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NFL could have been the sport celebratin
By nearly all accounts, Jackie Robinson became a towering, immortal figure in American history by playing, maybe, his second-best sport.In the early 1940s, Robinson was far more accomplished in football than baseball  so much that he could have been the same pioneer in that sport in the pros that he was in baseball, had the NFL considered it. Which, the NFL notably, did not.MORE: Jackie, baseball star |Cla sic Robinson photos | First spring trainingWhen Robinson debuted in major league baseball 69 years ago Friday  April 15, 1947  he was known, of course, for having re-integrated profe sional ball the year before with the Dodgers farm team in Montreal. But when he first signed with Branch Rickey and the Dodgers organization in late 1945, the public remembered him best as the football star at UCLA who shared a backfield with superstar African-American teammates, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, in 1939.Washington and Strode eventually broke the NFLs self-imposed color line in 1946 with the L.A. Rams, signing while Robinson was still playing in the minors.Robinson, it could be argued, was better  Telvin Smith Jersey than both of them, at least as good as Washington.Washington very nearly got a chance at the NFL in 1940. In a story detailed in 2014s documentary Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football, after Arrelious Benn Jersey  starring in a then-annual all-star game between college and NFL players in Chicago, the Bears George Halas told him he would try to sign him. However, Washingtons notoriously racist owner, George Preston Marshall, maintained that the leagues 1933 agreement not to sign black players could not be violated.Despite not receiving a single vote for the 1939 Heisman Trophy (Iowas Nile Kinnick won; a black player did not win until 1961), and being left off of the All-America first team, Washington was a genuine star on a national level, the NCAA leader in total yardage for an undefeated team.Robinson, though, was nearly as recognizable  partly because UCLA had more black players than any other major program at the time, but because he was as explosive as baseball fans later discovered him to be. He led the nation in punt return average each of his last two seasons there. Evidence of his all-around skill surfaced three years ago in this video of the 1939 USC-UCLA game                            In Robinsons final year of 1940, as Washingtons replacement as the featured back, he led the Bruins in rushing, pa sing, scoring and total offense. Without Washington, UCLA plunged from 6-0-4 to 1-9.Yet Robinson still  Brandon Linder Jersey shined enough that before his final career game against rival USC, the Los Angles Times called him the Coasts most feared back and one of the outstanding football figures in the nation. His long, breakaway runs, his pa s catching and his hidden-ball tricks as a decoy, combined with the all-around excellence of great Kenny Washington, boomed the Uclans to an unbeaten (1939) season.SPECTOR: Good move, but more still must be doneWashington spent 1940 playing semi-pro football in the Pacific Coast Football League  and was joined there by Robinson late in 1941, on a rival team. Much like in pre-expansion baseball at the time, the league was profe sional-quality  but unlike their baseball counterparts, it had integrated teams.In his debut there, according to the black weekly newspaper the Los Angeles Sentinel, Robinson ran 41 yards for a touchdown. The ex-UCLA teammates faced each other in the season finale, according to thesportjournalorg, with Washingtons Hollywood Bears beating Robinsons L.A. Bulldogs.Earlier that season, Robinson played for an integrated team in Honolulu  whose season ended on Dec. 3, four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Robinson was on his way back to California by then.UCLA: 10 greatest football playersRobinson was drafted into the Army soon after, and wasnt able to play any sport again until his discharge in 1944. But again, the one he picked up was football, in the Pacific Coast League. A severe ankle injury that season ended his football career  and, since he still needed work, thats when he turned to baseball and the Negro Leagues, his springboard to signing with the Dodgers.Considering that he had played all those years in college and the pros with integrated teams  and had done  Audie Cole Jersey as well as the player who drew legitimate NFL interest  had the NFL not barred black players at the time, Robinson clearly would have gotten a serious look.

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