Canadian Football League

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

When Donovan McNabb ran onto the field at the start of Super Bowl XXXIX last night, Eagles fans everywhere erupted in an emotional outburst of hope and joy.
But at that moment, it was pride, not passion, that brought a lump to the throat of a feisty old man in Columbus, Ohio.
"I like that McNabb a lot," Ralph Goldston said. "I guess we've got something in common."
They do. Black skin. A silver-and-green uniform. And a connection in Eagles history.
Fifty-three years before McNabb led this franchise to its first Super Bowl appearance in nearly a quarter-century, Goldston, a running back from Youngstown State, and another Ohio native named Don Stevens became the first blacks to play for the Eagles.
"Nobody made a big deal out of it," said Goldston, 75, a retired father of four. "It was nothing exceptional. I think the only time it was ever mentioned was when a fellow from that black paper in Philadelphia [the Tribune] wrote something about me."
He takes no credit as a trailblazer. But if people want to link him and McNabb, he's not going to argue - especially since he was convinced the Eagles were going to win last night.
"Probably something like 21-0," he predicted earlier. "I like Philadelphia. They're an old-fashioned team. They're tougher than the Patriots, and they've got a better defense."
Goldston, who played for a decade in Canada after leaving the Eagles in 1955, said he never experienced any prejudice during his four seasons in Philadelphia.
"On and off the field, I never had a problem," he said.
Still, there were incidents that, from the perspective of a half-century later at least, must have been hurtful.
He was told when he arrived at the Eagles' training camp in Hershey that the town's famous amusement park was off-limits for blacks. Back in Philadelphia, the team directed him to a boardinghouse on 18th Street in North Philadelphia, a black neighborhood.
When the team went on the road, he and Stevens sometimes had to sleep in separate railcars or, for exhibition games in the South, stay in separate hotels. And when he broke a leg in an exhibition game in Dallas, Goldston was treated in a hospital emergency room separate from the one for whites.
"I guess that's just how things were back then," he said. "I don't think I gave it much thought, to be honest."
By Goldston's rookie year of 1952, five years had passed since Jackie Robinson had crossed baseball's color barrier and six years since the NFL was integrated. The once red-hot issue had cooled considerably.
Many NFL teams already had integrated. Marion Motley, Buddy Young, Bill Willis and Emlen Tunnell were stars, and another black 1952 rookie, the Rams' Dick "Night Train" Lane, would set an NFL record with 14 interceptions that same season.
Curiously, the same year the Eagles took Goldston in the 11th round and Stevens in the 30th, they made an African American running back from the Midwest, Drake's Johnny Bright, their first pick.
But Bright, whose jaw had been broken in a racially motivated attack during a game at Oklahoma A&M the previous fall, decided to play in Canada instead. Goldston, who was inducted into Youngstown State's Hall of Fame with Ron Jaworski in 1986, had no qualms about making the jump.
"I never had any idea I was even going to play pro ball until my coach at Youngstown State, Dwight Beede, told me I was going to get drafted," Goldston said. "Now how he knew that, I still can't say."
Not long afterward, Eagles general manager Vince McNally telephoned him and told him to report to training camp in Hershey. He gave Goldston the option of taking a train or flying.
"I took the plane," he said.
He and McNally soon agreed on a $4,500 contract. That same year, Goldston said, another black rookie, Ollie Matson, signed with the Chicago Cardinals for $50,000.
"That was a lot of money then," he said. "We couldn't figure out how he was possibly going to spend all that."
The Eagles team he joined, coached by Jim Trimble, had slipped from the level of its 1948 and 1949 championships. Goldston quickly became the backup to Steve Van Buren, the future Hall of Famer whose career was ended by a preseason injury.
"Van Buren broke his leg, in the first game I think, and I played a lot at tailback," Goldston said.
He would carry the ball 68 times for 210 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles, led by end Bud Grant and quarterback Bobby Thomason, went 7-5 and finished tied for second in the American Conference.
Goldston got drafted again, this time by the U.S. Army, before the 1953 season. When he returned, he played very little. Trimble switched him to defensive back, and after a 4-7-1 1955 season, he moved on to the Canadian Football League.
As a Brian Dawkins-like safety, making $7,500 a year, he played there for 10 seasons, nine of them with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, before retiring in 1965.
"I was what you'd probably call today a 'hatchet man,' " he said. "When you came out there where I was, I'd put you on your butt."
He coached at an Ontario high school before Joe Restic hired him as an assistant at Harvard. Goldston later coached at Colorado and became a scout with the Giants, Jets, Patriots and Seahawks of the NFL.
As he got ready to watch yesterday's Super Bowl, Goldston said he was tired of reading about the coaches.
"I was a coach and a player, and believe me, those guys don't know any more than anyone else," he said. "It comes down to the players on the field. That's why the Eagles are going to put a hurt on the Patriots."


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