Book Report: Gridiron Gauntlet
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Thursday, April 19, 2012
In the 2009 book, Gridiron Gauntlet by Andy Piascik, 12 former African-American pro football players tell their stories of what it was like integrating pro football in the 1940's and 50's. From not being able to stay at the same hotels or eating in the same restaurants as the rest of the team, to only being allowed to play certain positions, the players interviewed for the book tell their stories of struggle for acceptance on the gridiron in their own words.
From the time the NFL was founded in 1920 through 1933, there were a total of just 13 African-American players in the league. But then, a ban was put in place that kept blacks out of the league until 1946.
The players in the book were the gridiron pioneers of the post World War II era, not just in the NFL, but in its rival league at the time, the All American Football Conference (1946-1949). The AAFC included three teams that would become members of the NFL in 1950; the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Colts.
The 12 players who tell their stories in the book include;
Wider receiver Bob Mann, who played for the Detroit Lions from 1948-1949 and the Green Bay Packers from 1950-1954. Following the 1949 season, Mann was traded to the NFL New York Yankees in exchange for quarterback Bobby Layne.
Fullback Joe Perry, a member of the San Francisco 49ers' famed "Million Dollar Backfield" that also included quarterback Y.A. Tittle, fullback John Henry Johnson and halfback Hugh McElhenny. All four men went on to become members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Perry played for the 49ers from 1948-1960, the Baltimore Colts from 1961-1962 and he finished his playing career back in San Francisco in 1963.
George Taliaferro, a member of the Los Angeles Dons of the All American Football Conference in 1949, the NFL New York Yanks from 1950-1951, the Dallas Texans in 1952, the Baltimore Colts from 1953-1954 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 1955.
Defensive End/Linebacker Charlie Powell, who never played college football, but signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 1952 and became a starter on the team at the age of 20. He also played professional baseball and was a professional boxer who fought Mohamed Ali, Floyd Patterson and sparred with Sonny Liston.
Running back/Defensive back Eddie Macon, who played for the Chicago Bears from 1952-1953, the CFL Calgary Stampeders in 1954, the CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1957-1959 and the AFL Oakland Raiders in 1960. Macon won a Grey Cup title with the Tiger-Cats in 1957.
Guard Harold Bradley, who played for the Cleveland Browns from 1954-1956 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958.
Fullback/Linebacker Emerson Cole, who played for the Cleveland Browns from 1950-1952 and the Chicago Bears in 1953.
Defensive Back Eddie Bell, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1955-1958, the CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1959 and the AFL New York Titans in 1960. Bell played college football at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school.
Running Back Henry Ford, who played only 2 games for the Cleveland Browns in 1955 and then finished the season playing in Canada for the CFL Toronto Argonauts. In 1956, he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Running back Bobby Watkins, who played for the Chicago Bears from 1955-1957 and the Chicago Cardinals in 1958. In his senior season in college at Ohio State, Watkins shared the backfield with halfback Howard "Hop Along" Cassidy, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1955.
Running Back Sherman Howard, who played for the AAFC New York Yankees in 1949, NFL New York Yanks from 1950-1951 and the Cleveland Browns from 1952-1953.
Center/Linebacker John Brown, who played for the AAFC Los Angeles Dons from 1947-1949 and the CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1950-1952. Winnipeg lost to the Toronto Argonauts 13-0 in the 1950 Grey Cup game, which has become know in CFL history as, "The Mud Bowl."
If I have one criticism of the book, it is the fact that there were not enough pictures. Only four of them were featured on the book's dust cover. I would have loved to see all of these men in their heydays, when leather helmets and no faceguards were the order of the day.
Thanks to Gridiron Gauntlet, the stories of these 12 individuals have been preserved as a reminder that things were not always as they are today. There was racism, exclusion and prejudice in the 40's and 50's, but these men paved the way for future generations of football players, and they should not be forgotten.