Friday, October 20, 2006

Grambling greats: Sammy White

GSU's White will finally land in SWAC Hall of Fame
December 6, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - On first glance, interim Grambling State coach Melvin Spears had a common response: "Sammy White is not in the SWAC Hall of Fame?"

Doug Williams, who played with White at GSU, has been saying the same thing for years.

That changes on Friday, when this Richwood High product - now GSU's offensive coordinator - receives the Southwestern Athletic Conference's highest honor.

For the unassuming White, it's a dramatic moment.

"I guess you play these games, and you really play for the love of it," said White, a two-time all-SWAC first-team member in 1973 and '75. "Then, if you do pretty good and something special-like happens, it's an honor and blessing."

Induction ceremonies will be held during the SWAC Hall of Fame dinner at the Birmingham-Jefferson County Convention Center in Birmingham, Ala.

"When we discovered that he wasn't in the hall," said Spears, "we immediately nominated him. I went down the list and I could not believe Sammy's name wasn't there. Not just because of what he accomplished here, but he went on to great things."

White's best season at GSU was his last, when he was named the conference's co-offensive player of the year as a senior. He would eventually pull down 37 passes for 802 yards and 17 touchdowns from the young Williams.

"It was a comfortable environment to go into," White said of Grambling, just more than 30 miles down the road from where he played high school ball. "I got to play with Coach Williams in my third year. He came in throwing the ball so hard - 65, 70 yards on a line drive. We had to sit down and talk to him, to tell him: `You've got to give us a chance, throw something we could run under.' He came right in, though, and was a top-flight quarterback from day one."

That connection would be rekindled when Williams gave White a coaching job at GSU years later.

"There's no one who deserves it more," Williams said of the honor. "I don't think, coming into Grambling, that I could have been as productive without him. He had a quiet leadership on that team. And he made plays."

White was also able to reunite in Grambling with three older players from his youth in Richwood, south of Monroe - Matthew Reed, Charlie Smith and Amos Augustine.

"I never played with them in high school, but I got that chance there," said White. "I would watch them on Friday nights back at Richwood - just dreaming I could so some of those things."

He could: White's teams won three SWAC titles for former coach Eddie Robinson. He was then drafted in the second round by Minnesota - not that White was expecting it.

"A lot of people sit around watching television today," he said. "I said to myself: `It'll happen if it will happen.' They had to come out on campus to find me. I never thought of myself as The Guy. I always played just to be one of the best guys. If it didn't happen, I wasn't going to fall out about it."

White was a three-time All-Pro selection over 11 seasons in Minnesota. He set Vikings team records for receiving yards, touchdowns and yards in a game for a rookie that stood until Randy Moss broke through in 1998.

A career highlight was White's five-reception, 77-yard performance in the 1977 Super Bowl loss to Oakland, one that included an 8-yard score. Even as the 2004 season began, White - who earned a spot on the Vikings' 25th anniversary team - remained ranked No. 5 all-time for points scored in Minnesota.

Still, it's likely that White's very demeanor, his easy-going style and friendly way, have pushed him under the radar. Even he admits that.

"When I was playing," White said, "it was just for the love of the game."

In fact, the one time anybody can remember White celebrating, disaster struck.

A seven-catch, 210-yard performance with two scores in a 1976 win over the Detroit Lions was marred when he fumbled another potential score while celebrating too early.

"Over my whole career," White admitted and chuckled, "that was my biggest celebration, holding the ball up - and it was one that cost me a touchdown. It didn't pay off at all."

Williams hired White to coach receivers at GSU in 1998, and the team flourished - including a stellar 2002 season that saw this offense ranked first in the nation for passing and scoring offense in Division I-AA.

"Nobody was better with those players," Williams said. "He showed by example."

Spears promoted White to offensive coordinator during this past off-season, after Williams departed for the NFL and Spears took over as interim head coach.

"If you did not know who Sammy White was, you'd never think he played in the National Football League," Spears said. "He's just a down-home guy. But he does a great job as this team's offensive coordinator."

Awards like this one get White to reminiscing about his former coach at GSU, the legendary Robinson - a man who meant so much to the player as a young man.

"You have to think about Coach Robinson. I always said one of the great things about my career was that I had great coaches, all the way back to high school. Eddie Robinson just took us to another level, with his teaching. He talked about being a good football player but also about being a good person."

White's 102 points for the Tigers in 1975 wasn't bested until Walter Dean scored 110 in 1991. Only five players in GSU history have scored more points in a single season; two others have tied White.

"There was nothing flashy," said Spears. "He just executed, week in and week out."

In the past 45 seasons in Grambling, only six players - including Pro Football Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner - have bested White's senior-year average of 21.7 yards per reception. His 17 touchdowns in 1975 rank third all time, though White is tied with four others.

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Five Questions with Grambling's Sammy White
Sunday, July 23, 2006

Grambling State and Richwood product Sammy White made his mark at every level, winning titles in high school and college, then becoming a cornerstone of the Minnesota Vikings franchise. Recognition has come in the form of SWAC Hall of Fame induction last year and then a spot on the Vikings' All-1970s Team recently compiled by Eric Krupka of Today, White has fashioned Division I-AA's most prolific passing attack as the offensive coordinator at GSU. But questions loom with the graduation of Bruce Eugene, a three-year starter. News-Star sports editor Nick Deriso asks them:

Give me your scouting report on Grambling's quarterback situation with Bruce gone.

Brandon (Landers, a Carroll product and former SWAC freshman of the year) has a strong arm and he's gotten better with the scheme, after a year behind Bruce. He's still lacking some film work, but the way I see it right now, he's the frontrunner. (Sophomore Houston product) Larry Kerlegan is very instinctive. He plays more with his legs than his arm right now, though. And with the receivers we've got, we need a big arm.

Talking about big arms, the buzz on the yard has been about Desmond Brentley, that Pittsburgh prep signee.

Brentley does have a really good arm. He looks to pick up on our scheme very quickly. But in our offense, it's just tough to start right out of high school. You have to do a whole lot of reads when it comes to the opposing defenses. They tell you where to go. All those years we had Bruce, and he still had his best year after sitting out (with a knee injury in 2004). He got to experience the game as a coach, and he became more patient. He became more of a student of the game. They all have to work on that.

Henry Tolbert and Clyde Edwards, your top receivers, both return. How do you fit in a talent like (Georgia Tech transfer) LeKeldrick Bridges?

You'll have to account for everybody, and that means guys like Bridges will get some numbers. But guys like Bridges will actually make it easier for Henry and Clyde to have big days. Even if other teams double-team them, they both have such a drive for the ball. They are going to try to make a play. Those two will still be productive, no matter what happens.

Your 10 seasons in Minnesota included rookie of the year honors and a Super Bowl appearance. What was it like to be named to the Vikings' All-1970s Team?

