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Black History Month: Ollie Matson

Black History Month Ollie Matson NFL Cameron Little via flickr

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This article is part of a special tribute to African-American individuals or teams who have sacrificed and broken through various forms of restriction to achieve greatness, not solely defined within sport, but among humanity.

 

Ollie Matson was an American Olympic medal winning sprinter and professional American football running back who played in the National Football League (NFL) from 1952 to 1966. Drafted into the NFL by the Chicago Cardinals, Matson was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for nine players following the 1958 season.

Matson was named to the Pro Bowl six times during the course of his career and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.  In 1951, Ollie’s senior year at USF, he led the nation in rushing yardage and touchdowns en route to leading the Dons to an undefeated season.

Matson also won a bronze medal in the 400-meter run and a silver medal as part of the United States 4×400-meter relay team in the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland.

Despite its 9-0 record, the 1951 San Francisco team was not invited to a bowl game. It was later reported that the Orange, Sugar and Gator Bowls – all in the American South – did not consider inviting any teams that had black players. The USF team refused to play without its two African-American teammates.


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Drafted #1 by the Chicago Cardinals, he went on to share 1952 Rookie of the Year honors with Hugh McElhenny of the San Francisco 49ers. During his 14-year career, Ollie also played for the Los Angeles Rams (traded by the Cardinals to the Rams following the 1958 season), the Detroit Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was named to the Pro Bowl six times (1952, 1954 to 1958).

When Ollie retired in 1966, his 12,799 career all-purpose yards were second only to Jim Brown. Ollie was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976.

Although Ollie wasn’t the first player to break the color line, he stood up to adversity on the collegiate level and in the pro’s while being one of the best players to ever don shoulder Pads and a helmet. He was a pioneer. Future generations can look at his model of consistency as an example of how hard work pays off.