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Iowa History Daily: October 20 - Johnny Bright's Broken Jaw

Iowa History Daily: On October 20, 1951, a racially motivated incident sidelined Drake football star Johnny Bright during a game against Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) in Stillwater. Arguably the greatest Drake athlete of all-time, the resultant injury knocked Bright out of contention for the Heisman Trophy.

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Bright excelled athletically while a three sport athlete in high school. Arriving in Des Moines at Drake, Bright’s unique athletic gifts set him apart in football, track, and basketball. As a sophomore in 1949, Bright rushed for 975 yards while passing for an additional 975 yards to lead the nation in total offense while the Bulldogs finished the season 6-2-1.

During his junior year, Bright built on his previous success and accumulated 1,232 in the air and 1,168 yards on the ground to set the NCAA record for total offense. A pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate as a senior, Bright continued to excel while putting up 1,349 yards of total offense through Drake’s first five games. When Bright arrived in Stillwater to face Oklahoma A&M, he represented the first significant African-American athlete to play Lewis Field.

During the first seven minutes of the game, late hits and other nefarious play knocked Bright unconscious three times while shattering his jaw. Despite Wilbanks Smith smashing his jaw, Bright got up and delivered a 61-yard touchdown pass the following play. Unable to eventually continue, Bright (and Drake’s) magical season ended up sidelined. Des Moines Register cameraman Don Ultang and John Robinson documented the unsportsmanlike actions of Oklahoma State, ultimately resulting in Drake leaving the Missouri Valley Conference briefly and the reporters winning the Pulitzer Prize. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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