- Houston Cougars in the 1960s: Death Threats, the Veer Offense, and the Game of the Century by Robert D. Jacobus
Houston Cougars in the 1960s: Death Threats, the Veer Offense, and the Game of the Century is an outstanding volume that vividly explores the integration of college athletics at a large urban university in the South in the 1960s. The “stars” of the book are football player Warren McVea and basketball players Don Chaney and Elvin Hayes. Of equal importance are [End Page 112] football coach Bill Yeoman and basketball coach Guy V. Lewis, both of whom recognized that, for the University of Houston (UH) to succeed on the gridiron and on the court, it needed to recruit the best athletes, regardless of color.
Jacobus alternates between football and basketball throughout the book. He first addresses the conditions for visiting African American college athletes who played in Houston during the 1950s and could not stay with their white teammates at the segregated Shamrock Hilton hotel. These athletes also faced verbal abuse from fans and dirty play on the field. Because of segregation, African American high school athletes in Texas either played for historically black colleges or left the state to play for a Big Ten or West Coast college.
Yeoman and Lewis changed that. Yeoman had been an assistant coach at Michigan State, one of the destinations for black athletes leaving Texas, and, to him, recruiting black players was normal. McVea, a running back from integrated Brackenridge High School in San Antonio, was a target of many major college programs. Yeoman obtained the assistance of Houston’s African American community leaders to persuade McVea to attend UH instead of a college further away from home. His talent led to Yeoman’s developing the Veer offense, one that became known for high yardage and lopsided scores. On the field, McVea was a success for the Cougars, despite facing death threats that affected his performance on the gridiron when they played in segregated states. However, McVea’s career was also clouded by the football team’s being placed on probation, partly because of improper benefits given to his mother.
Two Louisiana basketball standouts, Elvin Hayes from Rayville and Don Chaney from Baton Rouge, integrated the basketball team in 1964, the same year McVea integrated the football team. By the end of their careers, these two players had transformed college basketball, not just because of their roles as integration pioneers but also because of their participation in the premier college sports event of the 1960s, the Game of the Century between Houston and UCLA at the Astrodome.
Jacobus skillfully blends first-person stories and contemporary newspaper accounts in telling the history of the integration of college football and basketball at the University of Houston. Interviews with over two hundred players, coaches, Athletic Department staff, administrators, and community leaders, including the five main participants in the story, make this book highly readable and very engaging. Robert D. Jacobus has succeeded in writing a volume that is a crucial contribution to both sports history and civil rights history and leaves the reader wanting to know more about the topic.