Today finds me thinking about Chuck Ealey, the winningest college quarterback of all-time.
Ealey played for the University of Toledo, my alma mater. The Rockets won every single game in which he played, 35 in all. His Mid America Conference Rocket teams went undefeated in each of Ealey’s three seasons, finishing in the top 20 in the national rankings and winning the Tangerine Bowl each year. Even before coming to Toledo, he was undefeated as a high school quarterback in Portsmouth, Ohio.
This all came to mind when I learned the other day that Jack Murphy, former University of Toledo football coach, had died. Murphy coached Ealey during the final season of the quarterback’s incredible 35-game run. Although Ealey graduated after the 1971 season, five years before my freshman year at UT, Murphy was still the Rockets’ coach when I started classes there.
Ealey’s incredible feat of winning every college game he quarterbacked over three seasons has never been equaled. The last person to even come close was Trevor Lawrence, whose perfect record ended with Clemson’s loss to Ohio State in the 2020 College Football Playoffs.
Consider these stats. Ealey’s Rockets not only finished in the top 20 nationally each year during his undefeated run, they outscored their opponents by an average of 23 points – yes, more than three touchdowns – and he was the MVP in each of UT’s Tangerine Bowl victories.
Beyond all that, Ealey has one other stunning distinction: Despite that unmatched success he is not a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
How that can be? The answer is surprisingly clear. Ealey was a black quarterback in an age when blacks simply were not supposed to be – or at least were not equally respected – as quarterbacks.
After Ealey graduated he was passed over in the 1972 National Football League draft. No team was willing to give this unprecedentedly successful young man a chance.
Is it possible he simply wasn’t good enough to be a professional quarterback? After he was bypassed by the NFL he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, and as a rookie he led the team to the Grey Cup championship, the first black CFL quarterback to do so.
And by the way, Ealey was the Grey Cup game’s MVP.
It’s starkly apparent that ability was not an issue, just his race. The ignorant belief that blacks were not capable of being NFL quarterbacks was not dispelled until the 1980s, when Doug Williams won the 1988 Super Bowl. One of that decade’s most prolific NFL passers, black quarterback Warren Moon, also went undrafted and spent six seasons in the Canadian Football League before joining the NFL.
Of course this January when the new College Football Hall of Fame Class members were announced, Chuck Ealey was not among them.
By current rules Ealey never will be named. Sadly, he is not eligible because the same 1970s prejudices that kept him out of the NFL still preclude it. College Football Hall of fame rules state that to even be considered, “First and foremost, a player must have received first team All America recognition by a selector recognized by the NCAA and utilized to comprise their consensus All America teams.”
Ealey was a first-team All American in 1971, but not by an NCAA-recognized selector. AP named him a third-team All American on its list, behind first-teamer Pat Sullivan of Auburn who threw 17 touchdowns to 21 interceptions for a 4-7 team and second-teamer Jerry Tagge of Nebraska who threw for 21 touchdowns to 13 interceptions for a 9-2 team. That same season Ealey threw 15 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
It’s sad that Ealey’s race denied him a shot at NFL stardom. It remains beyond shameful that ignorance and lack of respect for a black player’s abilities shown by the national media half a century ago still denies the winningest quarterback in college football history the recognition he richly deserves today.
I believe we are long overdue in rectifying that wrong.
Don Allison is an author, historian and retired editor of The Bryan Times. He can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com.