Through the Banks of the Red Cedar, a play on the Michigan State University fight song, follows the filmmaker Maya Washington’s father, wide-receiver Gene Washington (College Football Hall of Fame, Big Ten Ford-Kinnick Leadership Award, Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame, 50 Greatest Vikings Honoree) and the contributions of highly decorated teammates Bubba Smith (Defensive Lineman), George Webster (Rover Back) and Clinton Jones (Running Back) and teammates who laid a foundation as MSU's 1965 and 1966 National Championship teams with four later representing MSU as first round picks in the 1967 NFL Draft.
In an effort to better understand the impact her father, his teammates, and coaches had on the integration of Big Ten Football in the 1960s, Maya Washington follows the MSU football program on its path to becoming the 2013 Big Ten Champions and winners of the 2014 Rose Bowl, 50 years after her father enrolled at MSU.
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.
Their college careers end in the infamous "Game of the Century" 10-10 tie against Notre Dame in 1966. As the men pursue significant careers in the NFL (both Washington and Jones are drafted by the Minnesota Vikings), their parallel lives begin to diverge as they contend with fame, contract negotiations, legal problems, family life, and the aftermath of career ending injuries. After football Bubba becomes a Hollywood actor (Police Academy), Gene pursues a career in business, Clinton starts a chiropractic firm, and George is plagued with football related health problems. 50 years later, their NFL and MSU legacies live on.
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, and its impact on her own life and players of the present generation, 50 years later.
Gene Washington, Bubba Smith, and George Webster’s journeys from segregated towns in the South to first round draft picks alongside Ohio native Clinton Jones to the NFL in 1967, mirror the change in the literal face of college and professional football. The four and their Spartan teammates made extraordinary contributions to Michigan State and Big Ten football history during the winning era. In the NFL, Clinton Jones and Gene Washington along with legendary Vikings teammates Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Oscar Reed, Joe Kapp and John Henderson, dominate as one of the most successful teams in Minnesota Vikings history while Bubba Smith and George Webster have extraordinary careers on separate teams.
In telling their story, Maya considers her relationship with her once famous father, the tension between her personal lack of athleticism and the ways in which Duffy Daugherty's recruiting experiment changed college football and her family's life forever.