It really feels good, knowing that you were appreciated. It means so much when they still show you love after your playing days are over. I just got a card from a guy to sign that talked about old-time players, and how different things are. We played 100 percent every play, for the love of the game. There's a new breed today.

The Vikings let Daunte Culpepper go, and he ended up in Miami — with one of your former teammates (Mike Mularkey, once a Minnesota tight end) as his offensive coordinator. What do you make of that?

I pull for them to get in the playoffs every year, but letting Daunte get away? Not only is he an experienced, starting quarterback, but you put any kind of receivers around him, and that guy is a big plus for your team. These days, the passing game opens up the running game in the NFL. He'll be fine in Miami; they're putting together a good team down there. But it's unfortunate for the Vikings.

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GSU's great provider
South side of Monroe has been talent pipeline
February 6, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - James Harris grew up right around the corner from Sammy White.

Who lived down the way from Lane Howell. Who lived near a street that would eventually produce a flinty talent named Brandon Landers.

Who shares a zip code with Desmond Lenard.

The south side of Monroe sent them all to Grambling State, in an unbroken storyline that continued through last week's National Signing Day.

"I grew up in that neighborhood," said Sammy White, a Richwood product who played and now coaches at GSU as offensive coordinator. "It gives me great joy to see where these guys progress and how they move along."

In 1965, a Carroll High product was quarterback at Grambling. Forty years later, Landers is likely to follow Harris into the role.

White was a star wingback for former GSU coach Eddie Robinson - after winning both football and basketball titles at Richwood in the early 1970s. Lenard, Carroll's wingback last season, committed to Grambling after earning All-Northeast honors as a kick returner.

Derrick Wilhite, a 2006 signee out of Wossman, contributes to a legacy that includes ex-Wildcats assistant Lee Fobbs, a former player under Robinson, and current defensive back Bakari Guice.

"There's no question that the south side of Monroe has added to that Grambling mystique," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "From the Howells to James Harris to Goldie Sellers and on down to Brandon Landers - our freshman sensation in '04."

Landers shot to conference freshman of the year honors in relief of injured quarterback Bruce Eugene, then redshirted last year when Eugene returned for a final season of eligibility.

"I think this is a good place for finding highly skilled athletes - and that's true at many inner-city schools," said Carroll coach Jesse Smith Sr., who is also a Grambling product.

"There is a lot of talent in this area. I think that through the years, we've proven that."

Carroll's connection to GSU goes deeper than the head coach.

Back in 2001, current Bulldogs assistant Levi Washington Jr. led all receivers in yards as Grambling won the second of three straight SWAC titles. The team uses an offense patterned on GSU's, as well.

So, it's perhaps no surprise that Carroll split end Jesse Smith Jr. joined Lenard in signing with Grambling last week - along with teammates Derrick Johnson and Xavier Lee, both of whom play linebacker.

In the end, though, all three of the southside schools - notably Richwood and, more recently, Wossman - have been an important thread through the tapestry of Grambling's football legacy.

"It's great coming from that tradition," said Landers. "I'd like to have that same impact - not only as a player, but as an individual."

Harris, perhaps the south side's most legendary product, led Grambling to 31-9-1 record between 1965-68, winning a conference title every single year. He was voted the team's most valuable player his final two seasons.

But Landers reminds, Harris' most important contribution came after he left Grambling.

Harris would become the first black athlete to be drafted as a quarterback. His NFL career - which included stops in Buffalo, Los Angeles and San Diego - was capped by an MVP performance in the 1974 Pro Bowl.

Harris later moved into even more rarified air, working in the front offices of Baltimore and currently Jacksonville as one of the NFL's highest ranking black executives.

Smith said Grambling provided a platform in that journey, and for the scores of southside youths who followed him.

"Anytime you've got a kid who goes on and does well, that's an example that you can stir these kids with," said Smith. "It makes them understand that you can dream and it can happen."

Carroll's Lane Howell, a two-way lineman for Robinson, was the first of three brothers to star at Grambling, beginning in 1960. Michael, a cornerback nicknamed "Trackdown," followed two seasons later. Delles, another defensive back, would arrive seven seasons later - but by then the family had moved to California.

Grambling won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference title with Lane up front, establishing a 23-5-2 mark between 1960-62. Michael's 1964 squad went 9-3, winning the Sugar Cup over Bishop before falling in the Orange Blossom Classic.

One of Michael's teammates that season was cornerback Goldie "Spider" Sellers, a Winnsboro native who eventually moved to the south side and played for Richwood.

In 2004, White joined Harris in the SWAC Hall of Fame, recognition for a career that included three conference championships and co-offensive player of the year honors in 1975 at Grambling.

"It was passed down to me," said White, later an NFL rookie of the year at Minnesota. "James Harris and Delles took me to a Grambling basketball game when I was in junior high. I was always around it. There were other places I could have played, but this was the only place I was ever going."

Quarterback Matthew Reed, born in Winnfield, would prove so dominant at Richwood that he once threw nine touchdowns in a single game. Later, he was named Grambling's MVP as a junior, then made All-America as a senior in the early 1970s.

White grew up idolizing Amos Augustine and Charlie "Tank" Smith at Richwood, then played after them at Grambling. Between 1968-71, former Carroll guard Solomon Freelon Jr. protected Harris, Reed and Frank Holmes.

White says many of those greats called a neighborhood known as Bryant's Addition home. He still scouts for talent there, giving another generation the Grambling road map out of one of the area's most impoverished communities.

"The thing about it is, we thought we were pretty good - and these guys could be that too," said White. "It's all about hard work."

Landers, for his part, says he can't account for the staggering impact such a small geographic area has had on Grambling. But, when he's home, he sees the next group working to get there.

"If you ride around, you see little kids out playing in empty lots and at the rec centers - and that's year-round," said Landers. "They're playing everything too, just like we did. Football, basketball, baseball. With small schools, you've got guys going both ways, playing all sports. That makes you better. Who knows? One of those kids could follow me someday."

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White makes nice move up
Dedication to GSU earns receivers coach promotion to offensive coordinator.
March 22, 2004

GRAMBLING - Sammy White, one of Richwood High's greatest products, has been named offensive coordinator at Grambling State by interim coach Melvin Spears.

To think, White - who was later all-conference at GSU then a three-time All-Pro with the Minnesota Vikings - wasn't even in football a few years ago. He was selling cars at a local dealership.

But then former GSU coach Doug Williams - who had thrown so many of the touchdown passes that White caught in college - called.

"It's a big fairy tale," White said. "When I quit professional football (in 1985), I thought I was done competing. Coach Williams, Coach Spears and I, we've been able to revitalize this program. It was quite an accomplishment. But to be named offensive coordinator? It's just a dream come true."

White was promoted from receivers coach, where he has shepherded the record-breaking Grambling State careers of current Detroit Lions wideout Scotty Anderson and Tramon Douglas - the SWAC's career leader in receiving yards.

