Grambling Legends

WELCOME! 

Welcome to the online home of the Grambling Legends. Grambling State University emerged from the desire of African-American farmers in rural north Louisiana who wanted to educate black children in the northern and western parts of the state. Today, GSU is still regarded as the college “where everybody is somebody.”

We represent the important heritage of accomplished graduates of Grambling State University. Our members span all industries and include everyone from Hall of Fame inductees to successful executives. Grambling State University produced Paul "Tank" Younger, a College Hall of Famer and pioneering HBCU player in the NFL; four Pro Football Hall of Famers (Willie Davis, Junious "Buck" Buchanan, Willie Brown and Charlie Joiner); Pro Basketball Hall of Famer Willis Reed; Doug Williams, the first black QB to play in, win and earn MVP honors in Super Bowl; and James "Shack" Harris, the first black QB to start in the NFL and the first to be named Pro Bowl MVP.

We have committed ourselves to continue to grow the legacy of Grambling State University and its treasured memories. Past, present and future Grambling alumni now have a voice. The Grambling Legends are here to develop fundraisers and other special projects to make sure that key objectives are met each year.

Thank you so much for visiting our website and come back often for updates, new member info, and upcoming events.  

 - Grambling Legends -

 


2013 CLASS OF GRAMBLING LEGENDS SPORTS HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCED

Lewis, before embarking on a legendary 225-game NFL career, was first-team All- Southwestern Athletic Conference at cornerback for Grambling in 1981-82, leading the team in interceptions in '81 with seven. A stellar performance earned him a starting position by popular vote in 2002 on the 50th anniversary All-Time Senior Bowl Team. Inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, Lewis recorded a staggering 42 interceptions and 123 passes defensed while playing for the NFL's Chiefs and Raiders.
Twice named All-America, James was a three-time all-SWAC selection and earned freshman of the year honors from the league in 1971. He would lead the NCAA in scoring during the 1973-74 season with an astounding 32.1 points per game. In all, James scored 2,251 career points for the Tigers before becoming a first-round draft pick for his hometown team, the National Basketball Association's New Orleans Jazz in 1974. He averaged 10.8 points per game for the Jazz over five seasons. Later this year, James will also become the 20th Grambling product to be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Reed was a first-team All-SWAC honoree in 1990, and second team in 1989, leading all Grambling receivers as a senior with 954 yards and a 20-year average per catch. He was invited to the Senior Bowl in 1990, one of just 17 from Grambling to receive that honor, then played 12 seasons in the NFL with the Vikings and Saints -- helping New Orleans to its first-ever playoff win. He had four 1,000-yard pro seasons, with a career-high 85 catches in 1994 receptions at Minnesota.
Ellis, a prime force behind the opening of the Eddie G. Robinson Museum on campus, served for 43 seasons as an assistant and then head baseball coach at Grambling before retiring in 2003. He also served a lengthy stint as an athletic administrator at GSU. In 2006, the same year he joined the museum effort, Ellis was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame -- an honor recognizing 737 victories at Grambling. Ellis had also served for 17 seasons as an assistant to inaugural Grambling Legends inductee Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, the program's first baseball coach and its second school president. Jones retired with more than 800 wins, as well, many of them with Ellis beside him on the bench.
Dotson was Grambling's first All-America first team, earning the honor from the Consensus All American-Newspaper Enterprise Association. He was a first-team All-SWAC tackle in 1964, and honorable mention in 1963, before becoming a second-round pick by the Green Bay Packers. He played for the Chiefs, Dolphins and Raiders in a career that spanned 1965-1970.
Lovell just led the Grambling State men's track team to its sixth title in the last seven tears, claiming the 2011 SWAC outdoor championship at Tad Gormley Stadium. He came into the season having already collected a staggering 27 titles at Grambling, and now has been named SWAC track coach of the year 28 times.
Johnson was the 1980 and '82 SWAC offensive player of the year, when he had 1,000 yards while averaging 14 years a catch. Johnson was also first-team All-SWAC in 1981. Grambling won the conference championship in 1980, as Johnson entered the school record books with 16 touchdown receptions.
Powell, a 1961 draft pick by the Cleveland Browns, helped Garmbling to its first-ever SWAC football championship in 1960 as a running back. Leday Fenceroy won Division I women's scoring honors with a 30.4 average as a senior at Grambling. Willis was the 76th overall pick by the New York Knicks in the 1960 NBA Draft, after helping Grambling to a pair of SWAC titles beginning in 1958 under inaugural Grambling Legends inductee Fredrick C. Hobdy. Essex Johnson, a defensive back at Grambling, played eight pro seasons as a running back for the Bengals and Buccaneers, leaving Cincinnati as the club's career rushing leader. Clyde Parquet ranked first in the country with a 0.66 ERA in 1961, as Grambling began a series of four runs to the national NAIA baseball tournament through 1967.
The Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame was founded by former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, former NFL Pro Bowl MVP James "Shack" Harris and a host of former Grambling greats who say they want to help ensure their alma mater's most storied athletic accomplishments are remembered into posterity.
Information on joining the Grambling Legends group is available at gramblinglegends.net.

