Thursday, April 12, 2007

Remembering: Coach Rob's best

EDDIE ROB: Coach’s best
Six decades of Grambling talent are hard to narrow down
April 9, 2007

By Nick Deriso
BATON ROUGE — They’ll gather, some of Eddie Robinson’s most noted pupils, to say goodbye today.

Former Grambling State players have been invited to a private ceremony, to be held at 9:30 a.m. in the State Capitol Memorial Hall, before Robinson’s public viewing.

“This is an opportunity for us to show our appreciation, a last hurrah for Coach,” said ex-GSU player and coach Doug Williams, who helped organize the event. “A viewing at the capitol is major credence to everything Coach accomplished. He deserves it.”

The bells of St. Joseph Cathedral will toll as the fallen coach’s body is carried up the capitol steps this morning at 9. Public viewing will then follow from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and then from 6-7 p.m., after a memorial ceremony in the House Chamber.

Still, most of today’s attention will fall on the athletes who come to pay their respects.

That got us to thinking about the best of the best. So, we compiled our own top five players from each of the six decades of Grambling football under Robinson.

Here are our suggestions, listed by decade and alphabetically:

1. Fred Hobdy: A guard on Grambling’s renowned “un” team in 1942 — which went unbeaten, untied and unscored upon — Hobdy returned from the war and coached young men for most of the next five decades. He worked first as an ends coach on the football team (he was an assistant on 1955’s undefeated squad), and then as Louisiana’s most successful college hoops coach ever. He was a member of the GSU Hall of Fame’s second class, along with Robinson, in 1981.

2. Willie “Automatic” Joseph: His name says it all: Joseph, over the 1947-49 seasons, established a 48-point school record for career points by a kicker that still stands. Grambling wouldn’t lose more than three games in a season over that span.

3. Legolian “Boots” Moore: Helped Grambling to its seminal 21-6 win over Southern University in 1947, a first-time-ever moment that Robinson always said put the program on the map. Later toured with the Harlem Globetrotters.

4. Dan H. Washington: A member of Robinson’s first squad, as well as its subsequent “un” team in 1942, Washington then touched thousands of lives as team trainer for 45 years before his death in 1996 at age 74.

5. Paul “Tank” Younger: Despite playing from 1945-48, still holds GSU record for career points with 369. His 86-yard blast against Morgan State in 1946 also remains the school’s longest non-scoring run.

In all, Younger scored 60 touchdowns — at the time a collegiate record, and still tops at Grambling — during his storied career under Robinson. Named black college player of the year in 1949, he was the first Grambling player inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame, in 1973. Induction into the GSU hall followed in 1982.

Significantly, Younger went on to become one of the highest-ranking early black pro executives ever. He entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000, but died just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

1. Willie Davis: A two-time black college All-America defensive tackle in 1954-55, Davis anchored Grambling’s first national black college championship team — the 10-0 squad from 1955.

“Willie had hitting power,” Robinson once recalled. “He was our captain, an outstanding leader.”

Davis, after a Hall of Fame pro career, became one of black America’s most important business leaders. He was GSU’s second SWAC Hall of Famer in 1977, and was inducted into GSU hall in ’82.

2. Willie Brown: So deep was Grambling’s roster in the late 1950s, the only NFL player to intercept a least one pass in 16 consecutive seasons never played cornerback. Still he lettered all four years at split end and outside linebacker, and GSU won a title in 1960. A 1983 GSU Hall of Fame inductee, Brown has shepherded countless NFL careers as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders.

3. Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd: At 6-9 and 315 pounds, Ladd arrived in the late 1950s as arguably the biggest GSU star ever. A first-team all-league defensive lineman in his final season at Grambling in 1960, he helped Grambling to its first-ever SWAC championship. Inducted into the GSU hall in 1989, Ladd was an activist for players’ rights as a pro player and, later, an prison evangelist before passing last month after a long bout with cancer.

4. Melvin Lee: As quarterback of the offensive line at center on Grambling’s undefeated 1955 championship squad, Lee had an astonishing impact on generations of men at his alma mater. He would work for the next 40 seasons as a Robinson assistant, tinkering and perfecting Robinson’s fabled Wing-T offense.

5. Edward “Bo” Murray: A critical piece of Grambling’s 1955 undefeated team, the then-redshirt sophomore won the Orange Blossom Classic on scoring runs of 75 and 8 yards. He also kicked the extra point on his winning TD, beating Florida A&M 28-21. A 1995 GSU Hall of Fame inductee.

1. Junious “Buck” Buchanan: From his sophomore season onward, this tackle earned a trio of All-America and all-conference honors while helping Grambling to a 23-5-2 record.

Robinson would often gush about Buchanan’s dominance, even in practice: “If we went to the right, he would tackle us. If we went to the left, he would tackle us. If we went right at him, he would tackle us. Boy, he was really tough.”

Buchanan, a 1987 GSU Hall of Fame inductee, passed away in 1992 after a long bout with lung cancer. He was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

2. James “Shack” Harris: Harris passed for 4,128 yards and 43 touchdowns as Grambling went 24-5-1 between 1965-68, winning three straight SWAC titles.

“Coach Robinson had the utmost confidence in me that I could play, and that meant a lot, knowing how he felt,” Harris said. “Eddie Robinson is perhaps the greatest person that I’ve ever been around.”

In his senior season alone, Harris passed for 1,972 yards and 21 touchdowns on only 225 attempts. He was first-team All-SWAC in 1967-68, and also earned SWAC and GSU hall of fame honors.

Just as importantly, he broke barriers as an early starting NFL quarterback, and now serves as one of the league’s top-ranking pro personnel executives.

