Grambling State University
Eddie Robinson’s legacy lives on in a dozen halls of fame, befitting a man who coached his 57 teams to a stunning victory total of 408 wins, one of the top three in the almost 140-year history of college football.
Now, another Hall has welcomed him home.
Robinson, whose plaque already hangs in hallowed sports showcases stretching from his own, the Eddie Robinson Museum in Grambling, La. to the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., was inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Robinson, who died in 2007, left a deep imprint on the game with his 408-165-15 record, all at Grambling, where he coached the Tigers to eight black national championships, 17 SWAC titles, and sent over 200 prospects to NFL camps, including the first pro player from an historically African-American school, Paul “Tank” Younger. He coached three Hall of Famers, Willie Davis, Charlie Joiner and Buck Buchanan, and he coached the first African-American to quarterback a Super Bowl-winning team, Doug Williams.
“No one in the history of football has done more for the college game than Eddie Robinson,” Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said.
That same pioneering spirit that “Coach Rob” left on the college game is also evident on the sports scene of New Orleans, three hundred miles from his home base of North Louisiana and a place where he coached only two dozen games in his six decade career. Robinson took an idea of Grambling publicist Collie Nicholson and forged it into an annual anchor in the Crescent City sports calendar: the Bayou Classic, the regular season-ending football bloodletting between the archrival Tigers and Southern University.
The Bayou Classic has become a “happening” in the world of black college football, a reunion of family and friends as much as a contest between heated rivals. The event has become a three-day gathering that features a job fair, and the famed Battle of the Bands. Estimates by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau say the Bayou Classic annually brings 200,000 people to New Orleans, representing $85 million to the city’s economy.
It was Nicholson’s idea in the 1960s to take Grambling, one of the top black programs in the sport, off campus and out of its 3,000-seat stadium to play big games in giant venues like Yankee Stadium, the Astrodome, even one in Japan. Grambling’s widespread attractiveness made it what some began calling the “Black Notre Dame.”
The concept, Robinson said, also made sense for a Louisiana school to play in Louisiana’s largest city – an idea that first occurred to him in 1964 when he brought his Tigers to Miami to play Florida A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic, sponsored by the Orange Bowl. “There were about 48,000 at that game,” the coach later recalled, “and we (Nicholson and Robinson) thought it would be wonderful if we could bring something like that to Louisiana, something like a Brown Sugar Bowl.”
It would take a decade to get the idea off the ground, but in 1974 Grambling and Southern drew 76,000 in Tulane Stadium, the start of the biggest annual event in African-American sports.
“What a dream,” Robinson later said. “The Bayou Classic is our Rose Bowl, our Sugar Bowl, our Orange Bowl all wrapped into one. The Bayou Classic is more than a football game. It’s a real happening, with all the pageantry of a bowl game. It’s the epitome of the best in college football.”