Grambling forfeiting their football game Saturday would be like Alabama players deciding not to play in a few years. In comparing the program Eddie Robinson built consider that Nick Saban would have to win every game he coached through the 2031 BCS semifinal game to match Robinson’s 408 wins. Robinson won many of these in a segregated era playing with and against many of the best players – he produced exactly 100 NFL players compared to the 67 Bear Bryant produced at Alabama.
Bryant, whom Robinson admired, was eventually able to compete with Robinson for the top black players in the south but Robinson continued to win a good share of the top recruits even from the Bear.
And yet the month before the Grambling football team travels to New Orleans for what is unofficially known as the “Black Super Bowl” against Southern University (the same weekend as Saban plays the “Iron Bowl” against Auburn), the team has lost 15 straight SWAC games and this week forfeited with encouragement from the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Doug Williams.
Robinson is royalty (in the photo above from his funeral in 2007, Jesse Jackson kisses his wife Doris’s hand), but the athletic department and university he built may be the lowest in Division 1 sports. Not only has the football lost 18 straight to NCAA opponents, but Grambling had the only winless basketball team (0-28) of 347 who played Division 1.
In the 1970s and beyond, Thanksgiving weekends in the South centered around the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn in the neutral site of Birmingham, and the Grambling vs. Southern game in the neutral site of New Orleans. The game with Southern is a huge event for black leaders throughout the south, and it has been virtually even. If Grambling forfeits or loses next month, then the all-time series will be dead even at 20-20.
The Historically Black Colleges also recruited the top black students in the south if they did not want to travel north for an integrated school.
According to USA Today and other accounts, only 22 Grambling football players showed up to ride the bus to their game Saturday at Jackson State and so the school instead paid the $20,000 fine for forfeiting.
It was the home coming game for Jackson State. Williams, who was fired as the coach last month, encouraged the boycott in message to USA Today that read, “I’m proud of them boys. They took a stance.”
(See related post on struggles of Historically Black Colleges.)