July 15, 2022
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Before Tom Brady, there was Condredge Holloway.
Much has been written about the Montreal Expos’ decision to choose Brady in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB draft, but 24 years earlier, the club selected Holloway, another future pro quarterback, whom they had much higher hopes for.
In June 1971, as the amateur draft approached, the Expos and their crackerjack scouting team that included Jim Fanning and Mel Didier, had zeroed in Holloway, then a 17-year-old, five-tool shortstop at Lee High School in Huntsville, Ala., with their fourth overall pick.
The challenge for the Expos, however, was that Holloway was equally talented on the gridiron and was being courted by several major U.S. colleges.
“The best high school athlete I’ve ever seen,” former Lee High School basketball coach Jerry Dugan told The Huntsville Times about Holloway in 2011.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Holloway was an ABCA High School All-American infielder, a star quarterback and a standout on the basketball team.
Montreal Gazette sports writer Ted Blackman wrote about how highly the Expos brass thought of Holloway in the September 9, 1971 edition of his paper.
“The scouting reports went like this: ‘Bat potential of Aaron or Banks, outstanding arm, incredible speed of 4.4 in the 40, could play defensive centre field tonight, perfect hands, tough physically and mentally, straight-A student, strong character, beautiful disposition,” wrote columnist Blackman of Holloway.
After reading that appraisal, you can understand why the Expos so desperately coveted Holloway and why they went ahead and selected him with their first-round pick in the 1971 draft without any assurances that he’d pursue a baseball career.
It was a big risk for a fledging franchise in its third major league season that was attempting to build itself into a contender, so they pulled out all the stops to sign Holloway.
“No fewer than six members of the Expos talent department went to Huntsville, Ala., to see Holloway perform at shortstop in 17 games and both Didier and Fanning made pitches to sign him,” wrote Blackman in the Montreal Gazette. “It cost $4,000 just to talk to the 17-year-old.”
The Expos also reportedly tried to woo Holloway with cold hard harsh.
“The Montreal Expos opened up a suitcase full of cash right in front of his eyes, dollars stacked inside like something out of a cops-and-robbers movie,” wrote Mark McCarter of The Huntsville Times in a 2011 article about Holloway.
There are at least two reports of the Expos offering a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $100,000, which was huge money at the time.
But not even a six-digit bonus could sway Holloway’s mom, Dorothy.
According to Didier, Holloway, himself, wanted to sign, but because he was only 17, the state of Alabama prohibitted him from doing so without parental consent and his mother wanted him to go to college. So Holloway ended up accepting a scholarship (and likely a new car, according to Blackman) from the University of Tennessee to play football and baseball for them.
“In the 20 years that I’ve scouted and recruited for college football and professional baseball I have never spent so much time trying to sign one boy,” Didier told Blackman in September 1971. “Oh, he wanted to play for us so badly. He would have been right here tomorrow, on the big club at the age of 17. But he couldn’t sign. When I last saw him last week, he walked away and got into that new car and there were tears in his eyes.”
Fanning also lamented not landing Holloway.
“We knew it would be very difficult to sign him,” Fanning told Blackman. “But we took it as a challenge. We just said to ourselves we were going to win this boy away from the football team. We failed. We don’t know why we failed. It’s incredible, but we failed.”
Blackman suspected that the University of Tennessee simply “paid more” than the Expos.
“You wouldn’t believe what colleges will do to recruit a boy, especially a quarterback,” said Didier to Blackman. “Even the state governors get into the act. Money . . . you wouldn’t believe it. It’s not amateur. A football coach has got 70,000 people staring down his back every Saturday and he’s got to win. That’s his life. It’s not amateur.”
Holloway’s decision to go to Tennessee meant that he wouldn’t be eligible for the MLB draft for another four years.
Holloway would make history at Tennessee becoming the first Black player to compete for their baseball team. He hit .353 over four seasons and earned All-SEC (Southeastern Conference) and All-America honours in 1975. He also put together a 27-game hitting streak, which remains the longest in school history. In 2009, he was selected to their All-Century Baseball Team.
But it was on the gridiron where Holloway would make his biggest athletic mark. At Tennessee, he became the first Black quarterback to start in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). He led the Volunteers to a 25-9-2 record and to three bowl games between 1972 and 1974. The evasive, fleet-footed, strong-armed quarterback would throw for 18 touchdowns, rush for nine more, while only tossing 12 interceptions in his three seasons as a starter.
For his efforts, he was elected to the school’s All-Century Football Team, which made him the only athlete to be recognized on both the All-Century baseball and football squads.
In 1975, Holloway was selected in the 10th round of the MLB draft by the Atlanta Braves and in the 12th round of the NFL draft by the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, Black quarterbacks were a rarity in the NFL back then and Holloway was selected as a defensive back.
When Holloway didn’t sign following the 1975 MLB draft, the Braves picked him again in the fourth round of the January 1976 Secondary Phase draft. He had little interest in playing for the Patriots, but he was contacted by the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League, and though it’s hard to fathom this today, the Rough Riders actually outbid the Braves for Holloway’s services.
“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to make the decision,” Holloway told Ian MacDonald of the Montreal Gazette in 1992. “Ottawa offered me $25,000, Atlanta offered me $5,000.”
From there, Holloway embarked on a 13-year CFL career as a speedy, strong-armed quarterback. He would help the Rough Riders to a Grey Cup victory in 1976 and the Toronto Argonauts to another in 1983. Along the way, he was a three-time All-Eastern quarterback and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 1982. For his efforts, he was elected to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1999.
Following his football career, he worked in a number of positions before landing with his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, as assistant athletic director. He stayed in that post until his retirement in 2019.
Though not talked about nearly enough, Holloway courageously blazed a path for Black quarterbacks in southern U.S. colleges. In 2011, ESPN released an inspiring documentary about his life called “The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story.”
Holloway told The Huntsville Times in 2011 that his father made it known to him during his college career that he was more than just a quarterback leading a football team.
“This is not about how many touchdowns you throw or how many yards you accumulate,” Holloway’s father told him. “Your job is to make sure the next young man that comes along has an opportunity to play the position.”
And Holloway bravely did that.
But did this remarkable man ever have any regrets about not signing with the Expos?
“I shook my head and wondered many times,” Holloway said when asked that question by Ian MacDonald of the Montreal Gazette in 1992.
Holloway could still vividly recalled the Expos’ offer, which included being tutored by Bobby Wine on the finer points of playing shortstop.
“They told me if I learned enough, I wouldn’t have to go down to the minor leagues,” recalled Holloway in 1992. “There’s a possibility I might have had a longer career in baseball.”
Overall, however, Holloway believed he made the right decision to go to college and pursue a CFL career.
“I’m very happy I’m an educated man. . . I have no regrets about choosing football after Tennessee. Four years of getting roughed up in football [at college] didn’t help my baseball skills,” Holloway told MacDonald.