"He's a guy I've always admired," Spears said. "For him to be here, from the standpoint of the legends he's worked with - Coach Robinson, Coach Williams, Bud Grant, Ahmad Rashad, Fran Tarkenton - it's going to be a blessing for our players."

An assistant as Williams added three SWAC titles to the 17 that former GSU coach Eddie Robinson won while a head coach at GSU, White was also part of three Black College National and SWAC championships as the wingback in Robinson's classic run-oriented Wing T formation.

That doesn't mean the basic offensive philosophy will change, White said.

"Our running backs have good size and strength - and to shorten the game is always a good idea," he said. "But Coach Spears is the head coach, so we'll still take our shots."

Grambling State's offense broke more than a dozen school records last season, finishing at No. 1 among every Division I-AA school in passing and scoring.

A first choice among Grambling greats

White was one of Williams' first hires when taking over in 1998 as the first new coach at GSU since Robinson came on board in 1941.

"I've got a lot of respect for Sammy," said Williams, who was a teammate of White's at Grambling State from 1974-75. Williams resigned in February after six seasons at GSU to take an executive position in personnel with Tampa Bay, the club that drafted him in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft.

"He's come a long way from when we first started coaching together," Williams said. "Over the past two or three years, Sammie has been a vital part of our success. One thing is, you've got to listen to Sammie. He's been there. His input has been crucial. He's been creative and important. The kids like him. He's more of a teacher. He shows them how it's to be done."

GSU receiver Moses Harris said White's personal touch has been of vital importance to the SWAC's most dangerous passing attack.

"With that hands-on approach, people pick it up more quickly," said Harris, who will be one of GSU quarterback Bruce Eugene's top targets this season. "I think promoting Coach White is a great decision. Knowing that everybody is comfortable with each other gives me a lot of confidence for this year."

Upholding the Robinson legacy

White was a two-sport star at Richwood, helping to lead the Rams to a Class 3A state hoops title, alongside current Grambling State basketball coach Larry Wright.

But he found his greatest successes on the gridiron.

White, a first-team All-SWAC selection in 1973 and '75, was named the SWAC's co-offensive player of the year as a senior. He caught 37 passes for 802 yards and 17 touchdowns, all from Williams, that year.

He went on to become an integral part of a Vikings team that reached the Super Bowl after the 1976 season, the 1977 NFC championship - and then the divisional playoff round both a year later and in 1982.

A highlight for White was his 8-yard scoring reception against Oakland in Super Bowl XI in Pasadena, Calif. A lowlight came the same day, when the Raiders' Jack Tatum knocked off White's helmet in a crushing blow that has been included on countless highlight reels.

White's 906 yards as a rookie in 1976 stood as a Minnesota team record until Randy Moss eclipsed it in 1998. His all-time team mark for touchdowns and yards-in-a-game by a rookie were also finally bested by Moss during the same year.

This promotion for White means that Spears - a graduate of Alcorn State - has two Grambling State graduates and former assistants as his top advisors. Defensive coordinator Tom Lavigne also played for Robinson and was an assistant at GSU in the early 1980s.

"Sammy falls into line with a whole list of greats who've been through here," Spears said. "He upholds the Robinson legacy - meaning Coach Rob will still have a significant part in this program."

White and the former Penny Fortner have two children, Sammie III and Samantha.

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Sunday, August 1, 2004

As a three-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honoree, Sammy White's legacy at Grambling State was secure, long before he was named offensive coordinator this past spring. White was selected in the second round of the NFL draft, and was named NFL rookie of the year in 1976 after gaining more yards and scoring more touchdowns than any other NFC receiver. But he's not one for laurel resting. White and the rest of the Grambling State football staff are at the Tennessee Titans' training camp today, where they will learn new techniques in coaching - and get a look at how one of White's greatest students, Tramon Douglas, is doing. Douglas, who now holds most of the meaningful receiving records at GSU, signed an undrafted rookie contract with the Titans in April. White talks with News-Star sports editor Nick Deriso about losing Douglas - and getting started on his first season at the helm of the Grambling State offense:

Do you miss Tramon already?

Sure. But he's moved on - hopefully to bigger and better things. With (sophomore receiver) Tim Abney's groin injury, that's two of the bullets in our offensive gun now missing. Aaron Johnson, who returned kicks last year, has had a tough time coming back - breaking his leg two years ago seemed to really get into his head. But he has come out and really had a good spring. Aaron can fill in for Tim, along with (converted junior running back) Henry Tolbert.

Who else is coming on among your receivers?

Paul Hardiman - the redshirt freshman. He catches the ball well. Last year, he just had to get a little stronger, a little more physical. Then there's Tolbert: He's a utility guy; you can put him on the line or in the backfield. Looking at Henry's body now, it looks like he's ready to do anything. He's got good speed, and good knowledge of the game.

You guys are loving Clyde Edwards, the freshman from Westbury High in Houston.

He has shown that he knows what he's doing. If he can come in with this kind of knowledge and ability, it says a lot about his coaching in high school.

Most fans figure a one-time halfback in Eddie Robinson's legendary Wing-T will bring more balance to this offense.

Balance is a goal. As a coordinator, I know balance is what keeps a defense guessing. If you can keep them guessing, then nine times out of 10, you come out ahead. They are off balance. Hopefully, with the size of the offensive linemen (who average, White says, more than 300 pounds) that we have, our running game should be easy to establish. If they take a few steps forward, you ought to be able to get some yardage! (Laughs.)

Is (junior running back) Ab Kuuan your ace in the hole then? Am I revealing trade secrets?

He's an every-down back. But we are also hoping to get him into the five-receiver sets. If we get him into that, then it's a nice trick. We can shift around, and that would be another big plus for our offense. Make no mistake, though, I would love to establish the run. I'm a fan of the play-action pass. If you can run the ball, you can do that. If you can't run the ball, then that's called a straight drop! (Laughs.)

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Williams, White share in GSU family history
October 30, 2003

Though they are sideline partners now - and were, of course, former college teammates - Grambling State's Doug Williams and receivers coach Sammy White played for bitter rivals in the NFL.

Williams was drafted in the first round of the 1978 draft by Tampa Bay, while White was picked in the second round in 1976 and played for Minnesota.

"He was a couple of years ahead of me," Williams says of their time playing for Eddie Robinson in the 1970s at GSU. "But we ended up in the same division, so we played twice a year."

White was a Vikings receiver from 1976-85, while Williams played for division foe Tampa Bay from 1978-82. That meant 10 meetings between them in all - with Williams holding the slight career edge at 5-4.

"You don't always want to rehash it - because he was in a situation with a team that wasn't always as good," White says. "My situation was totally different: I came onto a team that had a bunch of Hall of Famers."

While Fran Tarkenton was leading Minnesota to the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers started 0-26 as an expansion franchise - before Williams arrived.

