Turning of the Tide
Don Yaeger et al.
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Buy *Turning of the Tide: How One Game Changed the South* by Don Yaeger et al. online

Turning of the Tide: How One Game Changed the South
Don Yaeger et al.
Center Street
272 pages
September 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars
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If it hadn’t been such a rout, and if the star player on the opposition hadn’t been an African American…but that is history. In this carefully considered book, the authors make it clear that sports history can sometimes, importantly, affect a wider sphere.

The year was 1970. Despite many gains by the proponents of civil rights, there were still strongholds of “segregation now….segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.” Those words, uttered by George Wallace in his famed “stand at the schoolhouse door,” resonated with many white Alabamians. Alabama was unprepared to lose status as a bastion of states rights and white supremacy. But they were also unprepared to lose face as a Southern football power.

Led by the indomitable Bear Bryant, the Crimson Tide of Alabama University (still nominally segregated in 1970) was nationally known as a great – regional – football power. But it rarely played out of the region. Everybody knew that in the West and North, college football had begun to be dominated by great black players, recruited by colleges that had been integrated from their inception. Bryant’s team was to some a symbol of white superiority; it could win with eleven white men, young men who had been subjected to Bryant’s grueling boot-camp tactics to be the best at the game.

Basketball had been open to black players at AU for a year by that time. Bryant was quoted as saying to the basketball coach, “You know I’m lucky. Mine have got face masks on, but yours, there’s no helmets on them. I can see those people in the stands, ‘one two three.’ They’re counting yours.” Whether Bryant himself was a racist or an enlightened but suppressed human rights activist will never be surely known, but what is known is that he and John McKay, the football coach at the University of Southern California, struck a deal: the Tide would play the USC Trojans, and the first battleground would be a home game for Bryant.

The drubbing that the Tide endured in the first game was the beginning of the end of all-white football at Alabama University. Turning of the Tide unravels this story, paralleling it to other events on the national stage, and the result is a neat play-by-play link-up from the realm of athletics to the larger story of race relations in America. Yaeger is a sports writer who here collaborates with two of the former USC players, linebacker John Papadakis and fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham, a black player so adored for his adroit winning tactics against the white boys of 'Bama that he is still recognized and lionized today by African American sports fans who saw the game that “turned the tide.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2006

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