April 6, 2007


This coach was the epitome of what's best in America (Jerry Izenberg, April 05, 2007, Newark Star-Ledger)

If "teacher" is a synonym for coach, Eddie Robinson was one of the best.

He had to be. When he got to Grambling, his staff was waiting for him. His staff was named Jessie Applewhite, who doubled as the school's night watchman. Together they lined the field for home games. Eddie drove the team bus, coached the drill team at halftime, made sandwiches for road trips because there were precious few places an all-black football team could stop to eat or even use the restrooms. On Mondays, he did the team laundry.

And with all of that, in two years, he had his first undefeated team.

It was the team of Tank Younger.

Paul Younger was a local kid whose parents were seduced during World War II by the siren call of the Oakland shipyards and the money they would never even see in Grambling. They took their son over to the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, the school president, and asked if he would take him in, which Dr. Jones did.

A funny thing happened to the kid. He morphed from Paul Younger into Tank Younger, a behemoth who played both ways for Eddie and who scored 60 touchdowns on punt returns and tackle-eligible plays. At the prodding of Collie Nicholson, the school's sports information director, a Rams scout named Eddie Kotel visited Grambling and fell in love with Younger.

Robinson was concerned about what the Rams would offer Tank, because no player from an all-black school had ever been signed to an NFL contract. So he and Dr. Jones launched a little conspiracy. They took Kotel for a ride through the countryside after Tank's last game.

"I'll give $7,000 if he makes the team," Kotel said, "but no bonus."

"No good," Eddie said. "The boy deserves a bonus."

"Well, he ain't getting one."

So Dr. Jones drove on ... and on ... and on, and Eddie kept giving Kotel soda to drink. The inevitable finally happened on a dark road outside of Rustin, La.

"Let me out for a second," Kotel said. "I have to urinate."

"Can't do that, man, there's snakes out there," Robinson said.

"Definitely," Dr. Jones said. "There's part of your anatomy you don't want to expose. Let's ride and talk some more."

Ten minutes later, Kotel said: "Find me a farmhouse. Find me something and he gets his bonus."

Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Jones nudged the car into a parking spot in front of the train station that had never been more than 15 minutes away in the first place, and NFL history was made. It was sealed that summer when Eddie took Younger down to a little wooden shed that served as the Grambling train station and pulled the red flag out of its housing on the side of the building. Trains didn't stop at Grambling. You had to flag them down.

The Illinois Central Railroad tracks cross the edge of town. They start from as far as the eye can see and continue in a long, lonely sweep toward what looks like nowhere. But on this day they ran toward the biggest "somewhere"in the history of black college football.

"Now, Tank," Eddie said, "you know you need to make this team. If you don't, they'll never take another kid from a black school. Can you make it ?"

"Not if they're playing volleyball, but if it's football, I'll make it."

All-pro defense ... all-pro offense ... and he ripped down the gates for an army of hungry young players.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 6, 2007 10:28 AM

Great teacher, great coach, great man. Nothing like that pathetic bully you were lionizing a couple of months back.

Posted by: b at April 6, 2007 10:41 AM

Thanks for posting an Izenberg column. I grew up reading his stuff. He's not a great writer...but he is a good man who always chose interesting subjects....

Posted by: Foos at April 6, 2007 11:04 AM

Good coaches make the young men they coach into better men. In that respect Mr. Robinosn and Mr. Knight are identical. The rest is background noise.

Posted by: oj at April 6, 2007 2:23 PM

I remember reading that when he started, they were paying him a pittance and he had to mow the practice field to boot.

Eddie Robinson is the kind of man they invented the word "legendary" to describe.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 7, 2007 1:35 AM