LOS ANGELES -- C.R. Roberts, whose record-setting performance helped Southern California beat Texas in a 1956 road game played in the segregated state, has died. He was 87.
Roberts died of natural causes on Tuesday in suburban Norwalk, the university said Wednesday.
Roberts, a fullback, set a single-game rushing record with 251 yards on 12 carries in the Trojans' 44-20 victory in Austin, a mark that stood for 20 years. Fearing rioting by the segregated crowd, USC's coaching staff pulled Roberts early.
Upon arrival, the Trojans tried three different hotels before finding one that would allow its Black players to stay. USC officials had permitted Roberts to travel despite Texas' segregation laws.
"I was upset that they didn't want me down there," Roberts said in a 2015 USC online article for Black History Month. "Damn right, I had something to prove to them."
The hotel housekeepers were Black and they tried to convince Roberts and his other Black teammate to leave. He assured them he was allowed to be there as part of the team.
Roberts recalled Black people who lived in the area came by, entering through the back of the hotel and donning staff uniforms so they could greet the Black players staying in a whites-only hotel.
"That night, maybe every black person in town must have come by to see us," Roberts said in the article. "They were just so proud to see us in that hotel."
Roberts was hailed as a hero in his return to campus. Alumni flew back on the team plane and an exhausted Roberts couldn't sleep while besieged by boosters congratulating him.
It was quite a change from when Roberts first arrived on campus and faced backlash by the predominantly white student body. However, he was welcomed among his teammates on the football field.
Born on Feb. 29, 1936, Cornelius R. Roberts grew up in Mississippi and moved to California in grade school. He graduated from Oceanside High north of San Diego after being named the 1953 state football player of the year as a senior, having scored 65 touchdowns.
After graduating from USC with a degree in business administration, Roberts was taken in the 14th round of the 1958 NFL draft by the New York Giants.
However, he chose to sign with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. He rushed for 595 yards and five touchdowns, including TD runs of 67 and 85 yards, in 10 games.
Roberts then became a casualty of the 12-man quota that limited the number of U.S. players on the Argos' roster and he was released. He tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1959 but didn't make the team.
He played with the San Francisco 49ers from 1959-62.
He is survived by daughters Cathy Creasia and Chandra Roberts; son Craig; and four grandchildren.