The 1964 Season
January 16, 1965
Jeppeson Stadium, Houston
details of the
held after the
1964 season are
the events prior
to the game had
the game itself.
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Jan. 16, 2005, 12:53AM
Fighting against racial
In January 1965, 21 blacks made
history by forcing AFL All-Star Game out of New Orleans
|By DAVID BARRON
After a year in which Houston
hosted two of the biggest events in sports the Super Bowl and the
baseball All-Star Game and landed the 2006 NBA All-Star Game,
today the city marks the 40th anniversary of a lesser-known event
that remains unique in the history of sports in America.
Only 15,446 fans filtered into Jeppesen Stadium for the American
Football League's East-West All-Star Game on Jan. 16, 1965. The West
All-Stars won in a rout 38-14, and it's not uncommon for
participants to say they don't remember a thing about the events of
And yet the game more accurately, the events that
led it to Houston in the first place was a revolution akin to
Muhammad Ali's refusal to enter the draft or Harry Edwards' efforts
to organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics by black American
When 21 black football players refused to play the
All-Star Game as scheduled in New Orleans because of race-related
slights, threats and insults they suffered in that city, they staged
a signal event in the volatile mixture of sports and society that
"Someone had to take a stand and stop
players from being treated as second-class citizens," said Ernie
Ladd then a 6-9, 300-pound defensive tackle, now a businessman in
Rayville, La. "It's a great story. Spike Lee should do a movie about
"We didn't do it for publicity. We did it because of what was
right and what was wrong."
The walkout of 1965 came in a time of
great change and upheaval across the South in the wake of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964.
Ironically, it took place in a city that had made great progress
in undoing past wrongs.
Like many Southern states, Louisiana
adopted the policy of "massive resistance" in the wake of the
Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education school
desegregation ruling in 1954, said Charles Martin, a history
professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who studied the
history of New Orleans' segregation laws while a graduate student at
In late 1955, the Sugar Bowl had enraged segregationists by
inviting Pittsburgh, which had one black player on its roster, to
play Georgia Tech on New Year's Day. Within six months, the state
Legislature passed a law that prohibited interracial sports events
"The Sugar Bowl was in favor of (relaxing
segregation rules) because they saw sports as part of tourism,"
Martin said. "But there was resentment in other parts of the state
because they saw it as violating laws regarding desegregation and
public accommodations. The Sugar Bowl people tried to get an
exemption for their game, but the Legislature wouldn't do it."
That law was struck down by the Supreme Court in May 1959. Five
years later, a year before the AFL controversy, the Supreme Court
overturned another state law that mandated segregated seating at all
public events in Louisiana.
In December 1964, almost one
month to the day before the AFL players arrived in New Orleans, the
Supreme Court also ruled, in the Heart of Atlanta Hotel case, that
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevented discrimination in public
The Sugar Bowl had successfully hosted an
integrated Syracuse team against LSU a couple of weeks before the
AFL game, and Martin said the city's business establishment favored
change as it sought to attract convention traffic to the city and
built its bid to get an NFL franchise.
"You had the business
elite wanting to abandon the Old South ideas of discrimination and
segregation and massive resistance," Martin said. "It was the
old-style Southern politicians that didn't want to change. The
business types were pragmatic. They might prefer the old ways, but
it was no longer pragmatic to do so."
It was against that backdrop that the AFL All-Stars began to
filter into the city a week before the scheduled Jan. 17, 1965,
Sid Blanks, a rookie running back for the Oilers who had
been the captain of an otherwise all-white team at Texas A&I in the
early 1960s, said the problems started at the airport.
couldn't get any transportation to the hotel," Blanks said. "I
finally got a skycap to tell me, 'You need to get the right cab
because you're colored.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'They
won't pick you up.' I asked why not, and he said, 'It's a little
different here. If you're colored, you can't ride in just any cab.'
In an interview with NFL Films for a documentary on the
history of blacks in pro football, San Diego Chargers defensive end
Earl Faison said the insults and racial slurs increased even when
players were able to track down a "colored" taxi to get them to
"I was checking in to the hotel and heard voices in
the background asking, 'Is that Ernie Ladd?' " Faison said. "And
another guy said, 'No, Ernie Ladd is a bigger n----- than that. That
Ladd is a big n-----.' "
When the players decided to visit
Bourbon Street that night, Faison said insult nearly turned to
injury and worse.
"We walked past four or five different
clubs (and were refused entry)," Faison said. "One guy shouted, 'You
so and so, get off the street. John F. Kennedy is not playing here
At one club, Faison said, "A guy pulls out a gun and says, 'You
are not coming in here. You n------ are not coming in here.' "
Ladd said he does not remember having a gun pulled on him. But
he does remember the insults and the snubs and the anger.
"Walt Sweeney, one of our teammates with the Chargers, stopped a
cab for us to go back to the hotel," Ladd said. "The cab driver
wouldn't let us get inside. Sweeney wanted to bust the guy's head,
but I said, no, we would walk back to the hotel.