 The Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame has announced a 12-member class for 2013 that includes former NFL stand-outs Frank Cornish and Woodrow Peoples, basketball All-American Rex Tippit and record-breaking collegiate quarterback Bruce Eugene, among others.

 Induction ceremonies will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 13, 2013, at the Hobdy Assembly Center on the campus of Grambling State University. Tickets are $75 each; tables of 8 are available for $600. A reception for this year’s inductees will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 12, 2013 at the Eddie G. Robinson Museum on the GSU campus. This event is open to the public.

 Tickets may be purchased through the PayPal link on the group's Web site at gramblinglegends.net, or by contacting Albert Dennis III by phone at (318) 261-0898 or by email at albertdennis3 @bellsouth.net.

 Advertisements in the souvenir program are also available: Quarter pages are $150; half pages are $300; full pages are $500. Ad deadline is June 20. For more information on advertising, please contact Dennis.

 Tippet and fellow inductee Robert Piper helped Grambling to the only men’s college basketball title in Louisiana history. Both Cornish and Peoples appeared in the Super Bowl. Additional biographical information on all 12 forthcoming Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame inductees follows …

 2013 GRAMBLING LEGENDS HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES

 HILLARY BOSSIER: Led the nation with a 0.53 ERA in 1961, as Grambling claimed its first-ever SWAC baseball title. Bossier and Co. then advanced for the first of four national NAIA tournament appearances through 1967 under R.W.E. Jones. Bossier later pitched for two seasons with the Midwest’s minor-league affiliate of the New York Mets – going 6-2 in 1962 with 71 innings pitched.

 JAMIE CALEB: A do-anything player, Caleb completed half of his passes in 1958 - putting him in the Top 10 all-time at Grambling - even while leading the Tigers in rushing. Drafted in the 16th round, he played for both Cleveland and Minnesota between the 1960-65 NFL seasons, a stint that included the Vikings’ inaugural campaign. His final pro game was an NFL title game loss to the Packers.

 FRANK CORNISH: A two-way player for Eddie Robinson, Cornish earned first-team all-SWAC honors at offensive tackle in 1965 as Grambling claimed the league crown. He later played seven NFL seasons for Chicago, Cincinnati, Miami and Bills, advancing to the 1972 Super Bowl with the Dolphins. Cornish also played one season for the World Football League’s Jacksonville Sharks.

 BRUCE EUGENE: A three-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, Eugene led Grambling to SWAC titles in 2002 and again in 2005, when the Tigers went undefeated in conference play. He left Grambling having claimed every major passing record, many of which had stood since his coach Doug Williams played for the Tigers in the 1970s.

 WILBERT FRAZIER: Frazier averaged 17 points a game between 1961-65 as Grambling claimed consecutive basketball titles, posting a career-high 29-point average as a senior. Though selected at 12th overall by San Francisco in the 1965 NBA Draft, Frazier elected to play in the ABA, joining Houston and then the New York Nets. He also played six seasons in the Continental Basketball Association.