Even so, "my first win came against them - at Tampa," Williams says. Score: 16-10, in 1978. "We always had some good battles, the five years I was there."

Williams' best showing against White's Vikings was 1979, when the two teams split the wins by a total of just three points. The Bucs went on to the NFC championship game before falling to the Los Angeles Rams.

Current Tampa Bay coach Jon "Gruden used to catch balls with me on Sunday - along with (current Bucs general manager) Rich McKay," Williams says. "I still pull for them."

The truth is, though, that the best of White's Vikings teams were from the period just before Williams came out of Grambling State.

With White leading all receivers as a rookie, Minnesota advanced to the Super Bowl in 1976 - falling to Oakland. The Vikings also played through to the NFC championship the next year, losing to Dallas.

"I kind of felt bad for him, because he didn't come into a situation like that," White says.

They reminisce, Williams says, about players from back then, but rarely about their team's contests against one another. Not that they don't remember: "One game, I had 486 yards on them - and still lost," Williams says, laughing.

The 2003 version of both teams appear to be headed to the playoffs, with Minnesota becoming the last unbeaten team to fall just last Sunday. Tampa Bay - Super Bowl champs in 2002 - beat Dallas to remain in second place in the NFC South.

White still keeps up, too. "You're always going to watch a team that you went to war with," White says. "There was a family atmosphere up there. It is now and it always has been."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bayou Classic 2003

Here are keys for a revved-up Classic
GSU, Southern look to be equals in statistical game
November 25, 2003

On paper, the Bayou Classic couldn't be more evenly matched.

Southern and Grambling State rank No. 1 and 2 in scoring offense in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

They are also Nos. 1 and 2 on third-down conversions, fourth-down conversions and allowing third-down conversions.

The positions are reversed - with Grambling at No. 1 and Southern at No. 2 - when digging into the numbers on pass offense, total offense and first downs.

It makes for yet another storyline as Southern faces GSU on Saturday in the 30th playing of the Bayou Classic. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at the Superdome.

The winner also advances to face Alabama State in the SWAC championship game two weeks from Saturday in Birmingham, Ala.

"The fact that everything is on the line means you'll see a whole different game," said Melvin Spears, GSU's offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. "It will be a more methodical game - on both sides."

So, it's tempting to get lost in the addition and subtraction - to get stat happy.

Too, individuals on each team follow the same eyelash-thin margin of success, with GSU's Tramon Douglas leading the SWAC in receiving yards per game - followed by Southern's Chris Davis.

Grambling State's Bruce Eugene leads the SWAC in passing yardage per game and total offense, with SU's Quincy Richard in second.

GSU's Douglas and Moses Harris are tops in conference receptions, followed by Davis.
SU's Montie Ackley is third overall in scoring, with GSU's Brian Morgan and Douglas at fourth and fifth.

Douglas is second and Richard is third in touchdowns. Grambling State's Seneca Lee is second and Southern's Erin Damond is third in passes defended.

Put away the on-paper comparisons, however, and the similarities slow considerably.
We explore the more subtle differences in these two teams, nuances that could tip the scales one way or another this weekend:

It plays another slow starting, unfocused first half.

The Tigers have been inattentive for long periods of time this season, often letting lesser opponents hang around long enough to make Grambling State's wins far more interesting than they should have been.

The Tigers more than doubled their points in the second half in seven of 11 games this season.

Quarterback Bruce Eugene and his receivers were also guilty of thoughtless mistakes in execution that prevented GSU from putting opponents away, notably against McNeese State.

That's exactly how Grambling State fell to Southern last year. "We squandered five or six opportunities," Tigers coach Doug Williams said.

Calvin Colquitt lost a ball in the end zone when a SU defender smacked him. Thyron Anderson and Moses Harris dropped passes, Williams said. Douglas fumbled inside the 5-yard line. There was a bad snap.

"When you think about those things," Williams said, "if we just correct them, we'll be a better football team."

The usual deficit isn't something that GSU can recover from against Southern. The Jags' defense, though not particularly quick, is far too disciplined to allow the obvious comeback play late.

It gets the big eyes.

The Jaguars played with reckless abandon last year - beginning with an opening onside kick. Arriving with a 5-6 record, Southern played like it had nothing to lose ... because it didn't.

A year later, Southern has doubled that mark for wins. But the Jaguars have to avoid thoughts of their more recent troubles - including a 19-15 mark in the previous three campaigns.

"It's a learning process for this team to be in this position," SU coach Pete Richardson told The (Baton Rouge) Advocate this week. "The more you win, the more you have to prepare to keep winning."

Southern had some odd misfires against Lincoln and Texas Southern - including a stunning eight turnovers - down the stretch, suggesting that the Jaguars were having trouble handling success.

The last time a win at the Bayou Classic meant advancing to the SWAC Championship game was in 2001. A banged-up Southern team fell 30-20.

It can somehow find a way to recapture some turnover mojo.

The Jaguars came racing out of the gate, picking off 12 passes in their first five games - returning three for touchdowns. Southern then cooled off considerably, snatching just one pass in the final five contests.

"We have to be ready, be disciplined, bring our `A' game," secondary coach Henry Miller told The Advocate. "They'll be our biggest test (as a secondary), and we'll be theirs, too."

A good eye for the errant pass is kryptonite to GSU's super-powered offense - one that, despite the occasional tip of the hat to a running game, is always predicated on the deep pass.

If Southern's conservative defensive scheme exploits that aggressiveness with timely interceptions, the Jaguars can duplicate last year's success: Eugene has three interceptions in 2002, with one returned for a touchdown.

It remains patient - on offense and defense.

Fans love the lightning-strike score. But a more considered attack, featuring intermediate passes and the odd inside running play, should open up the game for more drama late. Texas Southern gained 139 yards in the first half alone against SU, slowly building a lead before falling on a last-minute play.

"The quarterback has to take what they give him," Spears said. "We'll have to do the little things on offense. Catch the ball. Play well on third down."

Grambling State is in a far different position than it enjoyed last season, when the Tigers had clinched a trip to the SWAC championship game whether they won in New Orleans or not. That could have contributed to a lackadaisical approach to the 2002 Bayou Classic.

Grambling State needs to guard against seeing the reverse come true this year - that is, risking too much too early on offense in a bid to earn a fourth-straight title try.

Meanwhile, a second season with offensive coordinator David Oliver has stabilized that unit. The Jags are eating up the clock, even while averaging a Division I-AA-leading 42 points per game in scoring offense.

"We've got to control field position," Spears said. "They have elements of a wide-open offense in their scheme, but in the end they try to control the ball."

SU quarterback Quincy Richard will also gamble. He's had 12 interceptions on the year - with half of those coming in SU's final three games against Allen, Lincoln and Texas Southern.

Containment rushes might spring GSU's corners for their own game-turning interceptions.

