After a long battle with Alzheimer’s, Eddie Robinson, one of the most influential coaches in football history, went home last night.
For African Americans, the former, long-time Grambling coach is the most significant figure in football history – and perhaps second only to Jackie Robinson as the most influential black sports figure ever. (Muhammad Ali is certainly there, too. By any measure, it’s heady company.)
He won 408 games during his coaching tenure, between 1941 (six years before Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier) and 1997. He had 45 winning seasons, won nine National Black College championships and 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles. “I’m no better than any other coach,” he said prior to his final season. “But I’ve heard the best coaches in America and learned from them for close to 60 years.”
The list of Grambling players who were drafted into the NFL is staggering, the most among any historically black college. Four former Tigers – Buck Buchanan, Willie Davis, Willie Brown and Charlie Joiner – are in pro football’s Hall of Fame.
No doubt the most celebrated among his pupils, Doug Williams, will someday join them.
Robinson believed in “the system,” even as it worked against him, denying him opportunities beyond Grambling. “The framers of this Constitution, now they did some things,” Robinson said. “If you aren’t lazy, they fixed it for you. You’ve got to understand the system. It’s just like in football, if you don’t understand the system, you haven’t got a chance.”
Amen. R.I.P., Coach
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