Robinson was plus for Morgan

The Baltimore Sun

Before Eddie Robinson's Grambling State football team met Morgan State for the first time, in 1968, the Bears had their own legacy under Eddie Hurt and Earl Banks.

Morgan had already fielded 13 undefeated teams. Three of the program's players ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Bears' leaner years began after their 9-7 win over the Tigers before 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium - the only time they beat Robinson in 16 attempts.

But those associated with Morgan State for that game and the other matchups believe the program only profited from its experience with Robinson and Grambling. A winner of 408 games over 57 years, Robinson died Tuesday evening after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's. He was 88.

Charles "Motts" Thomas, an assistant at Morgan in 1968 and its head coach from 1978 through 1980, remembers Robinson taking time to give him advice.

"One time, he took me aside and told me that football would always be there, but the other things are more important and you have to take care of those," Thomas said. "I appreciate it more now, because back then, I just wanted to beat Grambling at Yankee Stadium."

One of the players in that 1968 game was Raymond Chester, a City graduate who went on to play 12 seasons as a tight end in the NFL (including five years with the Colts). He noted that playing against a Robinson-coached team was an encounter that a player would look forward to.

"He was a living legend and was inspirational for all of us, at any level of professionalism, regardless of the field," said Chester, who played for Banks. "As long as I'd known, he represented all the right things you wanted to grow up to be."

While Morgan had a winning reputation, it was one that was limited to the mid-Atlantic, where the Bears played in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The better football was considered to be played farther south, and Grambling had the distinction of sending Tank Younger into the NFL as the league's first player from a predominantly black school.

Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for Baltimore City schools and a former Bear, knew the significance of the first Grambling-Morgan game.

"It was very big because everyone knew about the SWAC [Southwestern Athletic Conference] and the caliber of players it was producing," said Wade, whose last season with Morgan was 1967. "Morgan was still a member of the CIAA and hadn't moved up into that status."

Being able to play at Yankee Stadium was something that probably wouldn't have happened without Robinson and the stature of his teams. In 1976, the teams met in Tokyo, with Grambling winning, 42-16. It was the first NCAA game played overseas.

Thomas contends that that series between the two teams paid political dividends for Morgan, which has periodically faced the possibility of being brought into the state university system. Thomas believes that the university gained a singularity from the events.

"Those games did a lot for us to stand alone," Thomas said. "So that it never became the University of Maryland at Cold Spring Lane, or something like that."

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