Preserving History & Legacies
The Cal Irvin Legacy
North Carolina A&T University 1954-71
Five CIAA championships
First MEAC championship
Men’s Head Basketball Coach
18 yrs. 401-143
(Johnson C. Smith, NC A&T)
A Celebrated Era in Black College Basketball
Black College basketball begin to produce some of the top notch performers in the 1950s which continued into the 70’s. With the breakthrough in the National Basketball League and the newly formed American Basketball League, Black college players begin to show up in impressive numbers. Legends were created in the coaching ranks as more of their proteges began to make their mark in the professional leagues.
Cal Irvin played for the legendary Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines at Morgan State University and became a major competitor and friend to Gaines, John B. McLendon, Jr. and others who became Hall of Fame recipients. Here is Irvin’s story:
This Month in Black College History
JAN. 1, 1948 VULCAN BOWL…CENTRAL STATE, OHIO defeated GRAMBLING STATE, 27-21…JAN. 12, 1950 MARYLAND STATE lost to DARTMOUTH, 60-59 in the first meeting between an Ivy League school and Black College basketball teams…Jan. 16, 1956 First Interracial Basketball Games held in Nashville, TN…Teams participating: FISK, TENNESSEE STATE, NORTH DAKOTA STATE and ROCKHURST COLLEGE…Jan. 25, 1979 FIRST BLACK COLLEGE ALL-STAR FOOTBALL GAME held in New Orleans Superdome…
Calvin “Cal” Irvin was a native of Orange, NJ where he attended the public schools and excelled academically while playing three sports: baseball, football and basketball.
He was the first African American to serve as the commencement speaker at Orange High School.
Cal was a two-time all-state basketball player and received a scholarship from Morgan State University to play basketball and football.
He was captain of the basketball team and All-CIAA running back in football. After a leg injury which limited his performance, he transferred to the University of Illinois where he received a bachelor of science degree. He went on to earn a master of arts from Columbia University and did further study at University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
His first job was a recreation supervisor in the Department of Recreation in East Orange, NJ and later his first teaching and coaching job was at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC, where he served as an assistant football coach and the head basketball coach.
He led the men’s basketball team to their first CIAA championship. After four years at Smith, he coached the Atkins High School in Winston-Salem to the 1952 state championship.
In 1954, Cal joined the staff at North Carolina A&T State University as a teacher, the head basketball coach and assistant football coach. His main focus was developing a winning basketball team and was a mentor to many of them, stressing the importance of education, perseverance, respect and dignity.
He sent eighteen players to the professional basketball leagues, most notable is Alvin Attles, former coach of the Golden State Warriors. Read more…
Steve McNair: Airing It Out
From the moment he stepped onto the field at Alcorn State University, he was destined for great things. The youngest of four brothers growing up in Mount Olive, Mississippi, he showed his talents on the football field as well as starring in baseball, basketball and track.
In his junior year at Mount Olives High, McNair led the Pirates to the state football championship as a quarterback (when he earned the nickname “Air McNair”) and free safety. In 1990, he intercepted fifteen passes and was named to the All-State team and a Super Prep magazine All-American.
He finished high school with a career total to 30 interceptions (which tied the mark established by Terrell Buckley at Pascagoula High School).
He was good enough to be drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 35th round of the 1991 MLB amateur draft.
Since no major college team considered him good enough to play quarterback (he had an offer from the University of Florida to play running back), he followed his brother Fred to Alcorn State. Fred was quite an athlete himself, having won a spot as a wide receiver on the Braves squad.
In 1992, Steve made an immediate impact in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) when he threw for 3,541 yards and 29 touchdowns and 10 rushing scores.
The defining game for the freshman came against the powerful Grambling State team, led by legendary head coach Eddie Robinson, the first of a thrilling come from behind legacy he put together in a stellar college career.
In that game, McNair suffered a leg injury in the second half of the game. Alcorn State trailed late in the final quarter as McNair moved them deep into Grambling territory. Despite the injury, Steve called a quarterback sneak and muscled his way into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
With McNair continuing to put up All-American numbers, the Braves qualified for the I-AA playoffs in 1992 and faced off against then-Northeast Louisiana, falling 78–27.
McNair and the Braves put together an 8–3 record in 1993 as he threw for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was a unanimous First-Team All-SWAC selection for the third year in a row.
In his senior season, McNair tallied 6,281 combined yards (904 rushing) and (5,377 passing), along with 56 touchdowns, setting more than a dozen records and was named an All-American.
McNair set Football Championship Series career records with 14,496 passing yards, as well as the division record for total offensive yards with 16,823 career yards, which still stands today.
He won the Walter Payton Award as the top I-AA player and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting (behind Rashaan Salaam and Ki-Jana Carter).
McNair was the third overall pick of the Houston Oilers in the 1995 NFL Draft, and at the time, the highest drafted African-American quarterback in NFL history.
He would go on to have an impressive pro career with the Oilers, setting quarterback rushing record in 1997 with 674 yards, the third-highest total for a quarterback.
In 1999, he led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV and lost to the Los Angeles Rams in a thrilling last-minute effort.
Steve was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2000 and along with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, was named co-NFL MVPs following the 2003 season. McNair finished the season as the league leader in passer rating and became the youngest player in NFL history to pass for 20,000 yards and run for 3,000 yards.
He eventually finished his pro career with the Baltimore Ravens after a turbulent off the field episode with DUIs.
In July 2012, McNair was named the thirty-fifth greatest quarterback of the NFL’s post-merger era, according to Football Nation.
McNair met an untimely death on July 4, 2009.
From Obscurity to Legends: ESPN Honors HBCU Excellence
They epitomized “taking a little and making a lot” as Hall of Fame quarterback Doug Williams stated. Each coach and player have their own stories to tell. Some familiar names are iconic, while some of these great legacies have never been memorialized. We salute ESPN for shining the spotlight on HBCU football royalty.