"When we got
back, Earl and I had a discussion, and I told Earl that I wasn't
going to play in New Orleans under those conditions. Earl agreed and
got in touch with (Jets offensive lineman) Sherman Plunkett, who got
us in touch with the other guys on the East squad."
morning, Broncos defensive back Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin, a native
of Port Arthur, met fellow Texan Clem Daniels, a running back from
the Oakland Raiders, in the hotel lobby and suggested the two have
"We walked into the restaurant, and Clem hung up
his coat, and this little old lady came over and threw his coat on
the ground," Gonsoulin said. "I said, 'Clem, don't worry about it.
Just go get it and put it back on the hanger.' Then this woman came
over and threw it back down again.
"We finished breakfast,
and we agreed it was too bad that New Orleans hadn't come around to
the times yet. Then we left, and I got on the bus to go to practice.
Then I looked around, and there were no black players on the bus. We
got to practice, but we stayed for only 15 or 20 minutes. We agreed
it wasn't right to stay."
The 21 black players more than a
third of the players on the two 29-member squads gathered at a
hotel meeting room and voted 13-8 not to play.
They ignored pleas
from promoter Dave Dixon, who was leading New Orleans' bid to land a
pro football franchise, and NAACP chapter president Ernest N.
"Dutch" Morial, the first black graduate of LSU's law school and
later the first black mayor of New Orleans.
"We had a similar experience at an exhibition game a year
earlier in Atlanta, and we had people there who lied to us and said
things would be made right. We were not going to be taken in again,"
They appointed Buffalo Bills tight end Ernie
Warlick as their spokesman, and Warlick quickly drafted a brief
"The American Football League is progressing in great strides,
and the Negro players feel they are playing a vital role in the
league's progression. They are being treated fairly in all cities in
the league," Warlick wrote. "However, because of adverse conditions
and discriminatory practices experienced by Negro players while here
in New Orleans, the players feel they cannot perform 100 percent as
expected in the All-Star Game and be treated differently."
Warlick might not have been as vocal as Ladd or running back Cookie
Gilchrist, his Bills teammate, but the slights and insults cut just
"I had served four years in the military. Then I
played five years in the Canadian Football League," he said. "I was
outside my country, but I had no problem going anywhere in Canada.
Then I came back to my country and couldn't do things because of the
color of my skin. So we decided to make a stand."
day, Monday, Jan. 11, AFL commissioner Joe Foss announced that the
game would be moved to Houston.
"Dixon assured me that New
Orleans was ready in all aspects for a game between racially mixed
teams. Evidently, it isn't," Foss said. "They contacted as many
businessmen as possible and got them to agree to treat the Negro
players well. But they just couldn't get to everyone. Negro players
run into problems in nearly every city. But I guess what went on in
New Orleans was more than they could be expected to take. I can't
say that I blame them."
As the players left for Houston,
Warlick remembers that it was considerably easier to get a cab back
to the airport than it had been a couple of days earlier traveling
in the other direction.
"The same taxis that wouldn't give us a ride were now taking us
in," he said. "So if we didn't do anything else, maybe that was one
area where we brought about some change."
Moving to Houston
The players reconvened Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston, where
Warlick remembers the AFL contingent as being the first racially
mixed group allowed to stay at the Shamrock Hilton Hotel.
But Ladd said Houston wasn't always hospitable to black
A few years earlier, he said he experienced his most
embarrassing moment in football at the hands of Lloyd Wells, who was
then a prominent sportswriter for the Houston Defender newspaper.
"Houston treated (blacks) pretty poorly for a time. They made the
black spectators sit in the end zone my first year in the league
(1960)," Ladd said. "Lloyd Wells tried to get the players to strike,
and I made a mistake by not listening to him.
forget him saying, 'Ernie Ladd, you're gutless like a worm. Stand up
and show some guts.' By then it was too late to do anything, but
I'll never forget him saying, 'Look at you, you big old gutless
Ernie Ladd. You can run, but you can't hide.' "
By January 1965, those days had ended, particularly by
comparison to the incident that Chronicle sports columnist Wells
Twombly facetiously called "the second great battle of New Orleans."
The nature of what had gone before, however, tends to overshadow the
fact that the 1965 AFL All-Stars might have been the greatest
aggregation of athletes to set foot in this city.
Nine of the 58 players are members of the Pro Football Hall of
An astonishing 43 are among the
100-plus AFL players listed in one fan's cyberspace version of the
AFL Hall of Fame.
The game, not surprisingly, was
something of an anticlimax. The West won in a walk, and Twombly
wrote of the action, "A sloppier football game you haven't seen
since the last Houston Oiler intra-squad scrimmage."
Diego running back Keith Lincoln was the Most Valuable Player on
offense with an 80-yard touchdown run and a 73-yard TD reception
from the Chiefs' Len Dawson on the first offensive play of the game.
Broncos defensive back Willie Brown, who later as a member of the
Raiders would contribute one of the iconic images of pro football
with NFL Films' slow-motion footage of his interception TD return in
Super Bowl XI, was the defensive MVP.
