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  • Budd Bailey

Buffalo Bills: August 23, 1962 – The last segregated game

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

(Editor’s Note: Reedy Press will be publishing “The Buffalo Bills: An Illustrated Timeline of a Storied Franchise” at the end of July. The book was written by Greg Tranter and Budd Bailey; click here for more information. The authors wrote some potential chapters to the book that were not used, and didn’t want to put them to waste. Therefore, they thought people would like to read about events from the team’s past on this site. It will give you a taste of what the text of the coffee-table book is like.)

Sometimes professional sports offer a diversion from the problems of everyday life; sometimes they offer a reminder. This turned out to be the latter.

The Bills lined up against the Houston Oilers in a preseason game in Mobile, Alabama, in 1962. It was a time of exploding awareness when it came to race relations in the United States. The American Football League and National Football League did not have any teams in what was considered the Deep South. But exhibition games sometimes were played there.

The Bills and Oilers both had African American players on the roster for the contest, but Black fans were only allowed to sit in the end zones in Ladd Stadium. Buffalo earned the win, picking up a 21-14 victory before 17,257. Warren Rabb threw two touchdown passes to Glenn Bass.

However, attitudes had changed a year later. The Oakland Raiders were scheduled to play the New York Jets in that same location. Six African Americans on the Raiders’ team refused to take part in a game in a segregated stadium. Fred Williamson, speaking for the group, said, “The situation down there is pretty tight now and we do not intend to play football in an area where a Negro can’t eat or sleep in a place of his own choosing.”

It caused an uproar; it was another nationally noticed disgrace for Mobile and Alabama in a year full of them. (Earlier, Governor George Wallace had symbolically stood at a door at the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop integration efforts there.) Raiders general manager/head coach Al Davis said he could make one decision under the circumstances – not play the contest in Mobile. The game was moved to Oakland. Thus the Bills-Oilers contest was the last segregated game involving pro football teams.

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