 RICHARD HARRIS: A first-team All-SWAC defender for Grambling in 1970, Harris played eight pro seasons after being picked fifth overall in the NFL draft by Philadelphia. He claimed all-rookie honors with the Eagles, then later played for Chicago and Seattle. Harris went on to serve 11 seasons as a coach with Canadian Football League, and also claimed a trio of semi-pro titles as a head coach.

 MIKE HOWELL: A standout safety at Grambling, this eighth-round NFL draft pick played with Cleveland and Dolphins for eight seasons, making 27 pro interceptions including a career-high 8 in 1966 with the Browns.  He joined the Dolphins in time to take part in the NFL’s only perfect season in 1972, ending his career with a Super Bowl title.

 PAULA MAYO: A two-sport collegiate star, Mayo averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds per game at GSU before becoming part of history in 1979. The Houston Angels, behind 36 points by Mayo, claimed the first-ever women’s pro title championship. Mayo, known affectionately then as “Moose,” was named all-pro in two of the Women’s Professional Basketball League’s three seasons of existence.

 JOHN MENDENHALL: A first-team 1971 All-SWAC defender as Grambling claimed a league title, Mendenhall was a Senior Bowl invitee before coming a third-round pick in the 1972 draft. He then played in116 games over nine NFL seasons for the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, posting a career-best 10 sacks and 7 forced fumbles in 1977.

 WOODROW PEOPLES: A stand-out guard as Grambling claimed a second straight SWAC title in 1967, Peoples was twice named to the Pro Bowl during his 13-year stint in the pros - both times with San Francisco. He concluded his NFL career with Philadelphia in the 1980 Super Bowl. Peoples has already been named to the American Football Association’s Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 ROBERT PIPER: A member of Grambling’s legendary NAIA-winning championship basketball squad in 1961, Piper would later serve as GSU’s athletics director from 1997-98 before he passed after a battle with cancer. Piper had previously served as basketball coach at Western High School in Washington, D.C., where he mentored future Grambling Legend Larry Wright Sr.

 REX TIPPIT: Tippit was a team captain as the Tigers claimed the state of Louisiana’s lone national basketball championship, earning high praise from teammate and future NBA Hall of Famer Willis Reed, who called Tippit “the best player on the team.” Tippit claimed All-America honors in both 1960-61 before becoming a ninth-round pick in the 1961 NBA draft by the Syracuse Nationals.

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The Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame was founded by former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, former NFL Pro Bowl MVP James "Shack" Harris and a host of former Grambling greats who say they want to help ensure their alma mater's most storied athletic accomplishments are remembered into posterity.

"The Legends Hall of Fame provides the recognition and notoriety that should have come to those individuals who made great contributions to the university a long time ago," said Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Davis, an inaugural Grambling Legends inductee. "There's nothing in life more gratifying than being recognized and honored for those things they did on the field." 

