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Like Darryl Hill, Calvin Patterson had been a schoolboy pioneer, the first black athlete of distinction at Dade County's Palmetto High following its integration in 1964. He had been raised in a tidy brick home by a great-aunt and -uncle, schoolteachers in Miami's middle-class black community of Richmond Heights. And in contrast to LeVias's experience at SMU, a teammate at Florida State actually volunteered to room with Patterson. But those apparent advantages may have only ratcheted up expectations, and in Patterson's case, expectations played a fateful role.
The letters began coming right after he signed with the Seminoles. "They were the meanest," recalls Javan Ferguson, a friend who grew up playing with Patterson in the cemetery across from Calvin's house, dodging gravestones as if they were tacklers. "With the n word, with expletives, signed by supporters of FSU. We're 17-year-old kids who had no idea that kind of hatred existed. We would laugh, thinking these people must be crazy."
Ernest Cook, a black fullback from Daytona Beach, had also committed to the Seminoles and received the same hate mail. Cook took it seriously enough to reconsider and sign with Minnesota. Patterson had options at safer compass points--Notre Dame, Southern Cal and Syracuse all pursued him--but, Ferguson says, "when Calvin told me about Ernie Cook, we laughed. 'Ah, he bailed out.' It wasn't like a caution light went on."
Yet the Tallahassee to which Patterson came in the fall of 1968 was scarcely removed from the Old South. A sheriff patrolling the campus brandished a cane he threatened to use on students, and only four years earlier, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the city had chosen to close its public swimming pools rather than desegregate them. In the meantime it seemed sometimes as if every black person in the state had a stake in what Patterson would do. To five younger siblings who still lived in Miami's Liberty City, where Patterson had been born, Calvin was a hero twice over, first at Palmetto High and now in Tallahassee. Black students would turn out simply to watch him practice.
At Palmetto he had been a running back of such power that coaches would show off for recruiters a blocking sled he had dented. Nonetheless, he carried only six times as a Seminoles freshman, and coaches began nudging him toward the defense. By the following spring he had begun to show up late for practices or miss them entirely. In the 1969 spring game, as a knot of black students chanted his name, he never got off the bench. It was stiflingly hot that day, but through the final quarter Patterson didn't remove his helmet because he didn't want anyone to see him crying.
Black students at Florida State were expected to carve out a social life across town at Florida A&M, but there Patterson met with a you-should-be-playing-for-us freeze-out. Blacks on his own campus shunned him for dating white women--and several black female students beat up one white girlfriend in a dorm hallway. Meanwhile Patterson was punting on schoolwork. Coaches would walk him to class, and 10 minutes later he'd walk himself out. Says T.K. Wetherell, who was then academic adviser to the football team and today serves as Florida State's president, "He had the IQ. It was the 'I do' part you couldn't understand. But for two years he basically didn't play. He had to make it up academically and socially, yet he needed football so the others would come along."
Patterson did have several close friends, a few of them white, including quarterback Tommy Warren, who had asked to room with him, and history professor David Ammerman, who in 1972 would tape a series of conversations with him. In one of those interviews Patterson complained of being "a black representative." He added, "And I can't get used to sitting on the bench. That's when I turned into a renegade."
With no academic standing to return in the fall of 1970, he spent two years hanging out in Tallahassee. In the spring of 1972 he took a room in Ammerman's home, telling friends he had enrolled at Tallahassee Junior College with the hope of becoming eligible to play again at Florida State in the fall.
One morning late that summer Patterson called an old friend in Miami to tell her that he had been shot in a holdup at a convenience store. He'd be O.K., he said, but wouldn't be able to play football anymore. Over the next few hours he paid a cable-TV bill. He ate a can of tuna. And he placed the nose of a .38 revolver against his midriff.
The bullet had already passed through his abdomen and punctured his aorta when Patterson somehow phoned the police. The first officer on the scene arrived to find The Carpenters' Rainy Days and Mondays cranked up to earsplitting volume. A Florida State football schedule, just arrived in the mail, lay crumpled on the floor. "Please hold my hand," Patterson asked the officer. He bled to death before the ambulance could reach the hospital.