J.T. Thomas, Charlie Hunt, Eddie McMillan and Bobby Anderson were candid when addressing their roles as trailblazers at FSU in the early 1970s.
Eddie McMillan, Charlie Hunt, James “J.T.” Thomas and Bobby Anderson don’t get together often.
Saturday marked just the second time in over 45 years that the fateful quartet reunited.
But even if they don’t see each other often, the first four African American football players to take the field in Florida State history have kept a strong bond.
‘We stuck together very closely. We were almost like brothers,” Anderson said Saturday when all four were reunited as the guests of honor at FSU’s Sod Talk before the Seminoles took on Wake Forest.
Added Hunt, “I think this is brotherhood that will take us to our grave.”
All four arrived at FSU in 1969 together hailing from different areas of the south.
Anderson and Thomas were from Georgia, Tifton and Macon, respectively, while Hunt signed with FSU from Jacksonville and McMillan was out of Tampa.
“When they came to recruit me, the recruiters talked to my mother and myself, a little inner-city black guy in the inner-city ghetto and said, ‘Hey, if you allow me to take your son to Florida State, he’ll leave here as a boy and return as a man and I guarantee you not only will we teach him about football, we’ll teach him about the game of life and he will be successful,'” McMillan said.
“That’s why I came to Florida State.”
Thomas has a different story as to why his loyalties lied firmly with FSU while he was being recruited.
“My senior year, I had aspirations, but very little options of going to college. A reporter in my hometown called Vince Dooley, the coach at the University of Georgia, and asked him to consider me as their first African American football player. Vince’s response was this: ‘We’re not quite ready for a black football player,'” Thomas said.
“Three days later, I got a call from Coach Bill Peterson from Florida State who said, ‘I heard what Vince said, but J.T., we are ready.’
“That was it. Everyone else was off-limits. I shut them down.”
In the months after their arrival, they weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.
“A lot of our former teammates didn’t want us to be on the team because we were black, but after the first practice that changed,” McMillan said.
“We’ve received letters from our former teammates (since) because it was a different time then.”
With FSU on the forefront of desegregation among major universities, it became a central hub of the movement.
“Florida State allowed us the opportunity because they were on the cutting edge of diversity. There were four black athletes at Florida State, but there were only two at the University of Florida and two at the University of Miami,” McMillan said.
“What would happen is black students from universities all over the country used to come to Florida State, to the (Black Student Union) house to study our model, to know how to be black student-athletes and black students in white universities.”
At this time, the United States was less than a decade removed from the Jim Crow laws being repealed.
Each of the four occasionally used their status as trailblazing members of the FSU football team to help aid the ongoing movement for equality.
“Coming here, we were on the forefront of most protests. We were the muscles. We shut down the university a couple times…At times we had our scholarships threatened because we were protesting,” Thomas said.
“Some days, we were Martin (Luther King Jr.), some days we were Malcolm (X). That was just kind of the culture at the time.”
Added Anderson, “It wasn’t overwhelmingly bad. We had some incidents. We did have to influence the administration on some things we thought should happen. We did that, brought about some change. We made the best of things while we were here and as it turns out, we made a difference.”
Anderson, McMillan, Hunt and Thomas were all multi-year starters at FSU and McMillan, Hunt and Thomas all went onto NFL careers.
‘I think, overall, the coaches that we played under were very good men,” Hunt said.
“A lot of times they didn’t understand us so we helped them to understand not only us but themselves and how they felt about black athletes.”
Thomas had the most prolific career. He set an FSU record with three interceptions in a single game in 1972 that stood for 26 years, was an All-American that same year and went on to win four Super Bowl rings with the “Steel Curtain” of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hunt has been a football and track coach at Jacksonville Episcopal for 38 years and had the football field named for him in 2015.
McMillan works in public relations in Seattle after a six-year playing career in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks.
Anderson retired six years ago after working for 30-plus years in the insurance business in Atlanta.
Even when they’re spread across the country and rarely meet up, their historic ties to FSU unite them.
“We’re so grateful for this university and also for its ability to change and transform itself,” Thomas said.
Added McMillan, “At that time, we didn’t realize what we were doing, but now we’ve come back and people have told us the difference that it made in their lives.
“The thing that makes us so proud is what Florida State did for us and helped us not only change the culture here, but the culture all over the world.”
Florida State vs. Clemson
When: Saturday, 12 p.m.
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium
TV/Radio: ABC/103.1 FM