In 1970, legendary University of Alabama coach Bear Bryant met his good friend and USC coach John McKay in the Los Angeles airport. Their handshake set the stage for an event that would resonate in history: the first fully-integrated football game to be played in Alabama.
The teams that met on Crimson soil in September represented two distinct faces of college football: Bear Bryant’s Tide was the all-white national powerhouse in the SEC, and the USC Trojans, a diverse team featuring a nearly all-black starting backfield, reflected the social changes that were sweeping the nation. Though he and the Tide were revered in the South, Bryant knew that he was signing on for a certain loss at the hands of Southern Cal, a fearfully dominant force that had featured in the past black players like Heisman winners O.J. Simpson and Mike Garrett. Alabama’s resounding 42-21 loss broke down the last stronghold of segregation in college football.
During a difficult time when the entire country was torn apart by issues of race, this game not only swept away the last remnants of the racial divide in college football but marked the Turning of the Tide for civil rights progress in the South.