The complete list of honorees includes: Clyde Parquet, baseball; Jake Reed, football; Albert Lewis, football; Alphonse Dotson, football; Trumaine Johnson, football; Wilbert Ellis, contributor; Howard Willis, basketball; Bertram Lovell, track and field; LaChandra Leday Fenceroy, women's basketball; Preston Powell, football; Aaron James, basketball; and Essex Johnson, football.
Lewis, before embarking on a legendary 225-game NFL career, was first-team All- Southwestern Athletic Conference at cornerback for Grambling in 1981-82, leading the team in interceptions in '81 with seven. A stellar performance earned him a starting position by popular vote in 2002 on the 50th anniversary All-Time Senior Bowl Team. Inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, Lewis recorded a staggering 42 interceptions and 123 passes defensed while playing for the NFL's Chiefs and Raiders.
Twice named All-America, James was a three-time all-SWAC selection and earned freshman of the year honors from the league in 1971. He would lead the NCAA in scoring during the 1973-74 season with an astounding 32.1 points per game. In all, James scored 2,251 career points for the Tigers before becoming a first-round draft pick for his hometown team, the National Basketball Association's New Orleans Jazz in 1974. He averaged 10.8 points per game for the Jazz over five seasons. Later this year, James will also become the 20th Grambling product to be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Reed was a first-team All-SWAC honoree in 1990, and second team in 1989, leading all Grambling receivers as a senior with 954 yards and a 20-year average per catch. He was invited to the Senior Bowl in 1990, one of just 17 from Grambling to receive that honor, then played 12 seasons in the NFL with the Vikings and Saints -- helping New Orleans to its first-ever playoff win. He had four 1,000-yard pro seasons, with a career-high 85 catches in 1994 receptions at Minnesota.
Ellis, a prime force behind the opening of the Eddie G. Robinson Museum on campus, served for 43 seasons as an assistant and then head baseball coach at Grambling before retiring in 2003. He also served a lengthy stint as an athletic administrator at GSU. In 2006, the same year he joined the museum effort, Ellis was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame -- an honor recognizing 737 victories at Grambling. Ellis had also served for 17 seasons as an assistant to inaugural Grambling Legends inductee Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, the program's first baseball coach and its second school president. Jones retired with more than 800 wins, as well, many of them with Ellis beside him on the bench.
Dotson was Grambling's first All-America first team, earning the honor from the Consensus All American-Newspaper Enterprise Association. He was a first-team All-SWAC tackle in 1964, and honorable mention in 1963, before becoming a second-round pick by the Green Bay Packers. He played for the Chiefs, Dolphins and Raiders in a career that spanned 1965-1970.
Lovell just led the Grambling State men's track team to its sixth title in the last seven tears, claiming the 2011 SWAC outdoor championship at Tad Gormley Stadium. He came into the season having already collected a staggering 27 titles at Grambling, and now has been named SWAC track coach of the year 28 times.
Johnson was the 1980 and '82 SWAC offensive player of the year, when he had 1,000 yards while averaging 14 years a catch. Johnson was also first-team All-SWAC in 1981. Grambling won the conference championship in 1980, as Johnson entered the school record books with 16 touchdown receptions.
Powell, a 1961 draft pick by the Cleveland Browns, helped Garmbling to its first-ever SWAC football championship in 1960 as a running back. Leday Fenceroy won Division I women's scoring honors with a 30.4 average as a senior at Grambling. Willis was the 76th overall pick by the New York Knicks in the 1960 NBA Draft, after helping Grambling to a pair of SWAC titles beginning in 1958 under inaugural Grambling Legends inductee Fredrick C. Hobdy. Essex Johnson, a defensive back at Grambling, played eight pro seasons as a running back for the Bengals and Buccaneers, leaving Cincinnati as the club's career rushing leader. Clyde Parquet ranked first in the country with a 0.66 ERA in 1961, as Grambling began a series of four runs to the national NAIA baseball tournament through 1967.
The Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame was founded by former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, former NFL Pro Bowl MVP James "Shack" Harris and a host of former Grambling greats who say they want to help ensure their alma mater's most storied athletic accomplishments are remembered into posterity.
Inform

 


THE GRAMBLING LEGENDS

Ralph Waldo Emerson "Prez' Jones

By Nick Deriso, http://www.TheDerisoReport.com

Wilbert Ellis, then an assistant baseball coach at Grambling, used to welcome the most uncommon of sights.

The school president would leave his office, like clockwork, just before 3 p.m. and change into his cleats, his ballcap and his uniform. Then Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones would coach the baseball team.

"He had a great energy," said Ellis, who was an assistant to Jones for 17 seasons before serving another 25 years as his successor. "We would practice until 6. This was before NCAA regulations. Back then, we just practiced until we were ready." Jones' teams rumbled through conference play, winning seven titles between 1958-67. He was also a two-time runner up in the national NAIA baseball tournament.

"He had a unique style in serving both as president and as a coach," said Ellis. "He cared about people. No matter what the color the skin, he just wanted to reach out and help people. That's what he came to Grambling to do. He wanted to build an institution that would reach out, not only to the various area communities, but to the nation."

A former Negro Leagues player, Jones (called "Prez" by teachers and students alike) knew the value of work — and was used to making do with little.

