Eddie Robinson: The power of one vision

Prior to this year’s Super Bowl LI, the National Football League honored Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams and Paul “Tank” Younger, the first person from a historically black college to play in the NFL.

Both proud products of Grambling State University, Williams and Younger were among several HBCU legends, including hall of famers, who were honored.

The ceremony was cathartic for those who understand the significance of the contributions these great athletes made to one of America’s greatest pastimes. Yet, there was one man that always knew this day could and would be possible – Eddie Robinson, the legendary former head football coach of Grambling State University.

Born February 13, 1919, as early as he could spell the word ‘football’, Eddie Robinson knew he wanted to be a football coach and a leader of men.

And while many believe leaders are born, the skill and craft is ultimately honed.

Robinson studied generals, ministers, and followed legendary sports figures like Jesse Owens and Joe Louis on radio. In fact, Robinson briefly made up his mind that he would become a boxer. His mother told him if he won his first fight, he could continue.

He lost that fight and Robinson went on to become one of the greatest football coaches in college history.

Growing up in Baton Rouge, Robinson watched the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and Sugar Bowl, practically in his backyard in New Orleans, from afar. In 1941, at the tender age of 22, when Robinson took the job as Grambling’s head football coach, he wanted the same for his Tigers.

That was Robinson’s motivation for the creation of the Bayou Classic, one of the most celebrated traditions of HBCU football, which annually features Louisiana’s Southern University and Grambling State.

Robinson led his Tigers for 56 years, reaching 408 wins. When he retired in 1997, he was the winningest coach in the history of Division I Football.

Tank Younger was the first of 200-plus players to make it to the NFL from Robinson’s Tigers, including four Hall of Famers.

Robinson played a role in each HBCU player’s success, having put black college football on the map, showing that these players could compete at any level, at any position.

Yet, the mark Robinson was most proud of was that he had “One Job, One School, and One Wife” – his rock Doris Robinson.

I am honored to have had Eddie Robinson as my grandfather.

He was an even better family man than a football coach. His legacy and contribution to our American society, having graduated 80 percent of his 4000-plus players, literally created a generation of leaders set on a path by him to make their mark in society.

Robinson proved the vision of a single person can make all the difference in the world.

Happy Birthday, Papa!

Cherie Kirkland is the youngest of five grandchildren to Doris and Eddie Robinson. The Grambling native and 1993 graduate of Grambling State University is a program manager with Cox Automotive in Atlanta.

Celebrate Black History Month

Throughout February, we'll spotlight a different African-American pioneer in the daily Living section Monday through Thursday and Saturday. Go to myAJC.com/black-history-month for more subscriber exclusives on people, places and organizations that have changed the world, and to see videos on the African-American pioneer featured here each day.