Emotional farewell marks Robinson's last game 57th season at Grambling ends with 30-7 defeat

November 30, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW ORLEANS -- It wasn't much of a game. In the end, Eddie Robinson's final game -- game No. 588 -- was an accurate synopsis of everything that had changed, everything that had gone wrong, everything that allowed the competition to close the gap, finally catch up and pass him by.

Southern 30, Grambling 7.

This was the final stop on Robinson's farewell tour. He had watched his share of coaches come and go, the Bear Bryants, the Bud Wilkinsons. Some left on their own, some left kicking and screaming. Robinson would leave kicking. For the past three seasons, Robinson used the clout and muscle he has accumulated over 57 years to hold on, keep his position as coach. Finally, he asked for one last season.

"Deep down," said Collie Nicholson, Grambling's sports information director for 30 years, "Eddie thought that he was going to turn it around this year."

In the past three weeks, Nicholson said, the reality that Robinson's run was over began to set in with the coach. He wouldn't turn it around; he would go out with three straight losing seasons. By the end of one quarter yesterday, Robinson realized that he would lose his eighth game of the season and it would not be close. His defense was too slow, his offense too sluggish.

So the seconds ticked down, and the media and the well-wishers crowded around him much the way they had in the aftermath of his other highlights: his 500th game coached, in 1990; his 323rd victory, in 1985 to tie Bear Bryant for the most by college coaches, and his 324th win to surpass him. Yesterday, they crowded around to block out the final loss.

As the clock wound down and Robinson looked around, he perhaps began to see the larger picture. Former players, celebrities, men and women who had never come near Grambling, La., who had never run a lap were applauding, were crying. Ahmad Rashad the NBC sportscaster and former NFL player who played collegiately at Oregon, recalled how, after recruiting trips to Notre Dame, his father humbled him by asking, "Has Eddie Robinson called you yet?

The Louisiana state police escorted Robinson to a platform on the 50-yard line, where he would bask in the glow. As he waited with his wife for cameras to set up and photographers to position themselves, Robinson looked around, fighting off tears. A young man near the edge of the stage hollered at Robinson the way a coach might holler at a player executing a difficult drill: "Hold on, Coach," he yelled. "Suck it up, Coach."

As Pete Richardson, the Southern coach, joined him on the podium, Robinson broke down, and the two hugged. Elfrid Payton, who was hollering, cried, too. Payton, a former Baltimore Stallion, was a linebacker for Grambling from 1987 to 1989 and now plays for Montreal in the Canadian Football League.

"This is a mixed feeling," he said. "It's tough to see him go out like that. I'm happy for him, but I'm sad for him; but I think it might be time for him to get all that weight off his shoulders."

Robinson received a plaque, a car and finally a call from President Clinton.

Despite the loss to end his career with a 408-165-15 record, Robinson was philosophical.

"Grambling and Southern played in the Superdome, one of the finest facilities in the country," he said. "When I came to Grambling, I never thought it was possible. America's No. 1 person just called me on the phone," he said, referring to the president. "This doesn't happen to everybody."

Robinson's record (page 15C)

The career record of Eddie Robinson of Grambling, college football's winningest coach, who coached his final game yesterday:

Year .. ..W-L-T .. .. ..Pct.

1941 .. ..3-5-0.. .. .. .375

1942 .. ..8-0-0.. .. . 1.000

1945 .. .10-2-0.. .. .. .833

1946 .. ..7-5-0.. .. .. .583

1947 .. .10-2-0.. .. .. .833

1948 .. ..8-2-0.. .. .. .800

1949 .. ..7-3-2.. .. .. .667

1950 .. ..5-3-1.. .. .. .611

1951 .. ..3-5-1.. .. .. .389

1952 .. ..7-3-1.. .. .. .682

1953 .. ..8-2-0.. .. .. .800

1954 .. ..4-3-2.. .. .. .556

1955 .. .10-0-0.. .. . 1.000

1956 .. ..8-1-0.. ... . .889

1957 .. ..4-4-0.. .. .. .500

1958 .. ..6-3-0.. .. .. .667

1959 .. ..4-6-0.. .. .. .400

1960 .. ..9-1-0.. .. .. .900

1961 .. ..8-2-0.. .. .. .800

1962 .. ..6-2-2.. .. .. .700

1963 .. ..5-3-1.. .. .. .611

1964 .. ..9-2-0.. .. .. .818

1965 .. ..8-3-0.. .. .. .727

1966 .. ..6-2-1.. .. .. .722

1967 .. ..9-1-0.. .. .. .900

1968 .. ..9-2-0.. .. .. .818

1969 .. ..6-4-0.. .. .. .600

1970 .. ..9-2-0.. .. .. .818

1971 .. ..9-2-0.. .. .. .818

1972 .. .10-2-0.. .. .. .833

1973 .. .10-3-0.. .. .. .769

1974 .. .11-1-0.. .. .. .917

1975 .. .10-2-0.. .. .. .833

1976 .. ..8-4-0.. .. .. .667

1977 .. .10-1-0.. .. .. .909

1978 .. ..9-1-1.. .. .. .864

1979 .. ..8-3-0.. .. .. .727

1980 .. .10-2-0.. .. .. .833

1981 .. ..6-4-1.. .. .. .591

1982 .. ..8-3-0.. .. .. .727

1983 .. ..8-1-2.. .. .. .818

1984 .. ..7-4-0.. .. .. .636

1985 .. ..9-3-0.. .. .. .750

1986 .. ..7-4-0.. .. .. .636

1987 .. ..5-6-0.. .. .. .455

1988 .. ..8-3-0.. .. .. .727

1989 .. ..9-3-0.. .. .. .750

1990 .. ..8-3-0.. .. .. .727

1991 .. ..5-6-0.. .. .. .455

1992 .. .10-2-0.. .. .. .833

1993 .. ..7-4-0.. .. .. .636

1994 .. ..9-3-0.. .. .. .750

1995 .. ..5-6-0.. .. .. .455

1996 .. ..3-8-0.. .. .. .273

1997 .. ..3-8-0.. .. .. .273

Tot. 408-165-15.. .. . .707

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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