Somebody once told me that the best reason to be home at a decent hour is because the only people out after midnight are cops and drunks.
My best buddy, Terry “T-bone” Presley, and I were out past the witching hour one night. We were having a late night breakfast at the Huddle House in Ruston. I glanced over at the stool next to me and sitting there was Eddie Robinson.
That’s right, Glum Eddie, the legendary Grambling coach. I felt like I was sitting next to Shoeless Joe Jackson or some other ghost I wasn’t supposed to see much less speak to.
I remember the first time I saw Coach. I was working my way through Tech as a jailer for the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office. Coach Robinson and George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees, were close friends and Coach Rob invited the team up during spring training to play the Grambling Tigers.
Some of us from the sheriff’s office were asked to work security. I assigned myself to the Yankee dugout. I got to meet Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Bucky Dent, Willie Randolf, and Cliff Johnson. The Bronx Bombers gave Guidry the nickname “Gator” because he was from South Louisiana. The local newspapers called him Louisiana Lightning.
I won’t say the nickname that day that I would have given Reggie Jackson, but it would have had two words and the first word would have been “smart.” Although, in all fairness, he did do something that day that I thought was kinda cool. He went to bat against this kid pitcher from Grambling.
The kid was staring at Reggie like pitchers do before they throw a pitch. Then I guess it dawned on him who he was about to pitch to and he just backed off the mound with a “Whoa!” look on his face. The crowd applauded as Reggie stepped out the batter’s box and laughed.
Later in the game Reggie smacked a ball out to deep center field. The Grambling Tiger center fielder went back as far as he could and caught the ball right at the fence.
When Reggie came back and sat down in the dugout, somebody said to him that the fans really wanted to see him knock one out of the ballpark. He said, “No, on the contrary, that kid making that catch is exactly what they came to see.”
Anyway, back to my legendary sighting. I finally got up enough nerve to introduce myself to the coach with the most football wins in history. “Hey coach, I’m Randy Rogers. “The ghost shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Randy.”
It was 2 o’clock in the morning and although he’d forgotten more than I ever knew about football, I started asking the coach some questions:
Me: Coach, when you recruit black players nowadays, do you ever suggest to them that they really belong in an all-black college?
Coach: No, I don’t feel I have a right to do that. We fought hard to get into those white schools. Now I’m supposed to tell them that now that they can get in, they should come to Grambling because they’re black? No, that never made much sense to me.
Me: Do you value size or speed more in a football player?
Coach: Definitely speed. You know a rabbit can’t hurt you, but you got to catch him to kill him! Speed, definitely speed.
I could have talked to Eddie Robinson all night but I could tell that buddy Presley was starting to feel a lot like a potted plant so I shook hands with the coach, asked T-Bone to get the check, and we were on our way.
It was so nice to find out that there really are some people out after midnight who matter – not just cops and drunks. Some might just be living legends. Some might be like Coach Rob who will share a cup of coffee with you and leave you with a memory that will last a lifetime.
Randy Rogers is a former Dubach resident now living in Plano, Texas.