The way Ian Bain sees it, the fortunes of the Howard University
soccer team changed on a West Virginia highway one night in
October 1973, when everything, it seemed, had broken down. Not
just the team bus, which four hours earlier had sputtered to the
roadside. And not just the Howard defense, which had scored on
its own goal that day to seal what was only the Bison's third
defeat in four years.
The sharpest blow of all, in fact, had come the previous
January, when the NCAA had stripped Howard of its 1971 national
soccer championship and placed the program on probation for the
'73 season for having used four ineligible players. The title
had been the first Division I championship in any sport ever won
by a predominantly black college, and Bain had been a freshman
midfielder on the victorious team. The day after the
announcement, he clipped a newspaper article about it, as he had
clipped other articles about the team, but this time he used
pinking shears. The jagged edges reflected his mood. "We felt we
had been wronged," he says.
Other reactions at Howard were less subtle. "We feel that it is
simply because we are a black institution that the NCAA was
requested to investigate," university president Dr. James E.
Cheek said in an official statement at the time.
"It's pretty evident that a black school is not supposed to
win," Howard coach Lincoln Phillips said after the 1972
semifinal, a 2-1 loss to St. Louis University in which Howard
held out seven players accused by the NCAA of eligibility
violations. (The NCAA later shortened the list to four.) The
NCAA, Phillips went on, was "guilty of practicing racism."
The starting 11 on Howard's 1971 soccer team all hailed from
Caribbean and African countries. The NCAA charged that two of
the players had previously exhausted their eligibility by
playing amateur soccer in Trinidad, and two others had not taken
NCAA-mandated entrance exams to predict a 1.6 grade point
average. Howard argued that the four players had GPAs over 3.0
and that the violated rules were vague and discriminated against
foreigners. The school eventually challenged the NCAA in court
and won a partial ruling that an NCAA regulation regarding
foreign students' eligibility was discriminatory, but failed to
have the national title restored.
The NCAA maintained throughout that it was only enforcing its
rules, and it would later strip San Francisco of a national
title in 1978 for using an ineligible foreign player who was
white. David Berst, head of enforcement for the NCAA, denies
racism played any part in the decision against Howard.
But feelings were running high that night on the broken-down
bus. "We had no postseason to go to in '73, because of the
probation, so people started talking about winning the
championship in '74," says Bain, a native of Trinidad who was
the Bison captain both of those seasons. He looked at his
teammates and issued a declaration: "There will be no more
losses like this next year."
And there weren't. In 1974 Howard achieved perfection. The
Bison, playing under the slogan, Truth crushed to earth shall
rise again, completed a 19-0 season with a 2-1, quadruple-
overtime defeat of St. Louis in the national championship game.
After three years of turmoil Howard had accomplished its famous
first--for the second time.
In the living room of his northern Virginia home, Bain reaches
for a small Lucite block bearing the inscription 1971 NCAA
SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP. "I remember when the NCAA sent a letter
demanding that we return all the prizes," he says. "We gave them
the team plaque. But this one, they'll have to come to my house
and get it."
Thirty miles to the north, in Columbia, Md., Phillips displays
an identical block of Lucite in his trophy case. Now 55 and a
staff coach for the U.S. Soccer Federation, Phillips speaks
slowly, with a melodic Trinidadian lilt. Time has softened his
stance on the NCAA. "I wouldn't say now that they were racist,"
he states. His understanding of the NCAA has been deepened by 12
years of working with its YES program, which puts on youth
sports clinics in cities that are hosting national championship
tournaments. "But they were insensitive. Very insensitive."
Soccer at Howard has always been tied to race and
multinationalism. A coach named Ted Chambers organized a soccer
club at the university in 1947, but local, predominantly white
colleges refused to put Howard on their schedules. With no
opponents, Howard played for the next three years against
embassy teams in Washington.
From the start, the university soccer squad was composed mostly
of students from outside the U.S., but the student body at large
was also international. Out of 10,152 students in 1971, there
were 1,700 foreign students from 72 nations. The foreigners who
came to Howard entered the cultural maelstrom of the era, and
the soccer players, as much as anyone, got a crash course in
U.S. race relations.
"In Trinidad we had [social] divisions, but they were based more
on class than race," says Keith Tulloch, a midfielder on the '74
team. "When I came here, it was the first time someone had ever
called me nigger, the first time a player had ever spat in my
During road games the insults were legion. "They'd say, 'Go
back, banana boat. Go back, monkey. Go back to the jungle,'"
Phillips recalls. "I had to tell my players that anytime that is
done, it's fine to get angry, but you have to know how to get
angry: Put the balls in the back of the net."
Here Phillips smiles. "They did that with amazing regularity,
At the start of the '74 season, Phillips asked Dom Basil
Matthews, a professor at the university, to speak to the team
one day before practice. The players listened as Matthews
described their role in what he called a triangle of blackness.
"He told them if you look back at the slave trade, you see
people taken away from Africa to the West Indies and the United
States," Phillips says. "The farther they came away, the more
they were stripped out of their culture. The only thing missing
was that line back to Africa, an acceptance of one's self.
That's where Howard University is positioned--within the middle
of that triangle, bringing the cultures together. And soccer was
a big part of that."
When Matthews finished, the team was silent. "That was the first
time that all of us as a group related to the idea of race in
the environment we were now living in," says Bain. "But it was
beyond race. It was like [Nelson] Mandela speaking, someone who
is in a situation of race but seems above the race issue.
Matthews wanted the season to be not so much a blow against
white America or the NCAA but to bring pride to all of the
different African groups, so that people all over the black
world would notice our team."
Inasmuch as Howard was a microcosm of that world, the
professor's wish was granted. "It just grew and grew," says
Winston Yallery-Arthur, a former Howard player and volunteer
assistant coach. "People who had never been to a soccer game
started coming to watch the team play." As word spread of the
team's success, professors began canceling their two o'clock
classes on game days. The school band learned to play a samba
beat and kept it going for the duration of matches.
"We weren't just playing soccer," says Phillips. "We were
representing the game, our school and blackness. We felt black
people needed to tell themselves they could succeed just like
anybody else. So we had to be good."
Howard rolled through the regular season, outscoring its
opponents 63-6. In the NCAA tournament, the Bison dispatched
George Washington and Clemson before edging past Philadelphia
Textile, 5-3, to reach the Final Four.
On a rainy December weekend at St. Louis's Busch Stadium, Howard
slipped by Hartwick 2-1 to set up a rematch of the 1971 title
game against the home team, all-white, all-American St. Louis
St. Louis dominated the first half, taking a 1-0 lead, while
Howard equalized in the second. As the match went into overtime,
the Bison took control. One Howard shot glanced off the
Billikens' crossbar; another popped off the left post.
Finally, in the fourth overtime, Kenneth Ilodigwe, a Nigerian,
took a crossing pass from Richard Davy, a Jamaican, and poked
the ball into the goal for the 2-1 victory.
Twenty-two years later, Bain sits in his basement combing
through two scrapbooks of articles and photographs. These days
he teaches high school Spanish, and sometimes his students show
him pictures from his playing career that they have found in the
"Do you know what my fondest memory is?" he says. "Seeing
Lincoln in the locker room after the game." In Busch Stadium
that night Phillips was crying tears of joy.
"They had taken something away that was very special," Phillips
says. "And when we got it back, the burden we had been carrying
was gone. There was relief."
Says Bain, "Had we lost that tournament, it would have affected
the rest of our lives. We had to put something right that we
felt was wrong."