"I shall never forget," Ellis said. "It rained all night and rained all day then stopped about 12 o'clock on a day when we were to play Southern. They had packed up, but 'Prez' would have none of that. He had dirt moved in, and we played. Bob Lee was coaching Southern at that time, and he couldn't believe it. For so long after that, he'd say: 'Don't go to Grambling and expect not to play.' 'Prez' was able to get the most out of you."

That never-quit attitude helped spread the word about this country school and its surprisingly successful athletic programs.

Jones and Ellis mentored dozens of players who signed major league contracts, notably Ralph "Gator" Garr — who led the National League in hitting in 1974.

"Those men turned out to be great men. Some played ball but others went into other professions. They've done extremely well," said Ellis, a 1959 graduate of Grambling who won 715 games in his own right, advancing to three NCAA Tournaments and winning three SWAC titles.

"He had a way of talking that made you feel like you were the best," Ellis said. "He made a believer out of you — just by saying: 'You can do it.' If you listened to him, you just knew you would make it to the top, whatever your profession."

But while Jones worked tirelessly, often getting up before the sun for his workdays, Ellis is quick to note that he was dedicated to his loved ones.

"He was a family man," said Ellis. "He believed in the family unit. One thing about 'Prez,' he maintained the character that he wanted you to exemplify. He earned respect."

About R.W.E. 'Prez' Jones 
NAIA Hall of Famer Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones founded the Grambling baseball team, then led the Tigers to the national NAIA baseball tournament in 1961, '63, '64 and '67 — earning runner-up honors in 1963 and '64. Jones won seven conference titles, coached 11 All-Americans, and was named the 1967 NAIA Coach of the Year. But he was much more than a skipper. Known affectionately even today as "Prez," Jones took over as president at Grambling in 1936 when the school was a segregated teachers college. By the time he retired in 1977, he had added four colleges to elevate the school to university status. Jones composed the school's alma mater, and was the driving force behind creating the Tiger Marching Band. He also hired a youngster named Eddie Robinson to coach the football team in 1941.

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Eddie G. Robinson

By Nick Deriso, http://www.TheDerisoReport.com

Doug Williams valued his relationship with former Grambling State football coach Eddie Robinson because it was always about more than football.

"He wasn't a guy that everything that came out of his mouth was Xs and Os," said Williams, who was quarterback for Robinson in the 1970s then followed him as coach at Grambling State in 1998. "Everything that he did and related to was about life. He related football to life. It was about being able to survive in America."

Robinson passed legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant for career victories in 1984, finishing with 408 wins. That number was even more impressive, when you consider the circumstances. Williams said the way it was earned will stand the test of time.

"Coach Rob's victories were tougher than anybody else's," said Williams. "The key wasn't so much Division I or Division II. His was the tougher job because of the times. There was no practice equipment. They were playing on sand. They couldn't even stay in town when they travelled."

But Robinson's easy-going approach to the challenge, and his straightforward nature, still resonate with Williams today.

"A leader is somebody that you have to believe in," said Williams - who, after an all-conference career at Grambling, made history as the first black Super Bowl quarterback and MVP in 1988.

"Coach Rob was a person who had your attention. I can remember sitting in a meeting and he could say things that would get you in the frame of mind to do whatever it took to get it done."

Robinson's abiding patriotism sprung from a life's journey that began as a sharecropper's son, but ended in the company of presidents and hall of famers. He talked about that love for America in ways large and small, usually with a splash of self-deprecating humor.

"I will never forget that we had a guy named Michael Moore at tight end," Williams said. "They were playing the National Anthem and Michael stood up with his fist in the air. Coach went up to him and said: `Don't you ever clinch your fist like that - if you ain't got no money in it.' "

Williams chuckles at the memory, now almost two decades old. "That made a lot of sense. That's the American dream," Williams said. "Coach Rob waved the flag better than anybody. He wanted everyone to believe that if can be accomplished, it can be happen in America. He preached that, because it was his life."

Williams spent one of his career's most important moments - celebrating on the field after leading Washington to the NFL championship - with his former college coach.

"I won the Super Bowl and credit all of that to Grambling and Eddie Robinson," Williams said.

"That day, he told me: `You will not understand the impact of this until you get older.' You know, he's right? That's the old saying, that you grow up and you realize that your daddy was right all along. I find myself to this day saying that about things Coach Robinson first told me."

