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Go back and find out where you came from...

The film unfolds through the eyes of the filmmaker, Maya Washington, Gene’s youngest daughter, revealing the ways that scholarships impacted the lives of players of color, who were literally dropped into an integrated environment for the first time, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

Gene Washington's professional football career ended long before Maya was born. As a result, she never fully explored her once famous father's career or its impact on her life and American history. 

In an effort to better connect with her father and appreciate the sport that changed the trajectory of his life, she retraces Gene's footsteps from the segregated South to Michigan State, and later the NFL, throughout the course of a modern football season. Their father/daughter bond grows as Maya immerses herself in today's college football culture, imagining what life was like for Gene and his teammates, the first fully-integrated college football team in America.

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The racial demographics seen on the field today are due in large part to Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty’s innovative approach to recruiting African American men from the South to MSU in the 1960s, known as the “Underground Railroad” of college football. The success of MSU’s 1965 and 1966 back-to-back Big Ten and National Champion teams forces America to re-think prejudices that previously kept African American players from earning scholarships or starting positions. Civil Rights legislations and the overwhelming success of Duffy’s integrated team force the rest of college football, including programs like Alabama, Texas and Mississippi, to finally recognize and recruit black talent. 

The film delves into the triumphs and defeats of Daugherty's integrated team as they finish the season with the historic 1966 "Game of the Century," a 10-10 tie against Notre Dame. Teammates Gene Washington, Bubba Smith , Clinton Jones, and George Webster make history as first round picks in the 1967 draft. Gene Washington and Clinton Jones bring momentum to the Minnesota Vikings, playing in the 1969 Super Bowl alongside legendary teammates Joe Kapp, Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, John Henderson, Oscar Reed, Dave Osborn and Mick Tingelhoff. 

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Former players recall the highlights of the Minnesota Vikings' "Purple People Eater" years, as well as the racial discrimination black players faced in the league, speaking to the overall impact African American pioneers had on players' rights, including free agency and the right to negotiate salaries. Her appreciation and gratitude for her father grows deeper as together they reveal how what happened 50 years ago is still relevant today.

Copyright Through the Banks of the Red Cedar, 2017