3. Charlie Joiner: Led all Grambling receivers from 1966-68, gaining 2,066 yards, on the way to a trio of conference titles. An amazing 78 of quarterback Harris’ 289 career completions at Grambling were hauled in by the steady Joiner, who led the team in touchdowns in 1966-67.

“Charlie goes all out,” Robinson once noted. “Beating the man, that’s where he excelled.”

He was named first-team All-SWAC three times, then joined the GSU Hall of Fame in 1986 and the SWAC hall in 1996. He has worked for years as a pro football assistant coach.

4. Frank Lewis: A do-it-all player who led Grambling in receiving in 1969-70 and in rushing in 1969, as well. He scored 28 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons, averaging 18.65 yards per catch.

“I played with Frank and I don’t know if I have ever seen a better athlete than Frank,” Harris said. “I don’t know of anything that Frank couldn’t do.”

Lewis was named first-team all-conference as a junior and senior, and was second team as a sophomore when Grambling won the SWAC in 1968. He is a community leader in his hometown of Houma, working with the disadvantaged.

5. Jerry “Ghost” Robinson: A two-time first-team All-SWAC halfback from 1960-61, a stint that included Grambling’s first-ever league title in 1960. Led all Grambling rushers over those two seasons, running for 1,300 yards.

1. James “Hound” Hunter: A first-team All-SWAC honoree in 1974-75, he helped Grambling to the ’74 SWAC title. Hunter was the team leader in picks for two years, pulling down 16 passes in 1973-74. His eight in 1974 ranks fourth all-time at GSU; still shares school mark for most career returns for a touchdown.

2. Gary “Big Hands” Johnson: Holds the school record for most tackles in a career, with 367 between 1971-74 as GSU won four straight SWAC titles.

In his senior season of 1974 alone, Johnson had 134 tackles, 89 unassisted, and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. That led to coveted invites to both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl — and Johnson was named Most Valuable Player in both.

Johnson earned first-team All-SWAC in 1972-74, followed by 1996 induction into the GSU Hall of Fame, and then 1997 honors in both the College Football and SWAC halls of fame.

3. Robert Parham: Grambling’s leading rusher from 1978-80, he amassed 2,700 yards over that span as GSU won three consecutive SWAC titles. He was a first-team all-conference running back in each of those seasons.

4. Sammy White: Inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of a collegiate career that included two school-leading years for receptions in 1973 and 1975 — and a co-offensive player of the year award as a senior. White was also first-team All-SWAC in ’73. He has shaped youngsters as an assistant football coach at his alma mater now for nine seasons.

5. Doug Williams: Williams, who established school passing marks that stood for nearly 25 years, started quickly — winning a SWAC title as a redshirt freshman in 1974.

“I was blessed to have some veterans around me and Coach Robinson ran a conservative offense that didn’t put too much pressure on me,” Williams said.

He would win another SWAC championship as a senior in 1977, earning second-team All-SWAC honors in 1975 and then offensive player of the year honors in his final collegiate campaign. He was inducted into the GSU hall in 1985 and the SWAC and College halls in 2001.

A groundbreaker as a Heisman Trophy finalist and a Super Bowl MVP, Williams is now a part of a second revolution as an NFL executive.

1. Trumaine Johnson: The 1980 and ’82 SWAC offensive player of the year (when he had 1,000 yards and averaged 14 yards a catch), Johnson was also first-team All-SWAC in 1981. Grambling won the conference championship in ’80. His 16 scores that season is still tied for fifth best in school history.

2. Fred Jones: GSU’s best receiver during the 1987-89 seasons, collecting a total of 2,000 yards as well as a SWAC title in his senior campaign. He also led Grambling in scoring in ’88 with 10 touchdowns, and earned first-team All-SWAC honors in ’88-89.

3. Albert “Snow” Lewis: Was first-team All-SWAC at cornerback in 1981-82, after leading the team in interceptions in 1981 with seven. A stellar performance earned him a starting position by popular vote in 2002 on the 50th anniversary all-time Senior Bowl team. Has worked as an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers, in NFL Europe and at his alma mater.
4. Everson “Cubby” Walls: Still holds the school record for most interceptions in a season, 11 set in 1980. Was All-SWAC that season. Made national headlines recently for an act that said much about his character, donating a kidney to a former NFL teammate.

5. Mike Williams: Williams, brother and successor at quarterback to Doug, won SWAC titles in 1978-80 and was named first-team all-conference as both a junior and senior. He threw for 3,700 yards and 46 touchdowns at Grambling, and remains active in support of Grambling.

1. Curtis Caesar: Led all Grambling receivers in 1993-94, averaging 868 yards per season. A second-team 1994 All-SWAC honoree, his numbers for his final two years are still in Grambling’s all-time Top 20. Grambling shared its last co-championship in the SWAC under Robinson in 1994.

2. Walter Dean: The first SWAC player to win the Walter Payton Award, Dean was also the conference’s offensive player of the year in 1990. No senior has ever run for more than his 1,401 yards. Dean was also first-team all-conference in 1989, when GSU won the SWAC.

3. Eric Gant: A two-time All-SWAC first-teamer beginning in 1991, Gant is one of only 17 Grambling players ever invited to the Senior Bowl. Still holds school records for yards in season (1,417 in 1992) and yards in a career (3,795), as well those for rushing yards by sophomore and junior.

4. Gilad Landau: His 188 career total in PATs was a state record. An All-SWAC first-team kicker in 1992-93, Landau earned All-America honors in 1993 from The Sports Network — becoming a significant figure in the history of Jewish sports in America.

5. Kendrick Nord: Passed for 6,600 yards in 1993-95, beating Alcorn in an epic Robinson Stadium battle and also winning a SWAC title as a senior. Those career yards, not to mention his marks for completions and touchdowns, have only been bested twice ever at Grambling.

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