About Eddie G. Robinson
Robinson, whose entire 56-season career as a coach was spent at Grambling State, retired in 1997 as the winningest college football coach in history with 408 victories, passing Paul "Bear" Bryant in 1984. He sent more than 200 players into the pros - of which four have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The championship subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) recognizes its best coach each year with an award named after Robinson, a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He would lead Grambling State to 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles.

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Fred C. Hobdy

By Nick Deriso, http://www.TheDerisoReport.com

Fredrick C. Hobdy's players at Grambling would find themselves still huffing and puffing from drills, when he'd abruptly switch the subject.

There was more to life, the late coach would say, than just basketball.

"He wanted all of us to grow up to be productive citizens," said Larry Wright, the Southwestern Athletic Conference's 1975-76 Player of the Year under Hobdy. "He used to say that all the time: 'Basketball is not going to last forever.' He would always talk about that. When you first came, he made sure that you understand that basketball was a means to an education."

Wright would later win the 1978 NBA title with the Washington Bullets before returning to coach in the same office where Hobdy once sat.

"He was tough as coach; don't get me wrong," said Wright. "He worked your butt off. But at the end of the day, when you needed him, it was all together different."

Often times, Wright said, life lessons would come just after one of Hobdy's now-legendary practices — sweat-drenched affairs that stressed preparation and conditioning.

"He would be drilling you, running you like there is no more tomorrows, but afterwards if you had a problem he would switch hats," Wright said. "Instead of your coach, he became your father — so understanding of the problem, whatever it might have been. There was no way you could think a guy who had just been screaming at the top of his voice do that, but he did. I will always remember that."

Wright, whose voice colors with emotion at the very mention of his mentor, was one of the principal voices to lobby in the hopes that the basketball arena on campus would be named after Hobdy. The re-naming ceremony took place in 2010.

"I could say so many things about Coach Hobdy," said Wright. "When you start talking about the people who built Grambling," Wright mused, "you have to say (former football coach) Eddie  Robinson. You have to say (former school president) R.W.E. Jones. I think you also have to say Fred Hobdy. He should be mentioned in the same breath."

About Fredrick C. Hobdy
Hobdy, a member of the Louisiana Sports and Southwestern Athletic Conference halls of fame, is rightly remembered for his contributions as a basketball genius. After all, he remains the winningest college coach in Louisiana with 572 victories between 1957-86. His teams won seven Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and the National Athletic Intercollegiate Association championship in 1961 - the last men's national title from this state. But that's not the full measure of Hobdy's legacy. A three-sport letter winner at Grambling, he later served as athletics director before passing in 1998. He's perhaps best known as a collegiate athlete for his contribution to a legendary 1942 squad that went unbeaten, even unscored upon, under Eddie Robinson.

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Collie J. Nicholson

By Nick Deriso, http://www.TheDerisoReport.com

Collie J. Nicholson, Grambling's first sports information director, wrote the school right into the national consciousness.

And he did it with nothing more than a battered typewriter and a big heart.

"Collie was the catalyst that put Grambling in the consciousness of America," said Douglas Porter, a former GSU assistant football coach. "His perseverance in promoting the team and the band across the country meant that eventually everywhere you went, people were aware of Grambling. And that's to his credit."

Nicholson served as SID at Grambling for 30 years through 1978, forging a lasting identity for the country college, and shaping the careers of countless young student athletes with his flair for descriptive writing.

"When people think of Grambling, they think of (legendary former football coach) Eddie Robinson, and rightfully so. But the one who taught people about him was Collie J.," said Doug Williams, a former GSU quarterback and football coach. "He's the reason all of America knows about all that we did."

That no one had ever heard of marketing in the 1940s, well, that never stopped Nicholson — who had an unbendable optimism. When he was done, Grambling had established a far-flung reputation far beyond its humble and distinctly rural beginnings.

"We just came along at the right time. I tell you, the Lord was in the plan," Nicholson once said. "It was timing: Coach Robinson was developing all these players for pro football — and we had a marketing plan. We didn't know what it was — they didn't call it marketing, back then — but we had a concept."

