ATLANTA, March 15, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Blake Van Leer III and Rob Grier Jr. announce the release date for future film, Bowl Game Armageddon. The Grier-Van Leer project is currently in the works with plans to release the film at the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival in 2024. After 65 years, the Grier and Van Leer families have come together to recount the true story of Bobby Grier, a University of Pittsburgh football player, and Blake Van Leer, the fifth President of Georgia Tech, who were at the forefront of the most politically explosive football game in history. The film will tell how Grier and Van Leer fought and won against segregationists and political interference that tried to prevent African American Grier from playing in the 1956 Sugar Bowl, marking it as the first integrated Sugar Bowl in history and first integrated bowl game in the Deep South.
“This is such an inspiring story of two unsung Civil Rights heroes and their historic contributions to the movement. Bobby Grier and Blake Van Leer were center stage during the mid-1950s while the Sugar Bowl event was happening. However, my great-grandfather died right after the game and Bobby Grier has always lived a private life, so the story has not received the proper recognition it deserved over the years. It is a privilege and honor to finally have the Grier-Van Leers come together to share this story about the power of unity during one of the most racially divisive times in our nation. Despite progress over the years, our country continues to struggle with civil unity today, and we hope Bowl Game Armageddon sheds light, strength and hope to our nation’s family,” says Blake Van Leer III.
The 1956 Sugar Bowl took place in the wake of court-ordered desegregation of public schools, the incendiary Emmett Till murder trial, and the Montgomery bus boycott. Since its 1935 inception, no person of color had taken the field in the Deep South. Segregationists, including Georgia’s Governor Marvin Griffin, created national controversy and sparked riots in trying to prevent Pitt fullback-linebacker Grier from playing in the 1956 Sugar Bowl.
Griffin publicly threatened Georgia Tech President Van Leer to cancel the Sugar Bowl game as the Governor did not want Georgia teams to engage in racially integrated events that had African Americans either as participants or in the stands. “The South stands at Armageddon. The battle is joined. We cannot make the slightest concession to the enemy in this dark and lamentable hour of struggle. There is no more difference in compromising integrity of race on the playing field than in doing so in the classroom. One break in the dike and the relentless enemy will rush in and destroy us,” said Governor Griffin.
President Van Leer was already catching heat for allowing women into Georgia Tech. Nevertheless, he vehemently rejected Governor Griffin’s demands, which was not a stand to serve him well in the 1950s; death threats ensued. “Either we’re going to the Sugar Bowl, or you can find yourself another damn president of Georgia Tech,” Van Leer replied to Griffin and the nation. 2,000 students at Georgia Tech responded in support by storming the State Capitol, while in Pittsburgh the Panthers chanted, “No Grier, No Game!”
Bobby Grier was suddenly the subject of screaming headlines and breathless commentary in every newspaper and on every radio around the world. As the only African American football player on the team, Grier received strong support from his Pitt teammates and the University, who refused to play in the Sugar Bowl without him. “I had made up my mind,” Grier said, “that if the team wasn’t going to go because of me, I would complain about my knee, you know, that I couldn’t play.” Rob Grier Jr. said his father’s teammates would never have allowed him to do that. “I remember his teammates saying that the coach had called a meeting with the entire team. They had a vote, and they said they weren’t going to go without him,” Rob Jr. said of the Sugar Bowl. “And Dad felt that that was one of the proudest moments of his life.”
On December 2, 1955, the day after Rosa Parks began her Montgomery bus boycott, Georgia Tech students marched in fury to the Governor’s mansion and refused to leave until 3:30am after state representative Milton Smith, a former Georgia Tech football player, addressed the crowd and assured them the game would be played. Two days later, the Georgia Tech board of regents voted 13-1 in favor of allowing the game to proceed as scheduled. Despite Governor Griffin threatening to fire Van Leer and punish Georgia Tech’s players, the Yellow Jackets went on to New Orleans and played at the 1956 Sugar Bowl on January 2nd.
“My great-grandfather died from a heart attack just two weeks after the game. My family has always said that the stress of the controversy killed him, but to Blake I, it was a fight worth dying over,” says Blake III.
The win for racial justice represented by the 1956 Sugar Bowl led to a major backlash. However, today players and fans of all races can now enjoy a different game thanks to Grier and Van Leer having a positive collision.
“This story touches on so many relevant issues that the world is struggling with currently. Our families demonstrated leadership, courage, and teamwork in the face of extreme racism, politics invading sports, and sports driving social change. We look forward to telling our story in a way that leads to positive social change today, and that teamwork is the basis of a rising tide lifting us all to work together and be better human beings,” says Rob Jr.
Rob Grier Jr. and Blake Van Leer III are actively meeting with agents and producers in the film industry to share their story with the world. To learn more, visit www.BowlGameArmageddon.com.
Blake Van Leer
SOURCE Blake Van Leer III & Rob Grier Jr.