The football game that intergrated the sport, circa 1969

TAMPA, Fla. – There was a time when the game of football looked very different than what we’re used to today…no, not the sport itself, but the players on the team.

what you need to know

  • There was only one place in Tampa that played African American football…Phillips Field.
  • Phillips Field was also where the University of Tampa football team practiced…now a parking lot behind Raymond James Stadium
  • In 1969, a Tampa college football game incorporated black and white play on a soccer field for the first time
  • Jim Del Gaizo was the 1969 UT quarterback
  • Fred Hearns reported that he was one of the sportswriters who captured the story as it unfolded

Fred Hearns, sportswriter and curator of Black History at the Tampa Bay Historic Center, read from the article he wrote in 1969: “Not all, but some people just refuse to give Black coaches, scouts, football players, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, Referee and what do you have to be really top notch.”

Hearns didn’t just write about history, he lived it.

He told Spectrum Sports 360’s Katya Guillaume: “A lot of people walked. If you’ve lived in West Tampa, you’ve lived on foot.

Of course, a lot has changed since childhood.

Reminiscing about the good old days, he said, “West Tampa looks so different from West Tampa in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 60’s. I don’t think you can go into any part of Tampa today and say that this looks as good as it did 50, 60 years ago, with the possible exception of parts of Ybor City.”

Hearns loved playing sports, and he also loved writing about them, whether it was high school, college, or professional sports.

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There is very little in sports history that he does not remember.

He continued, “In the 1960s through the late ’60s, black high schools could only play other black high schools, and it was like that throughout the state of Florida. To play 10 games we had to travel to Miami, to Fort Lauderdale, to Jacksonville, to Orlando, of course to St. Petersburgh, Lakeland, so we played a 10-game plan by traveling.”

There was only one place in Tampa that played African American football…Phillips Field.

Hearns said: “Games would normally start at 7 a.m., we would have filled both the east side and west side stands and it was just a wonderful time when, even though we lived in a separate society, we took the Lemons and made lemonade. We made the best of what we could do with what we had to work with.”

The University of Tampa football team also trained at Phillips Field.

Many big names entered this field.

“John Matuszak played here, from the University of Tampa,” he said. “The number one NFL draft pick in 1973, the top draft pick in 1973, came from the University of Tampa, John Matuszak, and they practiced here at Phillips Field and played at Tampa Stadium.”

What remains of Phillips Field is now a billboard in the middle of Julian Lane Riverfront Park in downtown Tampa.

Hearns said the letter didn’t even begin to describe the story that unfolded in that filth.

“I think of youth and how in many cases we don’t see the meaning of the experiences we are having. Of course, we didn’t know that we were on the verge of integration and what that would mean.”

It would mean an even playing field for blacks and whites on the soccer field.

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“I’m standing here emotionally,” he told Guillaume, “because this is where everything happened for me and I can remember those Friday nights coming here for a football game and playing in the band in Middleton. So we ‘we came in and then we had our band uniforms on and when we stepped onto that field it was just amazing. It’s almost like I lived, I lived for those Friday nights.

In 1967, another stadium was opened in Tampa to compete with Phillips Field.

Tampa Stadium, which is now a parking lot behind Raymond James Stadium, became home to a Tampa college football game that would integrate the game for blacks and whites on one football field for the first time.

The University of Tampa, a predominantly white college, and Florida A&M University, a predominantly black college, came together for a night that would go down in history forever.

While Hearns was covering the game, former Miami Dolphins quarterback Jim Del Gazio was adapting as quarterback for the Spartans.

Del Gaizo recalled and said: “The night we got there, I remember coming into the field that night and it was electricity. I mean, the crowd was a gigantic crowd, and it was just… the anticipation, and when I say power, I say good anticipation. There was nothing bad going on in that crowd. It was all good and you can feel it. I would get goosebumps just getting on the field I would say that.

He said back then the team didn’t understand the meaning of the game they were playing, they had something else in mind.

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“Well, we tried to win nine games in a row,” he said. “We’d lost our first game, then we’d won eight and wanted to go out with a win.”

Later he understood.

Florida A&M defeated UT 34-28 that night in front of a crowd of over 46,000 fans who watched the story unfold.

“It was spectacular”, Del Gaizo. “It was spectacular and what Jake Gaither and Fran Curci set out to do, they did.”

In the press box, a young Fred Hearns continued to write.

Hearns read again from his article: “Florida A&M’s exciting and well-executed game and commendable sportsmanship on Saturday night at Tampa Stadium in front of some 46,477 insane crowds realized more of that dream than could ever have been realized in the two, two short.” Hours.”

Like I said, Hearns didn’t just write history, he lived it, and he remembers it all every time he walks into the parking lot at Raymond James Stadium.

“Getting out of here kind of reminds us of how far we’ve come,” Hearns said. “When I come and see the University of South Florida Bulls playing here and I see the students enjoying themselves and I wonder if they have any idea what sacrifices are being made. If someone asks me what it was like back then, the segregation, and I get this question when I visit schools, I’m happy to tell them again, we took the lemons and made lemonade.

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