The game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 28, 1968, was the first time two historically black colleges played in New York City. That certainly seems historic enough in its own right to warrant a documentary. In 1971 the game became known as the annual Urban League Classic and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
But 1968 was such a watershed year of cultural revolution, civil rights struggle and urban riots that the game took on an even larger historical importance in terms of race. It was played just five months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most uncertain and troubled times in this nation's history.
The triumph of the film is that it not only takes the time to set its story-telling table with the 1968 societal context, it dares to go back even further yet and give viewers some sense of the history of varsity football at historically black schools.
Producers Alexis Arguello and Brian Davis deftly lay out the lack of opportunity for football players from historically black colleges and universities before Paul (Tank) Younger, of Grambling, broke that barrier by making the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent in 1949. And the producers go on from there to explore an unofficial quota system in the 1960s that allowed just a few slots for black athletes in the NFL.
Less confident filmmakers might have rushed into showing footage of the game itself right away to let the on-field drama at Yankee Stadium drive the film. And the game is enough of a struggle that it surely would have kept viewers engaged.
But the contest takes on so much more stature once you see it placed within the context of the struggle for civil rights and equal opportunity in American sports, history and life.
And here's the real treat: That context doesn't come from academic talking heads moving their lips to make themselves seem important. It comes from players, coaches and others who were involved in the historical moment.
George Nock, a running back from Morgan State from 1964 to '68, still communicates a sense of pride and awe when he says in the film, "I had never seen that many black people go into a stadium in my life."
And, yes, the filmmaker has one of the vice presidents in charge of running Yankee Stadium for CBS, which then owned the team, talking candidly about the fears his corporation and, indeed, the powers that be in New York City and Washington had about a gathering of that size of African-Americans in one place. Remember, the game was played in the wake of Dr. King's assassination and riots in many large cities that year.