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50 years later: Condredge Holloway’s history making moment and how he helped change college football in the Southeast forever

As Tennessee returns to the state of Georgia this weekend, we remember Condredge Holloway, the first black quarterback in the SEC

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

As we close in on the first weekend in November, this Saturday promises to be one of the most important games in Tennessee football’s history as the Vols head to Athens to take on Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs. As the team returns to the state of Georgia, however, it was 50 years ago that something immeasurably more important happened, something that should always be honored and remembered as it changed the SEC forever.

On January 25, 1954, Condredge Holloway was born to parents Condredge Sr. and Dorothy Holloway, in Huntsville, Alabama. Holloway’s mother, Dorothy, was the first black employee at NASA, a trail blazer herself.

As a child, Holloway was a student at a non-segregated catholic school, but as he moved to high school, it became a different story. Holloway attended Lee High School which was segregated and named after Lee Highway which was named after Robert E. Lee. The school’s name was symbolic not just of how the students at the high school were treated, but how the state of Alabama and much of the deep South still viewed African Americans.

“Kids that I had gone to school with for seven years, all of a sudden take sides,” Holloway said in ESPN’s 2011 documentary, The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story. “What I did was totally pour myself into sports. If they wanted to be around me, they needed to come out and get into sports and compete because that was my equalizer.”

To say that Condredge Holloway was a great athlete would be a major understatement. Holloway was a three sport athlete, and he excelled nationally at all of them. Of course there was football, but Holloway was an ABCA All-American shortstop in high school, and he also received a recruiting letter from UCLA’s legendary coach, John Wooden, a day Holloway recalls as one of the more exciting days of his life.

Holloway was drafted fourth overall by the Montreal Expos in 1971, but one big factor halted him from pursuing that: his mother. Condredge’s mother preferred he went to college, so that’s what he did.

Holloway’s talent in all sports reached far and wide, but when it came to football it even reached George Wallace. Wallace was a despicable man and governor of Alabama while Holloway was in high school who was steadfast in his racist beliefs that black people were inferior, citing Jim Crow laws as his backing for segregation. Wallace swore up and down that a black student would never enter the University of Alabama, but now he was on the phone with Holloway begging him to play football for the school.

Bear Bryant persistently recruited Holloway, but Alabama, both the state and university, but not as a quarterback. Bryant was up front with Holloway throughout the process that it just wasn’t a position he could play. While Holloway said he appreciated Bryant’s honesty with him, he was poised to play quarterback and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“I never considered anything about Condredge playing quarterback other than was he good enough to play quarterback.” These were the words of Tennessee’s coach, Bill Battle, in the documentary, and it was a jarring juxtaposition compared to Alabama who wouldn’t even consider a black man being the face of their offense.

From the beginning, Holloway gelled with Battle, and in 1971, he enrolled at Tennessee, and by 1972, Holloway became the starter, and his presence on the field created a style of play never before seen in the SEC.

On September 9, 1972, Condredge Holloway made his Tennessee debut at quarterback in Atlanta, Georgia, against Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech was also led by a black quarterback, Eddie McAshan, who was the second black quarterback ever in the deep South. In a game that was televised nationally on ABC, Holloway made history.

In a 34-3 victory for the Vols, Condredge Holloway became the first black quarterback in the history of the SEC to start a game, and win a game, too. Holloway led the Vols to a 9-and-2 record as a sophomore, won the first ever night game at Neyland Stadium against Penn State, and led the Vols to a victory over LSU in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.

Holloway’s junior campaign was statistically his best. He dashed and dazzled his way to 1582 total yards of offense and 14 touchdowns, 10 through the air, and earned himself First-Team All-SEC and Second-Team All-America honors, and thus the legend of “The Artful Dodger” was born.

Condredge’s senior year began with loads of promise. Holloway was named a preseason All-American as Tennessee was set to host UCLA in their opening game. During the game, Holloway collided with a Bruins linebacker and landed on his right shoulder, his throwing shoulder, injuring it. It was a devastating blow for both Condredge and the Vols, and during the game, he went to the hospital for x-rays. With Holloway, Tennessee’s offense hummed, but without him, they stagnated and found themselves tied 10-10 late in the third quarter.

What happened next played out like a movie. All of a sudden, Neyland Stadium erupts into loud cheers as their quarterback comes running back onto the field while the legendary voice of Keith Jackson narrates it all as it happens. Holloway’s first snap is a quick screen out wide, almost just to show “hey, I can throw the ball” though it was evident he was very banged up.

