In the fall of 1951, Ollie Matson did everything right. As the punishing, 220-pound senior running back for the University of San Francisco, Matson – a 6’ 2” African-American – led the nation in rushing (1,566 yards) and scoring (21 touchdowns, 126 points) and guided the Dons to a perfect 9-0 season. Despite the team’s undefeated record, the USF Dons were not invited to play in any postseason bowl games. It was reported later that the Dons were not granted a bowl bid because the Orange, Sugar and Gator Bowls, all based in the South, did not consider inviting any teams that had black players. The jersey that Matson wore during that unforgettable season will now be going on the auction block at www.scpauctions.com starting April 8. A featured item in SCP Auctions’ online Spring Premier, the jersey could fetch $15,000 or more.
“This is a significant item in so many respects,” said SCP Auctions’ Vice President Dan Imler. “Not only was Matson a star running back who was clearly the best in the country that year, but the USF Dons actually turned down an eventual invite to the Orange Bowl after the selection committee would only allow them to play if they left their two black players behind. The team said no to that requirement, so this jersey represents both excellence on the field as well as honor among teammates.”
The circa 1951 green-and-white No. 33 nylon jersey, size 42, exhibits incredible wear and usage with noticeable fading and yellowing over time to go along with frayed numbers, rips and slight tears. A classic, vintage piece of sports memorabilia, the jersey symbolizes one of history’s groundbreaking African-American football players. It originates as a primary source acquisition from the esteemed Helms Athletic Foundation/LA84 Collection, a once prominent sports museum based in Los Angeles that originally opened its doors in 1936.
Matson, who died four years ago this week at the age of 80, went on to play 14 seasons in the NFL and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. Online bidding, open to registered bidders, will run for two-and-a-half weeks and conclude on Saturday, April 25. -Terry Melia