Year of the Quarterback: The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story

They called Condredge Holloway the “Artful Dodger.” A quarterback who could run and scramble as well as pass, he was something new in college football in 1971. As recalled by former Volunteers wide receiver Stanley Morgan in The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story, “His style of play was more like Michael Vick today; he was way before his time.”

As brilliant as he was on the field, Holloway’s career was as much a function of “his time” as his skills. Airing this week on ESPN, narrated and produced by Kenny Chesney, and part of ESPN’s Year of the Quarterback programming, the film reports that Holloway’s decision to go to Tennessee had to do with his mother’s desire that he “get an education” (as opposed to sign a contract as a shortstop with the Montreal Expos at age 17), and the advice of Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant. As Holloway recalls here, Bryant told him “he wanted me to come, but Alabama wasn’t ready for a black quarterback.”

Indeed, at Tennessee from 1971 to 1974, Holloway was the first starting black quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. The Color Orange treats his remarkable story with a mixture of respect and naïvete. On the one hand, Holloway performed brilliantly, leading his team to three bowl game appearances and providing fans all manner of thrills, due to his unusual athleticism: the coaches had to come up with new plays to accommodate his capacity to improvise, to elude and also run through defenders. As Tennessee line coach Ray Trail puts it, “He was a whole new dimension.”

To underline, the film includes a number of extraordinary plays in montages accompanied by songs including the Temptations’ “Get Ready” and Edwin Starr’s “War.” The music makes the case the narration doesn’t quite, that Holloway appealed to a particular fan base, defined at least in part by race and generation.

Chesney offers another angle on Holloway’s historical significance, remembering his own memories, wearing Holloway’s Number 7 jersey when he was a boy. As Chesney now walks with his idol on the Vols’ field, the film cuts to a clip of George Wallace’s infamous 1963 Inaugural Address (“Segregation now, segregation forever…”). Cut back to Chesney: “At the time I don’t think that you realized that,” he says, “You might have realized, being the athlete you are and the way you handled it. There were imaginary lines in our country. Your life was surrounded by lines on the football field but the imaginary lines were the toughest.”

It’s an odd moment, to be sure, as this bit of Black History is framed by the white fan’s perspective. But Holloway handles it with grace and patience, and doesn’t point out to the very sincere Chesney that such lines were hardly “imaginary” for black communities during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Other interviewees provide other insights into the racism that shaped Holloway’s experience at Tennessee. Vols wide receiver Larry Seivers remembers that Holloway was harassed on the road and in his own home: “Back then,” he says, “The access to players was easy: anybody could call anybody on the phone and anybody could do anything and Condredge had to put up with a lot of that.” Coach Trail, who was key in recruiting Holloway, notes as well that racist harrying took its toll: “Sometimes I thought maybe I made a mistake by doing this and putting him in this position.”

Even as such overt racism became visible to Holloway’s white colleagues and associates, the film indicates that black players had their own strategies for survival. Haskel Stanback, a running back at Tennessee (and then with the Atlanta Falcons for seven seasons), remembers,

All the years I’ve known him, we really never sat down and talked about, you know, the racial issues. It wasn’t something that was verbalized, because we really didn’t want that unwanted type of conversation, where people would try to figure out really what was going on, because they didn’t really understand.

Stanback’s phrasing suggests that to this day, he is careful in naming who might or might not “understand,” a carefulness that makes sense in a film that doesn’t explore details of the black players’ experience. Neither does The Color Orange examine the social and institutional structures that failed the black players. Instead, it focuses on Holloway’s success at Tennessee, it extols his estimable individual efforts and his dedication to his team, for instance, a celebrated moment when he returned to the field to play after a trip to the hospital determined his shoulder wasn’t broken, only separated.

Such scenes are rousing certainly, and they help to highlight the more pronounced discrimination of the NFL. In 1975, Holloway was drafted in the 12th round by New England, as a defensive back. He eventually went to the Toronto Argonauts, whom he led — as a quarterback — to two Grey Cup championships. As Toronto head coach Bob O’Billovich notes, “The NFL was well known for not wanting to use black quarterbacks. I think there was a stigma attached, that they were more athletic and they ran too much and that kind of thing.”

As much as “that kind of thing” threatened the NFL’s concept of a quarterback back then, that concept has since changed. Holloway was “way ahead of his time,” as the film contends. And so was his mother, Dorothy Holloway, the first black employee of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, in 1962. As the film reveals this bit of history, you’re reminded that Condredge’s own story has a wider context.

RATING 7 / 10
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