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GSU wants same routine for week
·As several Tigers fight flu bug, team starts prep work for year's `biggest' game.
November 24, 2003

GRAMBLING - They move practices to Eddie Robinson Stadium.

But Grambling State coaches try not to alter their routine in anticipation of the annual game against Southern - despite the glitz and the history and the long bye week that precedes it.

"We're not changing anything," GSU coach Doug Williams said. "We know each other too well."

The 30th Bayou Classic, broadcast nationally on NBC, is Saturday at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Grambling State is undefeated in Southwestern Athletic Conference play, while Southern has one SWAC loss.

"Emotion is always going to play a part," said GSU offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Melvin Spears, "in a game of this magnitude."

But rarely more so than this year, it would seem: The winner of the game advances to face Alabama State in the SWAC Championship game two weeks later in Birmingham, Ala.

"This is what we want, though," Spears said. "This is what we are after. I think the players are going to rise to the occasion."

That a fourth-straight championship berth is at stake only adds another layer of intrigue in the onion of pressure, expectation and rivalry that surrounds this game.

"You've got some fans who would rather be 1-10, if you won the Bayou Classic. But I don't think that way - and I try to make sure none of the coaches think that way," Williams said. "Our goal is to get to Birmingham. It just so happens that, this year, the Bayou Classic is the only way we can get there."

This is the first bye week of three this season where Grambling State isn't coming off a loss. GSU fell to San Jose State and McNeese State in out-of-conference play.

"When you lose, you want to jump right back into it," senior receiver Tramon Douglas said. "Sitting out, though, it helps your team with injuries."

More particularly, in the case of Grambling State, it helps with illness: Nine different players have missed practice since the Nov. 15 win over Savannah State because of a stampeding flu bug.

Spears said some starters are likely to miss out on conditioning while they try to get well.

"It's going to stagnate you a little, with respect to preparation," Spears said. "But I'm not particularly worried about it. Michael Jordan put up 50 one night with the flu. When it comes to crunch time, they've got to be ready to go."

That's because, once again, a long season finishes with a flourish in New Orleans.

The big-game atmosphere holds true, whether the Bayou Classic has championship implications or not: Last season, Southern entered the game at 5-6, but still easily defeated the defending SWAC champions.

In fact, Grambling has gone 1-for-5 in the Bayou Classic since Williams took over for Robinson - even while the Tigers have won a trio of conference titles. Southern now has a one-game edge since its founding in 1974.

"I don't get caught up in that one-game syndrome," Williams said. "If I did, we might not have won the SWAC championship last year after we lost the Bayou Classic."

Coaches think a year that included not just every SWAC team, but also the nation's No. 1 Division I-AA school - McNeese State - will be a crucible for success this year. The season started with a national television audience for that first-in-the-nation opener against San Jose State on ESPN2.

"We communicated to our guys that week in and week out, you're going to play a big game," Spears said. "I think the fact that we've had such a tough schedule will make them much more fit for the Bayou Classic."

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SWAC title hinges on this Classic
· Grambling State-Southern winner goes on to the conference championship game.
November 29, 2003

NEW ORLEANS - "There's nothing like walking out of that tunnel at the Bayou Classic in the Superdome," said Grambling State offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Melvin Spears. "It's another whole level."

Never moreso than during the Classic's 30th playing today - the first game in years that hasn't been overshadowed by the rivalry of Grambling State and Southern itself.

The winner of this afternoon's Classic advances as the Western Division champion in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game in two weeks. The loser goes home.

"It's for all the marbles," said GSU coach Doug Williams, now 1-4 in this heralded rivalry game between the SWAC's only Louisiana schools.

So, this traditional bellwether game rings louder than ever.

In keeping, GSU has game-planned relentlessly - trying to outguess and ultimately outplay Southern and outcoach Pete Richardson.

The same is true down in Baton Rouge. "This year," Richardson said, "the magnitude of the game has changed a bit."

An assumption might be that today's contest will be a shootout, with Grambling State and Southern finishing the 2003 season at the top of most significant offensive categories.

"I think it will be more of a ball-control-type game," Spears countered. "It will be very, very methodical for both teams."

GSU quarterback Bruce Eugene agreed. "They just sit back," he said, "and wait for you to make a mistake. We've been known as a vertical offense. But we'll have to take what they give us."

Experience at cornerback and safety - where three of the four defenders are a senior - could also help GSU fight off Southern's impressive attack. "In a game of his magnitude, they'll have to step up to make plays," said GSU defensive coordinator Heishma Northern.

A hard-fought contest usually whittles itself down to individual plays, often on special teams. Southern changed the momentum of the Bayou Classic last year with an opening onside kick - and forced Grambling State to make mistakes as it tried to come from behind.

"We'll have to make plays," Williams said. "And I think we can. Our linebackers weren't what they are now. Our front four wasn't either."

Also at stake for Grambling State: A record fourth-straight SWAC championship. The Tigers won a quartet of titles before, a series begun when Williams was quarterback at GSU, but they only did so by sharing the championship. With the founding of a title game in 1999, the SWAC now crowns an outright champion each year.

"Southern," Spears said, "is in the way. We only have one objective - and that's to be in Birmingham."

Last year, Grambling State had clinched a trip to the SWAC championship game - whether the Tigers won in New Orleans or not. That could have contributed to a lackadaisical approach, as GSU fell 48-24.

"The last three years, there wasn't a lot of pressure about who won," Richardson said.

Sadly, the less significance the game has actually had, the more cherished add-on events have taken center stage. The Bayou Classic can in some ways become an event that has little to do with football.

"To me, the No. 1 priority should be football," Williams said. "That bothers me a little."

Those worries dissipated this year.

Southern has built its modern reputation on measured actions - something that has keyed a nine-of-10 win streak in the Bayou Classic. Grambling State coaches said they hope to match the Jaguars' patience today.

"We'll have to mix it up - and play smart," Northern said. "We want to take away the running game, make them one dimensional. If you look at how the quarterback played late in the year (when Quincy Richard had more than half of his 12 interceptions coming in the season's final three games), and we stay patient, we ought to be able to get some turnovers."

Say what?: Any in-state rivalry features a spicy roux of smack, garbage talk and innuendo.

That's always been true of the Bayou Classic - whether the phone lines carried human voices or, in the new century, Internet buzz.

One rumor - spread from neighbors to - had quarterback Bruce Eugene injuring three fingers on his throwing hand in practice this week.

It wasn't true. Eugene jammed the small finger on his non-throwing hand.

Not that everyone at Grambling didn't have some fun with it, anyway: Spears jokingly asked that the news be put on the front page.

"I didn't practice all week. My status for the game never looked good," Eugene said, laughing. "We'll be running the ball."

Williams had a theory on how it all got started: "I think somebody saw him come off the field and saw him holding his hand," he said.

