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, USF wasn’t invited to play in any postseason bowl games.
Four years after baseball had integrated, organizers of games in the south were only willing to allow the team’s white players to participate. USF refused to consider the possibility. The jersey that Matson wore during that unforgettable season will now be going on the auction block starting April 8. It could fetch $15,000 or more.
“This is a significant item in so many respects,” said Dan Imler of SCP Auctions, which is offering the jersey in its upcoming spring auction. “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 green-and-white No. 33 nylon jersey is a size 42 and auction officials say it exhibits “incredible wear and usage with noticeable fading and yellowing over time to go along with frayed numbers, rips and slight tears”. It originates as a primary source acquisition from the 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. He also won silver and bronze track medals in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
Online bidding, open to registered bidders, will run for two-and-a-half weeks and conclude on Saturday, April 25 at SCPAuctions.com.