The 1968 football game between Baltimore's Morgan State and what was then Louisiana's Grambling College was a good one — a nail-biter that went down to the wire.
But the history and sociology of the event are what truly matter. And hats off to CBS Sports for committing the resources to telling that story with so much sensitivity and cultural context in a documentary, "1st & Goal in the Bronx: Grambling vs. Morgan State, 1968," premiering 7 p.m. Wednesday on the CBS Sports Network.
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.
Doug Porter, an assistant to the legendary Eddie Robinson on the Grambling coaching staff in 1968, shares some of his recollections of the game as well.
"I will never forget when we came out of that dugout and walked out on the field for pre-game warm-up," Porter says. "A wall of noise hit us. We had never heard that kind of a roar come from a crowd. And I looked up into the crowd, and the stands were just completely filled with people of color."
"It was amazing," says Raymond Chester, the great Morgan State tight end who would catch a big TD pass that day. "We were just like in awe."
"It was no longer a dream," Grambling cornerback Delles Howard says in the film. "It was a reality. And it was time to play the game."
If you don't know, I won't tell who won or how the gathering of all those fans worked out that afternoon in a long-ago and far-away America. I want as many people as possible to watch this film and have the same kind of uplifting experience I did.
However, watching is going to be problematic for some, I am sorry to say.
The CBS Sports Network is a cable channel, and not everyone gets it. In the Baltimore area, if you have Comcast digital, you can find it on Channel 732 and Channel 854 in HD. You can also get it on DirecTV at Channel 613 and on the Dish Network at Channel 152.
Maybe CBS Sports can work something out in comings days or weeks with Morgan State or WJZ-TV, the CBS owned station in Baltimore, to try and bring this film to more area viewers.