Tiger bites: Eugene, a New Orleans native, has 55 relatives and friends coming to the game. ... GSU's Spears said, despite two weeks of game-planning for Southern, that he will not map out the game's first series today. That's not his style. "We're not a scripted team," Spears said. "We go with what they give us. We don't have a set template, not even for the first play." ... Southern quarterback Quincy Richard is 1-1 in Bayou Classic games.

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30 (was really) something
· Southern just a little better than GSU in another wild showdown
November 30, 2003

By Nick Deriso
NEW ORLEANS- A see-sawing year for Grambling State could have only ended with an up-and-down game against Southern on Saturday.

There were five lead changes - and neither team could separate itself from the other by more than 10 points.

"From the fans' standpoint, this was a great game," said GSU coach Doug Williams. "For TV, this was a great game."

But for the Tigers, this was also a game that prevented them from advancing to a fourth straight Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.

This teetering struggle was not decided until Eugene tossed an interception to SU's Erin Damond with 1:08 left. Southern won 44-41 in front of just over 70,000 at the Louisiana Superdome and a national television audience on NBC.

"We were fortunate to have the ball in the end," said Southern coach Pete Richardson - who, with the win, advances to his first title match since 1999.

Moments after the clock ran down, tears trickling down his face, Eugene remained speechless.

"I can understand that," Williams said. "But I told him to hold his head up. Bruce Eugene doesn't have anything to be ashamed of. For the past two years, he's been the horse we've rode - and hopefully next year, he'll be the horse we ride again."

As with the bulk of the Tigers' 10-3 campaign in 2003, eye-popping hot streaks were followed by ever-so-slow periods of sluggishness.

GSU recovered from an early touchdown by the Jaguars to pull ahead 17-7 as the second period began, but then didn't score again until midway through the third quarter - when Brian Morgan hit a field goal to make it 20-16.

Southern's Quincy Richard answered with a 65-yard touchdown pass to push the Jaguars back out in front, 22-20. One 76-yard touchdown pass from Eugene to Henry Tolbert later, and GSU regained the lead.

The crowd followed along with the yo-yoing scoreboard. One side was up, then the same side was down.

The issue seemed to have been settled when, four minutes into the fourth quarter, a Eugene fumble followed the fourth of five Richard touchdown passes. The Jaguars were again ahead by 10. Then GSU's Lennard Patton - a defensive tackle! - rumbled 40 yards to score on an interception. The Southern lead was cut to 37-34.

Ebb, then flow.

Perhaps none of that should have been a surprise, coming as it did from a Grambling State team that so often ran hot and cold in 2003.

Comebacks over Alabama State and Jackson State were thrilling, but perhaps unnecessary had the Tigers played better early.

Grambling State ran side by side with the nation's best Division I-AA school at home against McNeese State, then was held scoreless in the fourth quarter against winless Savannah State in Robinson Stadium.

An emotion-packed game like the Bayou Classic played on those tendancies, as momentum veered wildly - sometimes seeming to change not with every possession, but with every play.

Facing a seemingly insurmountable third-and-seven on its own 15 in the third quarter, SU's Richard connected on two consecutive long passes, for 38 and 28 yards, to set up another score.
Suddenly, Southern was up by three. They never relinquished the lead.

Still, thought, it was back ... then forth.

All the while, touchdowns rained down in torrents, as players on both teams made the Superdome look like their own back yard.

There were eight touchdown passes thrown, with Richard accounting for a 65-yard bomb and Eugene adding his own 76-yarder.

"It was going to be a dogfight," Williams said. "We knew that coming in. There was a lot to play for. It lived up to the hype."

Southern began the scoring with a Grambling-esque drive featuring a huge 43-yard catch by redshirt junior Alfred Ard.

There would be no conservative, ball-control offense - not when the Jaguars' first play featured five receivers out wide. Seven plays later, Southern took its first lead of the game.

But a seven-play drive for 82 yards by SU was answered by a one-play, 71-yard drive by Grambling, as Eugene found a steaking Tim Abney down its own sideline.

That was the longest passing touchdown of the year for Grambling - and the longest of Eugene's already sparkling career.

Well, until the third quarter - when Eugene hit Tolbert for 76 yards and another score.

At one point, with 8:14 left in the first quarter, Eugene was stunning 2-for-3 for 91 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 48 yards - primarily on a designed keeper play the team had worked on all week - while the Tigers built an early 10-point lead.

Make that a fleeting 10-point lead.

Up, then down.

Richard continued a nearly flawless early run: He was 20-for-22 in the first half, including a 15-yard strike to Adam Nelson, to trim Grambling State's lead to 17-16.

Richard was still picking the GSU backfield apart late into the afternoon, completing a 53-yard pass midway through the fourth quarter to keep Southern ahead 44-34.

"You never knew which one of those guys is going to show up," GSU defensive coordinator Heishma Northern said. "Is it going to be the group who held Jackson State scoreless in the second half? Or is it going to be the group of guys who got behind against Mississippi Valley?"

Brian Morgan missed a field goal to end the first half, then had another kick blocked to start the second. One play later, former Farmerville standout Dimitri Carr took advantage of a rare Richard mistake, picking him off for the first time all day.

To and fro.

This game was never going to be decided on the ground. With eight minutes left in the game, Richard already had more than 500 yards in the air.

Southern finished the initial period with just 19 yards on the rushing. Grambling didn't hand the ball off to a running back until just 40 seconds were left in the first quarter.

So, in the end, despite the uneven performance by Grambling State, an amazing aerial show on both sides made for perhaps the most exciting Bayou Classic ever. In truth, the magic of this contest had much to do with its very whip-sawing nature.

Even the 2000 game, usually cited as the best ever, was far less dramatic - if only because it was defined by a sustained comeback by Southern rather than an ever-in-doubt score.

"It's a classic," said Grambling State receivers coach Sammie White - himself the co-MVP of the first Bayou Classic ever played at the Superdome. "That's something, despite the ending, that you can never take away."

1,136 --Total yards of offense by GSU and Southern.
67% --Passes completed by both starting quarterbacks (60 of 90).
8 --Combined touchdowns scored from 20 yards or beyond by both teams.
3 --Years in a row GSU had won the conference crown before Saturday's loss sent Southern to the SWAC title game.
70,151 --Saturday's attendance.

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GSU seniors close out stellar careers
November 30, 2003

NEW ORLEANS - The Grambling State seniors of 1999 were the last to see their season end in New Orleans. Each group since has played two weeks after the Bayou Classic in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.

Saturday's slim 44-41 loss to Southern changed that.

"When I look at these players who are in their last Bayou Classic or their last game at Grambling, and what they have contributed, you want to put your arms around them," GSU coach Doug Williams said. "There has been blood, and sweat, and tears."

Two of the hardest-hit seniors were wide reciever Tramon Douglas and linebacker Antoine Smith.

Douglas had his lowest total yards since playing UAPB on Oct. 18, Douglas' first game back after minor knee surgery caused him to miss a month of the season.

