Deuce McAllister surely would give much of the credit to his becoming the New Orleans Saints’ all-time leading rusher to his offensive line — guys like Kyle Turley, Jammal Brown and LeCharles Bentley.
But it was another group of guys — Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode — who really paved the way for him.
Who? Those four names aren’t familiar to most sports fans.
But “Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football,” a documentary that airs Tuesday night, hopes to change that. The film, which chronicles the life of the four black players who integrated professional football, airs on Epix at 7 p.m.
The foursome integrated the league in 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson did the same in Major League Baseball.
“Once I found out that four courageous men broke the color barrier in pro football in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson, it was like finding a rare gem of a story that no one had ever told,” said Ross Greenburg, executive producer of the film. “The families of Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode deserved to have their story revealed to the American public.”
While Robinson is a household name in the sports history books, those names are not.
“Like the name says, those four guys are forgotten,” McAllister said. “We just wanted to go play. But then you see all the struggles that players take for granted and what those guys did on a daily basis, and you have to appreciate it.”
Advance screenings of the film were held around the country in August. McAllister and former Saints receiver Michael Lewis attended the screening held at the team’s practice facility in Metairie.
“I didn’t even know anything about these guys until this (film) came out,” Lewis said. “The hard work they put in to give guys like me an opportunity — they led the way for guys like us.”
McAllister was impressed with the footage of the players in the film — especially Motley, whose bullish running style was like watching a throwback version of himself.
“Those guys could’ve played in the league today,” McAllister said. “You can just look at their footwork and tell.”
Family members of the players and former coaches and historians share stories about the quartet in the one-hour film, telling about their struggles and triumphs.
McAllister and Lewis said they are thankful they didn’t have to endure some of the struggles those players faced almost seven decades ago.
“They never gave up,” Lewis said. “They never quit.”