In the presence of royalty: memories of Coach Rob

By Karl NormanGuest columnistI am a Grambling football fanatic, and one of my most memorable experiences following the team was the year GSU was in the NCAA playoffs. For the team to be able to enter the playoffs, the Bayou Classic had to be played a week before Thanksgiving. This they did, and GSU was into the first round of the 1AA playoffs, pitted against Stephen F. Austin.Hopping into the car with friends who are in the media, I remember the anticipation as we got on Interstate 20, heading west to Nacogdoches, Texas. It was my first visit there so I didn’t know what to expect. The Grambling squad had an excellent record that year, due to the talents of quarterback Clemente Gordon and receiver Fred Jones, also known as the "Electric Worm."When we arrived on the campus of Stephen F. Austin, I soon found out that they were on break because there were very few people in the stands. Sitting across from us was what must have been their band. But they weren’t in uniform, just regular attire. We arrived at the game in time to see the teams warm up. The Tigers were on the field looking mighty sharp in their gold uniforms with the black and red strips. Then two charter buses pulled up and out filed the Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band. They put on a show just getting off the bus. Needless to say, the air was full of excitement. Once the game got under way, the Tigers performed like a well-oiled machine, running and passing to the amazement of the Nacogdoches crowd that was there. They could not believe what they were seeing. But it seemed they had a plan too, and it included a twelfth and thirteenth man, most of who were in striped shirts. To say there were some strange calls is putting it lightly. Needless to say, I was beside myself. The blatant miscarriages of justice were more than I could stand. On the final play from scrimmage, Gordon hurled a 40-yard bomb to a streaking Fred Jones on a post pattern and the defender tripped him. Obviously, pass interference should have been called. But there was no call. The ball fell just beyond the Electric Worm’s outstretched hands, and the game was over. The Tigers lost 56-54 in what was an incredible contest that the Tigers should have won.I was livid. Since my friends were media folks they had to go to the press conference, which was held in a tent set up right next to the field. I didn’t know what to expect. When we entered the tent there were bright lights focused on a platform. There were sports reporters huddled about with notebooks, microphones and cameras poised. And then The Legend arrived and took his seat under the lights. I thought to myself, now he’ll have a chance to verbalize his protest about the grave injustice that had ended his season and any chance at the national title. But Coach Eddie Robinson just talked about the honor of having a chance to be a part of the playoffs and congratulated the other team for a great game. It was then that I realized Coach Rob was a true leader. He wasn’t crying about how they cheated and how we should have won. He was indeed a class act. I felt like I was in the presence of royalty. Stephen F. Austin went on to play for the national title. The game was televised, and I caught the end of the fourth quarter. They lost the game. They were crushed. But I smiled and thought about something called poetic justice.Karl Norman is a professor in the Speech and Theatre Department at Grambling State University.