On this day in 1956, Georgia Tech defeated Pittsburgh 7-0 in the Sugar Bowl played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans after segregationists had tried to keep Pitt fullback/linebacker Bobby Grier from playing because he was black.
The Sugar Bowl had been racially segregated since its first inception in 1935, and prior to 1956 no black players had ever taken the field in the storied bowl game.
GRIER BREAKS SUGAR BOWL COLOR BARRIER
The 1956 Sugar Bowl was played against a backdrop of rising consciousness around civil rights issues in the south, in part stoked by Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the murder of Emmett Till (1955).
Georgia governor Marvin Griffin publicly opposed integration and pressured Georgia Tech president Blake R Van Leer to withdraw Georgia Tech from the game, but a student riot against the governor’s position compelled the Georgia state government to assure the protestors the game would be played.
The game itself was a defensive contest. Pittsburgh — despite dominating the game in terms of yardage (311–142) — lost 7-0 owing to 2 lost fumbles, 72 penalty yards and a highly-suspect penalty called on Grier. After Georgia Tech recovered a Pitt fumble on the Panthers 32-yard line, Grier was flagged on a hotly-disputed 31-yard pass interference penalty, giving the Yellow Jackets a first and goal from the one-yard line. On the next play, quarterback Wade Mitchell took the ball into the end zone to give his team the decisive 7-0 lead.