No, the real ear-turner of the many speakers to take the podium on the field and share memories of the old building was Norm Neverson, a kid from Roosevelt High who played for George Washington University in the mid-1960s. (Yes, GW used to have a football team.)
At the presser, all the others’ recollections were light and feel-goody of the sort one would expect at a birthday party: Charles Mann, for example, remembered Darrin Nelson of the Minnesota Vikings botching a catch in the 1987 NFC Championship game to send the Redskins to the Super Bowl, and Kevin Payne spoke of watching the D.C. United squad he’d assembled winning one of its four MLS Cups on its home field.
But Neverson’s favorite memory of being inside the building was a bit less feel-goody. OK OK. Really, really, incredibly, unbelievably less feel-goody.
Neverson’s claim to fame with RFK is that he integrated the football team at GW, which played its home games at then-D.C. Stadium.
This is from a June, 1963 Associated Press story on the lack of integration in college athletics, headlined “Southern Recruiting of Negro Stars Slow” :
“In the Southern Conference, George Washington University has taken the lead by recruiting its first Negro, Norm Neverson, football end from a Washington, D.C., high school, who is entering as a freshman in September.”
Neverson spoke last at the press conference, and by the end of his speech the placing made real good sense. He told the assembled media and VIPs that his favorite memory of the building came from a GW/Vanderbilt game in 1965. That’s when an all-white visiting squad from Nashville, the way Neverson remembers things, contemplated not playing the game rather than suit up against an integrated squad.
And though the game did go on, Neverson said, some players on Vandy’s all-white squad didn’t cotton to sharing the field with non-whites. He said as he lined up at defensive end, a running back yelled racial slurs at him nearly every play.
Neverson got a chance for payback as he lined up on a GW kickoff play late in the game, and noticed that his nemesis was on the field with the receiving team.
He said as he ran down the field, Neverson headed straight for the race baiter, and “took off” from the 20-yard-line and “speared him in the back at the 10.”
“And as the ambulance was taking him away,” Neverson concluded, “I yelled, ‘Hello, nigger!'”
Happy Birthday, RFK!