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MSU alumnus strives to honor historic legacy of university's 1965-66 football teams

June 21, 2021
<p>Courtesy of Tom Shanahan. </p>

Courtesy of Tom Shanahan.

Tom Shanahan was looking for something to devote his attention to during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The pandemic took away the 1978 MSU graduate and former State News sports editor’s opportunities to write as a freelance journalist—his career for the last 12 years—so he decided to retire.

Shanahan was not done writing, however. His first task in the pandemic was to write a book about the historic 1965-66 Michigan State football teams and their role in integrating college football nationwide. 

“I finally decided I'm just going to retire and I'm going to devote my attention to expanding awareness of Michigan State's leading role in college football integration because it's basically an unknown story,” Shanahan said. “And not even the university understands the magnitude of what these Duffy Daugherty teams of the 1960s meant to Michigan State and all of college football.”

The book, titled “Raye of Light,” tells the story of how late-MSU Head Coach Duffy Daugherty integrated his teams completely during the 1960s while the best universities in the country, such as Alabama and Florida, did not allow Black players on the team. 

Michigan State won back-to-back national titles in 1965 and 1966 with a fully integrated roster, the first school to do so in college football history. Daugherty recruited Black players from segregated towns in the South, such as Hall of Famers Charles "Bubba" Smith and Jimmy Raye II. The success at MSU led other schools to follow suit in the late ‘60s and 1970s which reshaped the landscape of college football forever. 

“Michigan State is the school that led to college football integration,” Shanahan said. “Duffy Daugherty's teams in the 1960s were the first ones with fully integrated rosters. The 1965 national championship team had 23 Black players and 10 Black starters. And then the '66 national championship team had 20 Black players, 11 Black starters, two Black team captains by a player vote, College Football Hall of Famers George Webster and Clinton Jones, and the South's first Black quarterback to win a national title, Jimmy Raye.”

The goal, he said, is to raise awareness about MSU’s role in integrating college football on campus and have the university do more to recognize those team’s accomplishments eventually.

Shanahan said that the book was only the first step in his plan. He has made a website, tomshanahan.report, and reached out to Michigan State for help in amplifying the work on social media. 

Shanahan submitted his project to the Arts & Letters Projects initiative, which allows current students to get connected and work with alumni. His project was approved, allowing him to hire two interns, apparel and textile design junior Lauren Freeland and media and information alumnus Finn Lambouris, for the summer to assist with multimedia. 

Freeland, a member of the current women’s cross country and track and field teams, is tasked with creating graphics for the iconic players of the 1965 and ‘66 teams that resemble commitment graphics for current college players.

“So, basically, he wants them to look kind of like the newer committed photos that a lot of players post when they commit to MSU's football team to put the twist of using these older players and having their stats and photos on these graphic Twitter posts that tell a little bit about MSU's football history and these specific players that have had a big role in our football history that I don't think a ton of people know about,” Freeland said. 

Freeland began working with Shanahan following the Big Ten Championship meet on May 16. She said she has learned a lot about the history of Michigan State football and those groundbreaking teams in her first month of working.

“You know what's going on with the team now, you hear about how we're doing,” Freeland said. "I remember watching growing up. And so you know about recent history but I had no idea about any of this. And I think it is important for people to know, and I've learned a lot, and I have only been working with them, maybe a month or so.”

Lambouris is working with Shanahan to develop videos about players and key events of the 1965-66 seasons.

They work directly with Shanahan to create the content he wants to supplement the stories for his website and social media. Lambouris said Shanahan’s stories have taught him a lot about MSU’s history and made him question why the university does not promote these historic teams.

“The stories that he tells are really interesting,” Lambouris said. “They're not anything that I've heard before which is just interesting because it's the history of the university that I just graduated [from], the university that I went to, and I didn't know any of it. And I think it's surprising that Michigan State isn't more proud of that history and doesn't really teach students about it.”

Shanahan said that most people are not aware that MSU had the first fully-integrated football roster, like Freeland and Lambouris.

“My book ‘Raye of Light’, I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody read it, older people that were in school at the time or younger people, who say they had no idea of this history and they're proud to learn that their school was on the right side of history,” Shanahan said.

Freeland hopes that the university listens to Shanahan’s request to honor the 1965 and 1966 teams widely on campus.

“I definitely think it's something that our school should promote more,” Freeland said. “And especially our athletics program should make it known more to student-athletes, to probably just the football fans in general and the student population that this is something that was crazy for MSU to be one of the first, if not the first team to really push equality in this way. And I think it's something that we need to honor and be proud of.”

This article was changed to relfect that the internship program was through the Arts & Letters Projects initiative, not MSU Connect.

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