Morgan renews a rivalry

September 14, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Morgan State assistant coach Rashi Pinckney has been there. He knows what the Morgan State-Grambling State rivalry used to be.

As a freshman reserve running back in 1972, he played in front of more than 60,000 people at Yankee Stadium, in a game won by the Tigers and their legendary coach Eddie Robinson, 6-0.

"It was very exciting, especially for the younger players, and it was my first year," said Pinckney, now the linebackers coach for the Bears. "The crowd, the noise, the bands, the colors. The people were so pumped up. From a football player's standpoint, it was the highest high."

Four years later, he was part of college football history when he and the Bears played Grambling in front of 50,000 people in Tokyo's Korakuen Stadium. The occasion marked the first collegiate regular-season football game played outside the Western Hemisphere. That took some of the sting out of Grambling State's 42-16 victory.

Saturday night, the two schools will attempt to recapture some of that feverish atmosphere, when they renew old ties at Memorial Stadium.

The Bears and the Tigers haven't squared off since 1983, the year that their 16-game series ended. At that time, the programs were headed in opposite directions. Since then, those trends have continued.

Grambling, under the guidance of the tireless Robinson, has long held an esteemed place in the history of the game. Robinson, who owns more victories than any college football coach, goes after his 390th win Saturday.

Morgan State long has slipped from the glory years of the late Earl Banks. The Bears have not had a winning season since 1979. Ricky Diggs, their fourth-year coach, has a 6-28 record and has suffered through three straight losing seasons. Robinson, now in his 53rd season (389-140-15), has had four losing years.

Morgan State enjoyed the upper hand briefly in the series. The schools played for the first time in 1946, when Morgan State rolled to a 35-0 victory.

They didn't face each other again until 1968, the year that Morgan State and Grambling played the first game at Yankee Stadium between two predominantly black colleges. With 60,000 fans and a national TV audience watching, Morgan State squeaked by the Tigers, 9-7.

And that was it for the Morgan State winning streak. Over the next 15 years, the schools played 14 games, mostly in New York, but also in Pittsburgh, Washington and Tokyo. Grambling won all 14 meetings before the series was discontinued. There are no immediate plans to continue the series after this year.

"They beat us the first time out, and we've whipped them ever since," said Robinson, who brings his team to Baltimore for the first time. "I expect them to be excited and emotional. Most teams are when they play Grambling, and I tell my players that. I want my team to give a show each time out, and we expect to put on a show in Baltimore."

"We look at this as an opportunity to play a great football team, a legendary coach, and a chance to get better," said Diggs, whose Bears are coming off a season-opening, 41-0 loss to Bethune-Cookman. "I feel honored to prepare a team to face the greatest coach in the history of the game."

Scores of football alumni from both schools -- including such NFL notables as Hall of Famer Willie Lanier (Morgan State) and former Redskins star and Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams (Grambling) -- are expected at Memorial Stadium. About 15,000 tickets have been sold.

Bernard Barnes, whose son, Bernard Jr., is a senior wide receiver for the Bears, was a wide receiver on the '68 Morgan State team. He'll be at Memorial Stadium to cheer on his son and relive some old times with former teammates.

"I remember the impact really hit me when I walked out on that field at Yankee Stadium," Barnes said. "It was a great source of pride. It was the first major TV game between two black schools, and we had something to prove. I think we gave the nation a good show. It's a memory I'll always treasure."

Williams, an assistant coach at Navy, starred at Grambling in the mid-1970s and directed the Tigers to three victories over Morgan State. Even though the Midshipmen play at Bowling Green (Ohio) on Saturday afternoon, he plans to be at Memorial Stadium by halftime.

"I still talk with Coach Robinson once a week, and that loyalty will never leave," Williams said. "I'll be a Grambling alumnus for the rest of my life. I've got to be there."

Former Morgan State star Willie Lanier never played against Grambling. The year before the series resumed in 1968, he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and went on to win a Super Bowl, Hall of Fame honors and is currently being honored as one of the NFL's all-time great linebackers. Lanier will participate in the ceremonial coin toss.

"I want to be there for the acknowledgment of all the work that Eddie Robinson has done," Lanier said.

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