Bobby Grier reflects on making history during 1956 Sugar Bowl

This year marks 67 years since the University of Pittsburgh, and one of its stars, Bobby Grier, integrated the Sugar Bowl.

Grier just turned 90 years old, but back in 1956, on Grier’s 23rd birthday, he made history.

Grier and his son proudly wore the Pitt colors while they talked to Channel 11′s Alby Oxenreiter about the moment and what has happened since.

Grier was a 6′1″ 190-pound running back and linebacker from Massillon, Ohio when he became the first African American to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Oxenreiter asked him if has a great memory of the game.

“Not really great, but I remember some of it,” said Grier.

He said breaking the Sugar Bowl’s color barrier was the furthest thing from his mind.

“No, I didn’t think anything of it,” Grier said.

Grier remains humble about his place in history and a bit reluctant with the attention, but his son, Rob Jr. will never stop talking about the challenges his father experienced.

“I can’t imagine how difficult it was,” said Grier Jr.  “I’m so proud of Dad, he’s always been a great father.  As far as his accomplishments, I’m so very proud of him.”

Nearly seven decades after the Sugar Bowl the elder Grier’s feeling about the game hasn’t changed.

Oxenreiter asked him if he realized what a big deal it was.

“Not really,” Grier said chuckling. “I just thought it was a football game.”

It was so much more.  The Georgia Governor was opposed to racial integration and did everything possible to keep Grier from playing.  The Georgia Tech President took a stand against the Governor.  So did the Georgia Tech student body and the football team. Grier’s Pitt teammates refused to make the trip south to New Orleans without him.

“They said we’re not going down without him.  No Grier, no game,” Grier Jr. said.

“That made it a lot easier,” Grier said.

Easier, but far from easy.  Grier wasn’t allowed to stay with his teammates at the team motel.  Grier ignored it and persevered.

“We are in such times of conflict times of separateness,” Grier Jr. said.  “This a story of different colors and different cultures coming together to play a game for the students and for Dad’s teammates, my uncles.  It wasn’t about race.”

Pitt lost the 1956 Sugar Bowl 7-0.  The lone touchdown came on the same drive where Grier was called for pass interference. Photos show there was no pass interference. The referee, who was from Pittsburgh, admitted after the game that he had made a mistake.

“It’s a life lesson, that’s truly what is,” reflected Grier Jr.

His father added, “I’m very proud of what I did.”

The Sugar Bowl elected Grier to its Hall of Fame in 2019.  Pitt inducted him into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020.

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