Smith was involved in a scary first-half collision that broke his shin.

"It's disappointing because I didn't even finish the second quarter - and it was the last game of my career at Grambling," Smith said. "I was in so much pain it was tough for me to focus on everything that was going on on the field."

Douglas leaves GSU as the school leader in receptions (for a year and in a game), receiving yards and touchdowns - and the SWAC leader for receiving yards in a single season, a record previously held by future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.

"I love him with all my heart," said GSU quarterback Bruce Eugene, who counted Douglas as his favorite target. "I'm hurting because we went out like this - for this to be his last game."

Douglas had a team-leading nine catches for 83 yards on Saturday.

"It's didn't hit me all week, and now it finally has - I'm losing my top receiver," said GSU receivers coach Sammie White. "We thought we were going to play another one."

Other seniors this year include: DE Calvin Arnold; DB Octavius Bond; SS John Brantley; DB Earin Bridges; WR Corey Brownfield; DL Traveres Comegys; WR Calvin Colquitt; TE Gershone Jessie; DB Seneca Lee; and OL Warner Stewart, among others.

"It becomes emotional in that dressing room," Williams said. "I always go back to something my dad used to tell me. We'd sit around, when he was living, and he'd say: `Man, the best of friends must part sometimes.' "

Bond finished with 146 yards on kickoff returns. Colquitt had four catches for 47 yards.

"It hasn't hit them yet," Williams said. "But they will miss Grambling. When Randy Hymes first left, and he was in Baltimore that first year, he'd call me. He'd say: `Coach, I wish I was still at Grambling.' It's just something about it. You missed being there. You miss being a part of it. It takes some getting used to."

Long time coming: One of the forgotten challenges for coaches in preparing for the Bayou Classic is hard-wired in its very celebrity: Playing a nationally broadcast game - something that requires frequent commercial timeouts - means that the action on the field only happens in fits and starts.

One quarter last season lasted more than an hour.

"It's a zoo up there," said Grambling State offensive coordinator Melvin Spears, who has to call plays based on situations and personnel in a matter of seconds. But then, on other occasions, he might have to wait 10 minutes between downs.

To combat the time constrictions, GSU for the first time used wristbands with codes for each play during Saturday's game. Every offensive player had one on.

"Even with the clock running, I can just give them a number," Spears said.

Too, there's a consideration that's a little less obvious: The coaches and players never get to experience the pageantry and pomp that is the Bayou Classic's halftime show.

Spears tapes it, for viewing after the season is over. "I've got them all," he said. "I make sure."

Asked who he picked in the Battle of Bands, Spears said: "There's no other. We've got the best band in the land!"

Hello, it's me: A sold-out game with a Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game berth in the balance can rustle up old friends. Well, old friends looking for tickets, anyway.

Fans worked any connection they could remember to gain entrance into black college football's biggest annual contest.

Some were very, very old friends indeed: Williams heard from a grade-school classmate - "somebody I went to school with from first grade through integration, about ninth grade," he said.

"That's been, I bet you, 30 years. `I just called for a couple of tickets,' he said. He didn't ask how I was doing. Nothing!"

Every phone in the athletic support building at Grambling State rattled incessantly all week - echoing the scene at Southern in Baton Rouge.

"I can't imagine how many telephone calls I've received," SU coach Pete Richardson said. "Everybody is looking for tickets. I told them I'm not in the ticket business."

That job often falls on the assistants. GSU's offensive coordinator gave at least one interview with a phone stuck on one ear.

"This Classic has meant calls from people I haven't heard from in eight, nine, 10 years," said Spears. "All of a sudden, they show up asking: `What's been going on?' It's been 10 years! But, in some ways, that's understandable. In all actuality, this was the championship game."

Nothing personal?: Despite the heated nature of this game, there are several close connections between Grambling State and Southern.

SU linebackers coach Tom Lavigne holds both bachelor's and master's degrees from Grambling State.

GSU defensive coordinator Heishma Northern graduated from SU. He took over midseason from fellow Southern grad Michael Roach, when Roach took a leave of absence. Grambling State offensive line coach Marshall Hayes is also an SU graduate.

"But they want to win for Grambling now, because it's their job," Williams said. "It's a pride thing. The alumni sometimes get carried away and don't realize that, when it's all over, it's still a game. It's nothing personal."

Bayou bites: Southern has three players who prepped in northeastern Louisiana on its roster: sophomore defensive back Jarvis Bridges from Wossman; and sophomores Ronnie and Donnie Skinner from Tallulah High School. ... GSU's Smith and junior offensive lineman Darryl Rodgers were named to the Academic All-District VI second team by the College Sports Information Directors of America. Smith has a 3.52 grade-point average in electronic engineering technology. Rodgers has a 3.56 in draft engineering. ... Among those in attendance was former GSU quarterback James "Shack" Harris, now a front-office executive with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

SU-Kenneth Peoples 8-43, Gerald Holmes 6-34, Leon Miller 1-2, Davis 1-0, Richard 8-(minus-35).
GSU-Eugene 11-80, Reuben Mays 8-24, Kauuan 4-19, Henry Tolbert 1-9, Tramon Douglas 1-(minus-1).
SU-Richard 34-42-2 552.
GSU-Eugene 26-48-2 409.
SU-Lionel Joseph 8-67, Davis 7-128, Holmes 6-18, Ard 4-144, Bridges 4-122, James Vernon 3-54, Peoples 2-19.
GSU-Douglas 9-83, Abney 4-117, Tolbert 4-102, Calvin Colquitt 4-47, Moses Harris 3-45, Chris Day 2-15.

Rushing 5/ 6
Passing 18/ 17
Penalty 1/1
Rushing attempts 24/ 25
Comp-Att-Int 34-42-2/ 26-48-2
Average gain per play 9.0/ 7.4

PUNTS-AVERAGE 2-36.0/ 1-36.0
THIRD-DOWN CONVERSION 6 of 10/ 6 of 13
SACKS BY-YARDS 1-1/ 2-16

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Grambling greats: Willie Davis

One step further
May 29, 2006

By Nick Deriso
Former Green Bay legend Willie Davis, Grambling's first Pro Football Hall of Famer, returned in a reflective mood from an emotional recent reunion at GSU.

"I was down at my old school just last week for a 50-year celebration of my class," he told The Green Bay Press-Gazette, "and I tell you, I was just shocked with the number of football players that were part of the teams I was on that are no longer with us."

Davis helped former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson win his first black college national championship as part of a 1955 squad that went 10-0 - earning him a spot on our GRAMBLING80 list.

Davis was then part of all 5 NFL title-winning teams under Packers coach Vince Lombardi, making 4 1/2 sacks in Super Bowls I and II - marks that would rank as the best ever, if that stat had been officially recorded back then.

Years later, he's considerate of that legacy.