Nicholson, the Marine Corps' first black correspondent during World War II, had been hired on the spot in 1948 by former Grambling president R.W.E. Jones during a chance meeting on campus. That proved to be an inspired choice.

Nicholson began building momentum by sending stories to a widespread national network of black newspapers, eventually contributing regularly to more than 400 of them. In those primitive times, he would type up dispatches and then drive 75 miles to the Western Union station in Shreveport to wire them out.

"When we wanted something to happen, we had to do it for ourselves," Nicholson said. "Black college football and Grambling had to stick up for itself."

After the Grambling brand became better known, Nicholson then set about promoting a series of neutral-site games — eventually dubbed "classics" — to be played in large American cities against other historically black football programs.

Sold-out games followed in the late 1960s at Yankee Stadium and then later at Giants Stadium. The initial event, in 1968 against Morgan State, drew 64,000 fans.

Later, he negotiated deals that saw Grambling play in Hawaii and Japan — becoming the first American college program to play overseas — and also helped found the Bayou Classic, an in-state rivalry game against Southern played at the Superdome in New Orleans.

"There were naysayers when it came to neutral-site games," said Porter, who made that groundbreaking marketing trip to New York with Nicholson in the segregated 1960s. "But he was so positive. There was a never a shadow of a doubt. He had a tremendous amount of confidence — in himself, and in Grambling."

Much of Nicholson's — and Grambling's — legend was built around football. But Nicholson worked just as hard at promoting other sports, making household names out of talents like Willis Reed and Larry Wright on the basketball court, as well as slugger Ralph Garr and sprinter Stone Johnson, among others.

"He believed in all of the programs," said former baseball coach Wilbert Ellis, who worked with Nicholson for two decades at GSU. "He just loved Grambling. It's a great loss not just for Grambling, but for the entire sports world."

More personal marketing triumphs bookended his career at Grambling.

In Nicholson's first years at the school, he was instrumental in pushing Paul "Tank" Younger into the NFL, ensuring that Younger became the first black college player to sign a pro contract.

Nicholson's tireless promotion also lifted Williams to a fourth-place finish in the 1977 Heisman Trophy voting and to first-team honors on the Associated Press All-America team, both firsts among black colleges.

"To be mentioned for the Heisman?" Williams said, still a bit incredulous. "That was all Collie J. When he told me he was going to put me up, I though that was as funny as Bugs Bunny. It was the highest a player from a black school had ever finished. That's never going to happen again."

Nicholson's legacy continued to play out in ways both large and small.

He never stopped writing about sports. This was, after all, a man so dedicated to his craft that he actually learned Japanese while negotiating the Toyko game.

Years after retiring from Grambling, he was still working as a freelancer — and oftentimes for the same newspapers he'd once cold-called in the 1940s.

Known for his flair with the pen, Nicholson conjured dozens of nicknames that stuck forever — from Paul "Tank" Younger and Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd to Gary "Big Hands" Johnson and Ernest "Monster" Sterling.

"He described players in such a way that it captured the imagination," Porter said. "He had a way of attaching a name that fit the player. And he told their stories just as well. A lot of them never would have gotten a chance to play if not for Collie."

Nicholson remained humble, framing his legacy in simple terms.

"I would like to be remembered as someone who tried to find a way to fit the Grambling program into the general marketplace," he said. "I've tried my best to do that."

About Collie J. Nicholson

 He earned national recognition 13 times during his time at Grambling for press guides. The Louisiana Sports Writers Association gave Nicholson its Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism in 1990. The College Sports Information Directors of America followed with its Trailblazer Award 12 years later, even as Nicholson was inducted into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame. Nicholson received the Louisiana Sports Writers Association's distinguished service award in 1990, the Bayou Classic Founders Award in 1992 and the College Sports Information Directors of America's Trailblazer Award in 2002. He was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 2002, as well. In 2006, the University of Louisiana System Board, which oversees GSU, approved a plan to rename the Robinson Stadium press box on campus after Nicholson. His old typewriter was placed inside a special display at the Robinson Stadium Support Facility.

 

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