The 1956 Sugar Bowl featured the 7th ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the 11th ranked Pitt Panthers. The game was played on January 2, since New Year's Day was a Sunday. Much controversy preceded the 1956 Sugar Bowl. There was controversy over whether Bobby Grier from Pitt should be allowed to play because he was black, and whether Georgia Tech should even play at all due to Georgia governor Marvin Griffin's opposition to integration. This stood in stark contrast to the 1956 Rose Bowl, which featured two of the most racially integrated college football teams of the day with six African American players for the UCLA Bruins and seven for the Michigan State Spartans. Ultimately, Bobby Grier played making this the first integrated Sugar Bowl and is regarded as the first integrated bowl game in the Deep South.
Only one month previous, Rosa Parks made her famous protest in the Montgomery Bus Boycott where she refused to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama transit bus.
A large contingent from the New Orleans community, as well as many related to Georgia Tech, openly fought to bar either Grier, Pitt, or the Yellow Jacket team from the game. However, students and football players from the Atlanta-based school, civil rights leaders, as well as a large number of the Pitt community succeeded in seeing Grier take to the gridiron that January day.
In anticipation of Bobby Grier's presence against Georgia Tech, Georgia governor Marvin Griffin, in December 1955 publicly sent a telegram to his state's Board Of Regents imploring that teams from Georgia not engage in racially integrated events which had Blacks either as participants or in the stands.
The game was a high caliber defensive game. The two teams gave up a combined 7 points, on 453 combined yards. The only score of the game came on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Wade Mitchell. Georgia Tech was held without any points the remaining three quarters of the game, and ended up winning by a 7-0 margin. Pittsburgh, despite dominating the game in terms of yardage (311-142) lost because of 2 lost fumbles, and 72 penalty yards.
The margin of victory mostly resulted from a disputed first quarter pass interference penalty which was called on Grier.
Georgia Tech guard Franklin Brooks was named the game's MVP. Bobby Grier's participation in the 1956 Sugar Bowl, as well as the support he received from various communities, is seen by some experts as a milestone in American race relations.
Brooks went on to have a successful coaching career after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins. Brooks coached at the high school level before returning to Georgia Tech as an assistant coach under Pepper Rodgers. Excelling as an assistant coach, Brooks was poised to become Rogers' replacement but was untimely stricken with inoperable lung cancer.
Brooks was a non-smoker and non-drinker. According to doctor’s reports, he developed cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos during a summer job as a teen. Despite his courageous fight over a two-year period, Brooks died in 1977. Among friends and family, Brooks' funeral procession included College and Pro Football greats such as Eddie Lee Ivery and Bill Curry.
Brooks' struggles with cancer contributed to reform and ultimately the elimination of unsafe asbestos production. Governments and businesses all around the world have urgently taken measures to eliminate structures containing asbestos over the last twenty five years.