John Hadl threw three scoring passes for the West. Blanks, the
Oilers' rookie running back, set an All-Star record for kickoff
returns and had a five-yard TD run for the East's only offensive
The West players received $700 each as All-Star
winners. The East players had to settle for $500 each.
up and fight'Dixon said NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle called him a
few days after the walkout, told him the league still wanted a
franchise in New Orleans and sent league employee Buddy Young, one
of pro football's first black stars in the late 1940s and early
'50s, to town on an inspection tour.
Young suggested a
public display, such as having dinner with Dixon in one of New
Orleans' finest restaurants, would go a long way toward offsetting
the bad publicity.
And so Dixon called in a favor with Roy
Alciatore, owner of the venerable Antoine's.
been sort of integrated by that time," Dixon said. "If whites and
blacks wanted to have dinner together, they would do so in the
private rooms. So I called Roy and said, 'Roy, here's my situation.
I want to sit in the middle of the restaurant, and I'd like to have
John Ketry (one of Antoine's longest-tenured staffers) as my waiter.
He said, 'Let's do it.' "
Young and Dixon dined together at
Antoine's, and in 1967, the Saints came marching in to New Orleans
as an NFL expansion franchise.
For AFL alumni, meanwhile, the
All-Star walkout remains a source of great pride. Several AFL
loyalists maintain that players in the staid, established NFL would
never have stood up against the abuse, and they believe the esprit
de corps the incident created among AFL players helped lead to the
merger with the NFL a year later.
"The AFL owners like Lamar
Hunt (Chiefs) and Bud Adams (Oilers) and Sonny Werblin (Jets) and
Barron Hilton (Chargers) were the greatest men I've known over the
years," Ladd said. "Our owners understood us, they took a stand, and
they helped make pro football.
"The NFL had great players,
but they weren't real men. Whatever the owners told them, they did.
The AFL gave birth to men who would stand up and fight. There were
no yellow-bellied cowards in the AFL."
Gonsoulin said the
incident helped recruit players to the AFL in the final stages of
the bidding war between the leagues.
"They knew they would be
treated right in the AFL," he said. "It had to happen sooner or
later. Somebody had to stand up, and I'm glad it was the AFL."
"I got hate mail and was invited to go back to Africa," said
Warlick, who was a television sportscaster in Buffalo and later
worked as a regional sales manager before retiring two years ago.
"But when I think back, it was one of the thrills of my life.
"We were a unified group. Every time we get together as a group, we
talk about how unified we were. We hung together and got along.
"It's a great thrill that I've carried with me ever since."
Gonsoulin, who lives in Silsbee, said he was in Ohio two years
ago for a banquet honoring Hunt when he ran into Daniels, his
one-time breakfast companion in New Orleans.
"We were waiting
for dinner, and he said, 'Let's just you and I go out,' " Gonsoulin
"So we went to dinner and struck up a conversation,
and I asked if he remembered what had happened that time in New
Orleans. He said, 'Sure, but I didn't know if you remembered it.' I
said, 'It's in my mind forever. That was a real turning point when
they did those things to you.'
"And so we sat around the rest
of the evening, talking about old times. We had a good time
together. And nobody bugged us."
In the third quarter, Easts
George Byrd (42) of Buffalo
tries to lateral to Nick
Bouniconti (85), but the
ball is deflected by Clem
Daniels (on ground) and the
gets loose. Eventually, it
was recovered by Art Powell
of the West and taken to the
East 11 yard line.
Keith Lincoln goes 73 yards
on the game's first play.
Ernie Ladd pressures Babe
EACH AFL ALL-STAR GAME
The American Football League did not play an
All-Star game after its first season in 1960,
but did stage All-Star games for the 1961
through 1969 seasons. All-Star teams from
the Eastern and Western divisions played each
other after every season except 1965. That
season, the league champion Buffalo Bills played
against a team made up of all-stars from the
Because the games were played at the
end of the season, they occurred in the next
calendar year. Thus, the 1961 AFL All-Star
game (with players selected as all-stars for the
1961 season) was played on January 7, 1962; the
1962 game was played in January 1963, etc.
The links below will take you
to summaries of each game, originally created by
of the content of this and the other AFL
All-Star Games was retrieved from the 'Internet
Archive Wayback Machine' at archive.org/web/web.php,
which claims copyright for the work.
*Other than the final score and
the image of the game program, his summary of
the 1964 season all-star game incorrectly gave
the report of the previous year's game.
Bolding's original site
classified the games by the calendar year they
were played in. Since they were played at
the end of AFL seasons and the All-Stars
involved were so chosen for their play in those
seasons, I classify them by the AFL season which
they represented. Thus the AFL
All-Star Game that featured stars of the 1961
season was played in January 1962, etc.
Perhaps the greatest highlight of AFL All-Star Game history
came not on the field of play, but in the actions of black
players, supported by their white teammates and owners, when
the best players in the AFL boycotted the City of New
Orleans because of the disrespect black players were given
when they arrived there for the scheduled 1964 season AFL All-Star
Game, scheduled for January 1965.
The game was moved to
Houston in a seminal action in the early civil rights
movement in America. It is still recognized as such,
as recently as a March, 2007 article by Evan Weiner on
MSNBC. Another description of the incident is at
AFL Clippings page.