"I want my grandkids to have this (memorabilia) as a reminder of their granddad," Davis said. "There is some stuff I'm willing to part with, and if that helps some fundraising efforts (for charity), I plan to contribute some of those things."

This Lisbon native has gone on to an impressive career, establishing several businesses in the hopes, he's said, that people would "remember me as a player who moved on to success off the field."

He deserves it. Davis got some of that recognition, quiet as it was, in his return trip to Grambling. But I'd like to see the community go one step further, perhaps by establishing a larger, more public event in honor of this SWAC Hall of Famer.

Why not have Willie Davis Week during the upcoming football season? That would be fitting tribute to one of Robinson's most influential former pupils.

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Greats still in high regards
July 4, 2004

By Nick Deriso
Four Grambling State greats were among those honored Saturday as part of Family Digest magazine's salute to the best black college athletes of all time.

Willie Brown, Junious "Buck" Buchanan, Willie Davis and Doug Williams - all former players under the legendary Eddie Robinson - were recognized.

"It's good to have four from Grambling honored," Williams said. "But there could be an argument that there should be more. The thing with honors like this is that you are grateful that people recognize you - but you realize that there are other people who deserve the same kind of honor. I'm certainly glad to be in that number."

Only Brown, now a coach and personnel director with the Oakland Raiders, attended the ceremony, held in Las Vegas. Buchanan died of lung cancer in 1992.

All four men are members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Hall of Fame.

Here's a look at Willie Davis:

-- Davis, the first Grambling player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was an All-NFL selection five times in the six years from 1962-67 for Green Bay - and was selected to play in five consecutive Pro Bowls.

A stalwart presence on the decade's most dominant team, Davis helped the Packers to five NFL championships and six divisional titles in eight seasons.The Lisbon native was the very portrait of reliability: Davis didn't miss a contest in his 12-year, 162-game career. The Sporting News placed him at No. 69 in its list of the Football's 100 Greatest Players Ever.

But Davis always had other aspirations, often saying that he wanted people to "remember me as a player who moved on to success off the field."

He would use a University of Chicago MBA to launch a second career. Davis is now chief executive of five radio stations - and has served on as many as 10 corporate boards of directors, including Sara Lee, Dow Chemical and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.

"I guess it's a lot of stuff," Davis said. "But I certainly don't have any specific day in mind for when I'll retire. At the moment I'm not having fun, I'll step back. But right now, I feel blessed and I'm enjoying myself."

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Glory days always close for legends
GSU family paid honor to '55 team
October 31, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - It's been 50 years, a half century of football. But for Melvin Lee, center on the 1955 undefeated team at Grambling State, the time has flown by.

"To the individuals on the team, we remember it like it was yesterday," said Lee, who was honored before last Saturday's homecoming game along with the rest of that black college national championship squad.

"We had an opportunity to bring some legends back," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "With the alumni coming back, looking to see what kind of product we are putting on the field, it's important to show them that the legacy continues."

Lee said the players, even as college-aged youngsters, could sense that Eddie Robinson was not only a bright football mind, but also an emerging leader of national scope.

"We all looked up to him, and the country would recognize how special he was in later years," said Lee, who was later Robinson's long-time offensive coordinator. "As individuals, we were really impressed by his leadership. He always inspired you. There was always something that was different and unique and very stimulating."

Among those also in attendance at Robinson Stadium were: halfbacks Paul Green and Edward Murray; fullbacks Howard Scott and Levi Washington; ends Mack Moore and Fred Franklin; guards Joseph Dixon and Huey Hill; center Leon Larce; and quarterbacks Jammie Caleb, Dorth Blade, Robert Smith and Willie Kennedy.

With these men, Robinson forged a tough, run-oriented team that also played stingy, gritty defense.

"We're proud the fact that we didn't allow more than 24 points in any game that year," said Lee. "The offense was based around the tailback; there was never a question about passing. We ran to the right most of the time. We more or less came right at you."

Lee credited the school president and its sports information director for helping establish the team - and spreading the word about this then-new football power.

"It started at the top, of course," said Lee. "R.W.E. Jones set the stage and then Collie J. Nicholson gave us so much attention in news print. That helped Coach Robinson focus on being a consistent fundamentalist. They allowed us to learn and progress as the years went by."

Willie Davis, a senior tackle, was the only player to find consistent success at the next level, earning Pro Football Hall of Fame honors for his part in the 1960s championships of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. Yet Lee said many of the lessons taught on the practice fields spurred the players to leadership roles in the community, working as educators and businessmen.

"As we played for that championship, Coach talked about giving your best effort and that, looking back, you would see this as your finest hour," said Lee. "I'm sure most of us look back and realize that was a fantastic time. It can only happen to a few individuals, and not very often."

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A legacy that lingers
January 30, 2007

By Nick Deriso
Green Bay's 1966 team -- with Grambling product Willie "Thumper" Davis as a cornerstone -- was named the No. 6 all-time Super Bowl squad by a 53-member panel of pro football experts during an NFL Network special tonight.

No surprise there, since Davis was part of a startling roster of legends on that first-ever title team, from Coach Vince Lombardi to players like Bart Starr, Bill Curry and Willie Wood.

Curry, though, turns the whole show on its ear with a frank exchange about how Davis helped him overcome whatever last whispers of latent racism he'd harbored having grown up in the old rural South.

Davis ran into the rookie during Curry's first Green Bay training camp, then held at tiny St. Norbert College. That was a long way from College Park, Ga., where the future standout center was raised during the 1940s.

"This voice," Curry says on the program, "comes out of the darkness, 'Bill.' It was Willie Davis; I thought it was God. I just sat down in the grass terrified. He said, 'I'd like to speak with you.'"

Davis offered something that Curry never forgot, something that illustrated both Davis' towering leadership but also what made this team so special: Davis said he would become Curry's benefactor, his port in the storm.

"He said ... when (legendary Packers defender Ray) Nitschke's snapping your facemask and Lombardi is screaming in your face and you don't think you can take another step," Curry remembered, "you look at me and I'll get you through it.'"

This wasn't about football anymore. This was the beginning of something else, a friendship that thundered through Curry's heart.

"He didn't just help me to play in the NFL for 10 years, he changed my life because I was never able to look at another human being in the same way I had," Curry said on the program. "It was an unexpected, undeserved, unrewarded act of kindness by a great leader and a great man. I've never forgotten that and that is the difference in the outstanding teams and the others. If you've got Willie Davis, nobody can beat you."

And few did, not on Eddie Robinson's Grambling teams of the 1950s (where Davis sparked an undefeated '55 campaign) or on Lombardi's 1960s teams (where he helped Green Bay to five NFL titles in seven years).

Curry, however, helped underscore something that's made Davis just as important in the long legacy that he built after football, as a leading businessman and philanthropist.

Willie Davis was just getting started back then. You can't say that about many football players, once their careers are over.