Late in the game, trailing 17-10, Holloway rolled out to the right and ran with the ball. He found a hole and took off, and as he approached the goal line, a UCLA defender was set to tackle him. Holloway took flight at about the three yard line, and almost in slow motion, he soared into the end zone while the Bruins defender took out his knees. Tennessee was one point away from a tie, two from a win. However, this was the end of the feel-good portion of this story.

“He landed in the end zone for a touchdown, so I’m going for two, we’re gonna try to get the game won,” said coach Battle, “...and Condredge gets up and I see this awful look on his face, and he’s holding his knee.” Tennessee would opt to kick the extra point, and the game would end in a tie. The score flashes on the screen with Holloway limping off the field.

Now Holloway is battling both a shoulder and knee injury as his promising season was dashed almost immediately. Holloway struggled as Tennessee lost three of their next five games, and with the struggles came an onslaught of racist messages and letters.

A situation occurred where someone on a bus threw something at Holloway’s mother, further showing that as a black athlete, they were only viewed as people when they were athletes and played well. One sign of struggle and out came the droves of anonymous racism and bigotry, wiping away all that Holloway had accomplished up to this point. These people did not view Holloway as a human being at any point; they only cared about the success he brought to Tennessee, and when that went away, even just for a few weeks, he was treated horribly. They didn’t care how good he had been or what injuries he was dealing with weekly, at the end of the day he was black, and when he struggled, that’s all they saw.

Through all of this, Holloway continued doing what he loved, and that was playing football. Amidst all the hate, Holloway led Tennessee to an incredible second half of the season, going 5-0-1 over the final six games of his career as a Vol, ending in a 7-3 Gator Bowl victory over Maryland. Holloway was incredible on the field, but perhaps his greatest trait was his resiliency, as both on and off the field, he battled every single day to prove to everyone that he belonged.

Despite a very successful collegiate career that saw Holloway finish as Tennessee’s all-time total offense leader at the time, he was not met with much attention at the NFL level. In fact, Holloway wasn’t drafted until the twelfth round by the Patriots, and they were asking him to play defensive back. It was a slap in the face to what Holloway had accomplished, but while it was disheartening, it came to no shock to Holloway.

“For four years at the University of Tennessee, I performed as a quarterback and played against some of the top people in the United States that got drafted and were given a chance to play quarterback, and I was drafted as a defensive back,” said Holloway in an interview in 1978 that aired in the documentary. “I really don’t like to harp on it, but I think definitely it [being a black quarterback] did. I went through being the first black quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, and when I came out of college, they didn’t have very many black quarterbacks period, especially one who’s 5-10.”

Though his NFL dreams were gone, that didn’t stop Holloway. The CFL’s Montreal Alouettes drafted Holloway and then traded him to the Ottawa Rough Riders who were set to let him play quarterback, and that’s all he wanted. Holloway thrived in Canada, winning two Grey Cups, one with Ottawa and one with Toronto, their first in 31 years. He won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award in 1982, and in 1999, he was inducted into the CFL’s Football Hall of Fame.

25 years after Holloway made history, another Tennessee legend followed in his footsteps and enrolled in Knoxville, and that man was Tee Martin. Martin has long expressed his gratitude for the path Holloway blazed.

“What he did as a trail blazer gave me the opportunities that I’ve had in my life.”

Here we are, 50 years after Holloway’s groundbreaking feat, and Tennessee fans get to watch another black quarterback, Hendon Hooker, lead the number one ranked Volunteers into the state of Georgia. Hooker honored The Artful Dodger earlier in the season, wearing a Holloway t-shirt following the Vols win over LSU.

Condredge Holloway’s impact on Southeast collegiate football is felt to this day. Holloway was decades ahead of his time both as a mobile quarterback and as a black quarterback. Though he never got his shot in the NFL, it was his impact in the Southeastern Conference that created a path that so many aspiring black athletes followed.

In 2010, Cam Newton became the first black quarterback of an SEC school to win the Heisman Trophy, and in 2022, eight schools in the SEC have a black starting quarterback. Hendon Hooker, Bryce Young, KJ Jefferson, Jayden Daniels, Anthony Richardson, Spencer Rattler, Mike Wright, and Robbie Ashford all carry the flag for what Condredge Holloway, along with Eddie McAshan, Melvin Barkum at Mississippi State, who debuted just mere hours after Holloway, and Freddie Summers, the first black quarterback of any school in the deep South at Wake Forest, so bravely started in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s, and their legacies will live on forever.

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