Inevitable and long overdue for Grambling great

Collie J. gets his due . Long-time Grambling State University sports information director Collie J. Nicholson, who never met an event he couldn’t hype to the max, was honored here at the Robinson Stadium Support Facility Friday, June 16.

The occasion?

Officially naming the football stadium press box in honor of one of the most influential individuals in the lengthy and distinquished history of Grambling State athletics.

Ceremonies was held at 10 a.m. at the Support Facility, that site being selected because of ongoing construction of the university’s new fieldhouse located adjacent to Robinson Stadium.

Earlier this year, the University of Louisiana System Board which oversees Grambling State, put its stamp of approval on renaming the stadium’s press box after Nicholson.

Nicholson had a career spanning over 30 years as the disseminator of all news concerning GSU athletics and was instrumental in letting the nation–the entire world, for that matter, know about the many achievements of athletes and coaches from the famous Lincoln Parish school.

From legendary head coach Eddie Robinson to such Tigers’ greats as the late Junious “Buck” Buchanan, Willie Davis, Willie Brown, Charlie Joiner, Doug Williams, James “Shack” Harris and a multitude of others, it was “Nick” who promoted their achievements.

“You talk about Grambling State University football and athletics and you’re talking about Collie J.,” said Williams, the former All-American quarterback for the G-Men who went on to winning a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy while with the Washington Redskins.

“You think about the incredible history of football and athletics at Grambling and it begins and ends with what Collie J. did in promoting it and letting everybody know about what was being accomplished here.

“If anyone is deserving of having something named after him at Grambling, it’s Collie J. He is Grambling.”

It was Nicholson, a former military correspondent while serving with the U.S. Marines, who did major promo work on Williams’ bid for a Heisman Trophy in 1977.

At a time when quarterbacks from historically black schools were being overlooked by so many media outlets, “Nick” made sure that the super senior season that Williams recorded wouldn’t go unnoticed.

The end result: Williams finished No. 4 in the race for college football’s premier honor, the highest ranking ever for a player from the predominantly black ranks.

“No way I would have finished that high without what Collie J. did,” said Williams, now a member of the scouting department of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “It was because of him. Everywhere we played that year, big cities and smaller cities, he was out rounding up the media and telling them about what I had done. It helped to have a great team around me, but I am telling you, without what Collie J. did, I would have never finished that high. There are not too many pens greater than his.”

A native of Winnfield, Nicholson used his trusty old Royal typewriter to churn out a plethora of words describing the coaching expertise of Robinson to the gargantuan linemen–Ernie Ladd, Willie Davis,Buchanan, etc., that would invariably comprise a Tigers’ squad.

Robinson, who went on to win 408 games over a 57-year period as the G-Men’s commander-in-chief, affectionately dubbed Nicholson as “the man with the golden pen.”

Noted Williams: “Collie J. is the one who put Eddie Robinson out there in the media and kept all of us out there.. Everything got started at Grambling because of Collie J.”

Nicholson graduated from Grambling State in 1948, then was hired on by then president and head baseball coach Ralph Waldo Emerson “Prez” Jones.

It began an association that would result in the young media relations’ director making an immediate impact in spreading the word about a small school in north Louisiana where the late Howard Cosell once remarked, “the trains didn’t stop unless you flag ’em down.”

Nicholson didn’t just promote what the athletes and coaches were achieving, but also hyping the high-stepping excitement of the Tigers’ marching band.

Whenever he would successfully promote another game in a large venue such as Yankee Stadium, Memorial Coliseum, the Astrodome, Comiskey Park or Shea Stadium, he would make sure the band got as much ink as the team.

“I don’t think a school has ever been blessed with a better combination of support than we had in Grambling back when Collie J. was writing and promoting what we were doing,” said former Tigers’ quarterback James “Shack” Harris, now the vice-president/player personnel director of the Jacksonville Jaguars. “He was a big part of the national and eveninternational recognition that began coming our way in the 1960s. Without Collie J., it wouldn’t have happened.”

Nicholson had the gift of writing, a word smith who could weave descriptive adjectives in with a game’s play-by-play account and make it sound as if Grambling State had the skills to upset a professional team. It was all part of the flair and passion he had for Grambling.

“He loved Grambling and he loved the players,” Harris said.

“We reached a national audience because of his tireless efforts and contacts. He was way ahead of his time in terms of marketing players.”

Promotion-wise, Nicholson could have probably set up a game on the moon between the Tigers and, say, Alcorn State. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone who knew the man who would eventually be chosen for the coveted Trailblazer Award presented by the College Sports Information Directors of America or the Distinquished Service Award in journalism by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.

It was “Nick” who helped formulate the idea of the “Bayou Classic” which has now become the premier sporting event among historically black universities.

He set up two games in Tokyo for the Tigers’ gridiron team back in the 1970s.

And Grambling’s now traditional appearances in well-known stadiums across the country? It was all because of Nicholson’s foresight.

He has always traditionally low keyed his contributions to the school’s athletic reputation, offering that “I would simply like to remembered as someone who found a means by which Grambling could fit into the general market place and have people from everywhere have a good time enjoying what we were trying to give them.

The first black Marine Corps’ reporter during World War II–a military publication devoted a huge section to his accomplishments several years ago, was convinced by “Prez” that he could be of immeasurable service to Grambling after his days as a student.

Nicholson accepted the offer.

More than 30 years later, when he brought the curtain down on his media relations’ career, the university was as well known as a Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan or any much larger school.

Grambling fans can thank Collie J. Nicholson for such recognition.

And on Friday morning at the Robinson Stadium Support Facility, they can show their approval again for “the man with the golden pen.”