The latest HBO documentary, “Breaking the Huddle: The Integration of College Football” could be the most culturally and historically important piece to ever come from the network’s sports division. It debuts Tuesday at 10 p.m.
The starting point is actually the end point in the documentary — the 1970 USC-Alabama game from Legion Field in Birmingham, where the Trojan team led by Sam Cunningham (in his first varsity game, above) and Jimmy Jones show the Alabama spectators just how a team loaded with black athletes can win football games. Bear Bryant arranged the contest with John McKay to help him in many ways — none more important, probably, than bringing his program up to par with others that were integrated and receiving better votes by pollsters who determined the national champions each year.
Producer Joe Lavine , who says he grew up in the northeast and was a big Ohio State football fan, lays out many stories about what went into the research of this hour-long presentation, and so much of it that he couldn’t use because of time. With Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches as a parallel storyline, the New York Times’ William C. Rhoden writes the documentary script, narrated by Liev Schreiber.
“Symbolically, that (1970 USC-Alabama) game became the end of our story,” said Lavine. “But why limit it to that? We wanted to go back, to places like Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954, to see the development of integration.”
A Maryland grad, Lavine said he knew about Darryl Hill, the first black player at the school, and in the ACC. But he soon uncovered the lives and accomplishments of more unsung heroes, such as Jerry LeVias at SMU, Willie Lanier at Morgan State, Bubba Smith at Michigan State (a Texas native who wanted to stay home to play but was denied) and Wilbur Hackett at Kentucky.
If Hackett’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because he’s the SEC official who rang the bell of South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia last October on an ESPN telecast: