There are over fifty banners hanging on the wall at USF’s Memorial Gymnasium. They all look pretty much the same, either green lettering on gold background or the other way around. They also are hung there for pretty much the same reasons. They either acknowledge an athlete who had a great career on The Hilltop or a team that won the conference or played in a national tournament. In fact, there are even banners that remind everyone that USF Dons Basketball teams have won three national championships!
But one banner stands out from the others. It does not proclaim any individual who had a great season or career, nor does it acknowledge any team for winning a championship. It simply reads
In 1951 the Dons had a great football team, they went through a tough schedule and won every game that season! In a time when there were very few football “bowl games,” USF was considered by the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Gator Bowl. Unfortunately, each bowl stipulated that they would invite USF only if they left two of their players at home. Ollie Matson and Burl Toler were the only two black players on the team and the bowls did not want them to participate (1951 in the south).
When informed of this, the team did not discuss the situation, nor did they vote on anything. They simply decided not to go to a bowl game. That moment they lost a chance to play for a national championship, and because of the budget at the time USF could not afford to play NCAA football again. But the young men of that team never felt that they had lost anything. They had stood in solidarity as a team of brothers. They had chosen HONOR OVER GLORY.
Some might think that the dream of being National Champions was just that, a dream. But if one considers the record, I think it is clear that the 1951 Dons were the best team both as players and as brothers. One player was a consensus for All Americans, ten players were drafted by the NFL, five played in the Pro Bowl at some point in their professional careers, three are in the NFL Hall of Fame and one became the first black man to be an NFL referee after blowing out his knee in a pro try out. At least three of them were teachers and coaches in City high schools (one at SH, one at SI, and one at Ben Franklin Middle School). One served as mayor of Daly City, and the team’s public relations guy was a long time Commissioner of the National Football League, Pete Rozelle (also in the NFL Hall of Fame, but not as a player).
Often we get caught up in a competitive environment, we need to win, we need to be and have “the best.” It might be good to note that of the more than fifty banners hanging on the wall at USF’s Memorial Gym, the one that people respect and appreciate the most is hung in honor of a team that did not win that last game, because they loved each other like brothers.
God Bless You My Sisters and Brothers,