For the third time in as many tries (2002, 2005 and 2008), Grambling will not defend its Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
The loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff (5-3, 3-2 SWAC) fatally wounded Grambling’s chance, and kept alive the Golden Lions’ own slim hopes of slipping past Prairie View to represent the West. All the Panthers (6-1, 5-0 SWAC) have to do, however, is win against Alcorn State to clinch. (With an Alcorn loss, and a win this week, Jackson State will set itself up for a third straight Eastern crown, as well.)
So what is left, but for pride, in the remaining games on Grambling’s slate?
First, GSU (5-4, 3-2) will play host to Texas Southern (4-4, 3-1) on ESPNU on Thursday. Aside from the obvious implications involving former Grambling head coach Melvin Spears’ return to campus as an assistant to TSU’s Johnnie Cole, Grambling head coach Rod Broadway and Co. have a signature steak on the line.
With this year’s homecoming victory, Broadway set a new school record for consecutive wins at Robinson Stadium. Grambling is, in fact, working on its third consecutive undefeated run of home games.
Broadway topped Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Texas Southern at The Rob in 2007; then Alcorn State, Jackson State, Langston and Alabama State in 2008. This season, he defeated Northwestern State on Sept. 12 and then Alabama A&M on Oct. 10 to tie the all-time figure for consecutive wins at Robinson Stadium, then bested Mississippi Valley State on Oct. 31 to rewrite the record books.
A win on Thursday would put Grambling at 11 consecutive victories at home.
Grambling then finishes its 2009 slate against Southern, in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 28. GSU won last season, but has strung together consecutive victories over its in-state SWAC rival just twice — in 1989-90, and then in 2004-05 — over the last 20 seasons.
“We’re just trying to win a ballgame,” Broadway said. “We’d like to finish this thing out strong. We want to play better and play with more pride. We’re totally disappointed where we are as a football team and as a football program right now.”
The previous record for wins at The Rob, which opened in 1983, was 9 in a row — most recently during the 2000-02 seasons under Doug Williams. The Tigers went three years without a stumble in Grambling, and won the SWAC title every time. Eddie Robinson, who coached the team to four unblemished home records, also captured 9 in a row between 1992-94 — falling to Alcorn State to begin the ‘92 campaign and then not losing again at The Rob until the ‘95 home opener against Central State.
Melvin Spears, now receivers coach at Texas Southern, led these Tigers through another undefeated slate in 2005.
One of the more interesting Texas Southern storylines not involving Spears, or football at all, was when the university decided late last month to remove broadcaster Tavis Smiley’s name from its school of communications building and the KTSU radio facility.
TSU claims that Smiley, a former Black Entertainment Television news commentator and host of a PBS radio show, promised to donate and raise $2 million for the institution, but so far has contributed just $300,000. School administrators are now saying they will open a new round of bidding for the naming rights.
Not sure who’s right or wrong on this. It got me to thinking, though.
Can Grambling name the KGRM radio facility for that lady who used to do the “It’s the weeeeeekend, BABY!” spots?
No, I don’t know if she has that kind of money.
But I still, even after all these years, say it on Fridays.
A bus carrying Grambling’s band crashed on the way to the Pine Bluff contest. But that wasn’t the only thing that went off track last Saturday. Slip ups on special teams and defense, two areas of pride and focus for this Grambling staff, turned the game.
“We gave up 28 points in 2:50,” Broadway was saying, “which is totally unlike any football team we’ve had around here.”
The head-scratching miscues included a bad snap on a punt, a critical roughing the kicker penalty that gave UAPB new life and then a kickoff returned 95 yards for a score in the third-quarter to extend the Golden Lions’ lead to 35-10. In all, kick coverage surrendered more than 500 yards on just eight attempts.
On defense, a disturbing trend seemed to get worse.
UAPB running back Mickey Dean, who has been playing SWAC ball longer than anyone save for Bruce Eugene ever did, was a man reborn — running for two touchdowns and throwing for another on his way to league offensive player of the week honors.
UAPB hadn’t scored as many points in four seasons.
“I’ve never seen a game change that fast,” Broadway admitted. “We’ve done it to some people, but we haven’t had it happen to us.”
For fans of Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Golden Lions …
Last time your team beat Grambling: 2006. Last time your team went to the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game: 2006.
Keep hope alive!
Searching through the rubble, we find this one shiny thing: Grambling’s offensive production.
We talked about this unit finding a belated rhythm in the homecoming victory over Mississippi Valley, and that trend continued against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. A week after putting up 50, GSU scored 49.
Dillon threw for 195 yards and three scores, while Cornelius Walker added 101 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
In fact, Grambling rushed for three times as many yards as did the Golden Lions, managed more first downs and third-down conversions, and never failed to punch it in from the red zone — a point of difficulty earlier in the year.
GSU piled up 472 total yards of offense, to UAPB’s 272. In fact, Greg Dillon and Co. outscored the Golden Lions 32-14 after that dagger of a return to open the second half.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Broadway said. “If you would have told me we scored (that many) points, I thought we would have won it.”
Even without another SWAC Championship Game appearance, Grambling can easily make a claim for Team of the Decade in this league.
GSU won six of the 10 Western Division titles awarded since 2000, making a sextet of appearances in the league title match — and claiming five titles (2000-02, 2005, 2008).
No other program came close, with Alabama A&M earning Eastern crowns in 2000, 2002, 2005-06, but only a lone championship in 2006. The Bulldogs, in fact, lost to Grambling in their trio of previous SCG appearances.
The battle for third comes down to this year, with Jackson State making a late bid for another title match appearance and win. That would be three straight Eastern titles, matching GSU’s early decade run on the other side of the bracket, and (potentially) two crowns.
Should Jackson State fall short, third goes to Alabama State, which earned divisional titles in 2001, 2003-2004 and the league championship in ’04.
Fourth place would then be a battle between JSU and Southern — which won West titles in 2003-04, and also claimed one SWAC title along the way.
This is shaping up to be one of the worst-attended home seasons in recent memory at Grambling, notable since — as mentioned — the team hasn’t lost a single contest at Robinson Stadium under Broadway and Co.
GSU is averaging a paltry 6,876 in attendance at The Rob so far this season, with only a weeknight game against Texas Southern left on the schedule.
That’s well off the mark even from 2008, when GSU struggled to a No. 24 ranking among Football Championship Subdivision programs for attendance — drawing an average of 11,219 a night to Robinson Stadium. (Compare those numbers, as TheDerisoReport did here, with the ’08 figures for Jackson State, which led all SWAC schools in home attendance with 21,263 per game.)
So far, a total of 20,629 fans have been around for these wins in 2009. Comparing that with numbers compiled by TDR for the last 10 seasons, and we find a high-water mark of 66,652 in 2004 — a season when, ironically enough, Grambling lost each of its four home games for the first time in recorded school history.
Staying away does damage to the program across several fronts.
It hurts revenue (which leads to more of those body-bag games against heavily favored upper-divisional foes), and it hurts your opportunity to get another TV game in Grambling (remember, Boise State used weekday ESPN matches to build its national reputation toward a BCS bid).
And, we shouldn’t forget, it hurts recruiting — your best shot at rebuilding for a run at becoming Team of the Next Decade.