After going a decade without winning an NCAA football title, Alabama surprised doubters with their 2009 National Championship. ’Bama’s rich football tradition dates from the mid-1920s, but the team did not become a dynasty until legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant took over in 1958. During Bryant’s 24 years as head coach, the Tide won six national championships and 13 SEC titles.
In their 1970 home opener, Alabama lost to USC, a team with several African-American players. This game turned the Tide in a new direction and forever changed the way southern schools conducted their football programs. Turning of the Tide: How One Game Changed the South, by Don Yaeger, explores what happened. The game shocked the entire state of Alabama, which was then highly segregated. African-Americans could not even attend the University, let alone play for the Crimson Tide.
Yaeger paints a detailed picture of segregation in the Deep South prior to the 1970 season. After discussing the reactions of coaches and players to the USC game, he relates how the Tide was forced to adapt to the new style of play set in high-speed motion by African-American players. Finally, he describes the post-1970 season, which marked the beginning of the end of segregation in colleges and universities across the South.
Turning of the Tide is packed with historical facts, along with quotes from Coach Bryant and players who participated in the 1970 ground-breaking game. Yaeger makes a convincing case that this one game had a momentous impact on football in America.
STACK’s Take: A perfect book to read in celebration of Black History Month. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, young African-American athletes were forced to leave their home states in the South to play college ball elsewhere. The 1970 Tide-turning game changed everything.