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BCI Hall Of Fame Class of 2018: Lou Montgomery

Boston College’s First Black Athlete

Lou Montgomery outran everyone en route to a 1941 National Championship, but could not overcome Jim Crow

In the first class of the BCInterruption Hall of Fame, I nominated and wrote about the merits of Matt Ryan. It seemed an obvious choice. He was the face of Boston College in NFL, was coming off a Super Bowl appearance, MVP, and Offensive Player of the Year, owned nearly every BC passing record, and was a fan favorite. Could any non-Doug-Flutie BC football player be more deserving of a place in a blog’s Hall of Fame?

In retrospect, I screwed up, because the answer to that question is very much yes.

It should have been Lou Montgomery.

Montgomery was a standout running back for the Eagles teams of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, the engine that made Frank Leahy’s 1940-41 team a national champion. He was a Brockton kid who had opportunities to play from Boston to Los Angeles and everywhere in between. He was also Boston College’s first black athlete in any sport, and one of the universities’ three black students at the time.

The quick and evasive halfback led the Eagles to a Cotton Bowl appearance in 1940 and a Sugar Bowl win 1941 (which capped an undefeated season and national championship). They would go on to make only one bowl appearance in the next 40 years. He averaged 9.7 yards per carry in 1939 and led BC to a 20-2 record as a varsity starter. Montgomery graduated from Boston College in 1941 and subsequently founded a semi-professional football team called Lou Montgomery’s Black Eagles in New England.

Evasive and quick, Montgomery earned the nicknames ‘Lightning Lou’ and ‘Hula Lou’

The Lou Montgomery story is not perfect. The ‘Gentlemen’s Agreements’ of the Jim Crow south, to which BC agreed, prevented Montgomery from playing in some of the biggest games against southern teams, such as Florida, Clemson, and Auburn. Leahy and Boston College, to their everlasting shame, benched their star running back in games south of the Mason-Dixon line. Montgomery was not allowed to eat with his team, or stay in all-white hotels. When the Eagles played Tulane, he was forced to stay down the road in the all-black Xavier University. And all this is despite the fact that Leahy told his running back, “If they had let us bring you along, we wouldn’t have lost.”

Montgomery passed away in 1993, was posthumously honored by BC in 1997 with induction into the university’s Hall of Fame. His jersey plaque was hung in Alumni Stadium in 2012. Yet he is an unknown to most fans and glossed over by some die-hards; often relegated to a paragraph in BC sports history at best and a footnote at worst. Perhaps it is only fitting that we too passed him over on the first go around as well.

Nonetheless, there is no person I can think of more deserving to be honored by BC fans than Montgomery, a 5’6” giant upon whose shoulders all Boston College athletes stand.

To learn more about this Boston College legend, check out the Lou Montgomery Story or the Lou Montgomery Legacy website.