Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"The real record I have set for over 50 years is the fact that I have had one job and one wife."

The above quote came from the now deceased former Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson. It is all you really need to know about the man to know what was truly important to him. If you need to know more, read on. A fair amount of the following was ganked from today's AP report...

Repeat visitors to theangryfan will be familiar with the fact that I had issues with the media gushing over the importance of a black coach winning this past year's Super Bowl. It's people like Robinson that were the true trailblazers for black America in the coaching realm. While Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball, Robinson, according to the AP report on his passing, "'elevated a small town program to national prominence and tore down barriers to achieve an equal playing field for athletes of all races,' Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a statement. 'Generations of Louisianans will forever benefit from coach Robinson's fight for equality.'

"...Jerry Izenberg, the sports columnist emeritus at the Star-Ledger of Newark and a close friend of Robinson since 1963, said the coach was an inspiration in the deep South.

"'People look at black pride in America and sports' impact on it,' Izenberg said. 'In the major cities it took off the first time Jackie Robinson stole home. In the deep South, it started with Eddie Robinson, who took a small college in northern Louisiana with little or no funds and sent the first black to the pros and made everyone look at him and Grambling.'"

Robinson's impact on equal rights started with his attitude. It was not unrealistic, but at the same time he didn't acknowledge being a second hand citizen, "'The best way to enjoy life in America is to first be an American, and I don't think you have to be white to do so,' Robinson said. 'Blacks have had a hard time, but not many Americans haven't.'" While Robinson saw himself as an American first, he was practical enough to know what limitations were imposed on him and his players by the society he was in, making lunches for his players when they went on the road because he knew that they would be unable to dine in restaurants in the South.

He was the first in his family to finish high school, let alone college, and his achievements at Grambling are college football legend - his "career spanned 11 presidents, several wars and the civil rights movement. His overall record of excellence is what will be remembered: In 57 years, Robinson compiled a 408-165-15 record. Until John Gagliardi of St. John's, Minn., topped the victory mark four years ago, Robinson was the winningest coach in all of college football. "

For my money, Robinson was (arguably) one of the five or ten greatest college coaches to ever walk the sidelines. Only a handful of other names come to mind when I try to think of comparable coaches...Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno are some of the company he keeps.

Robinson died at the age of 88 while suffering from Alzheimer's and leaves behind his wife, two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. I will forever remember the man as he is in the AP photo above - looking tough as nails, a little hunched over in a baseball cap and trench coat. May he find the peace in his passing that must have eluded him for the last couple of years as he combated the Alzheimer's.

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