Their Own Words," by Andy Piascik (2009) is another essential work in understanding the life of Sherman Howard in his own words. Howard praises his Cleveland Browns coach, Paul Brown, for many things, including how in practice, "Everything was so precise, no time was wasted" and "With Paul Brown, if you were scheduled to get off the field at 4:05, you got off at 4:05." He said his approach to scouting was in a similar vein: "I always remembered one of my professors saying to never make a decision based on improper data or data that is outdated. Sometimes you have to make a decision anyway, but you should always get as much good data as you can and talk to as many people as you can."

Friendship with "Wildcat" Morris and final quotes ending the story: Sherman Howard interview, January 2018.

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