The procession, which curled down Main Street to the front of the new Eddie G. Robinson Museum in Grambling, was met on a frigid Saturday morning by hundreds more — family, friends, former co-workers and those who simply admired from afar as Robinson rose from humble beginnings to become Division I’s all-time winningest college football coach.
Their very bustling presence, despite lingering mounds of snow and a biting wind, underscored the scope and reach of Robinson’s influence after 57 seasons at Grambling — a tenure that included 45 winning records, 17 conference championships, 408 total victories and a remarkable 80 percent graduation rate among his student athletes.
“I always say there is a reason I was successful: We had Eddie Robinson,” said former Grambling quarterback and eventual coaching successor Doug Williams. “I spent five years with Eddie Robinson. You don’t realize what you have until you leave. But if you look around, you realize that this man has done so much not only for Grambling but for America.”
Among those also on hand was Mike Tomlin, a Super Bowl-winning coach two seasons ago with the Pittsburgh Steelers; Richard Lapchick, co-author of Robinson’s autobiography “Never Before, Never Again”; newly hired Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly; former State Sen. Randy Ewing, who co-authored the state-funded museum’s original legislation; hall of fame Grambling products Willie Brown and Willis Reed; and many, many others.
“Back in 1941, Eddie Robinson was hired by Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones with the vision of creating a black Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “Seventy years later, I stand before you to let you know that this partnership is one that we embrace fully. We are glad to have such a fine institution of part of that history and tradition.”
Robinson died at age 88 in 2007, but not before turning tiny Grambling into a household name — all the while married to the same loving wife, and living inside the same modest home on Adams Street. His passing also sparked a renewed interest in building this museum, slowed for nearly a decade by arguments over location and difficulties in securing funding.
Saturday’s long-delayed grand opening let loose a joyous celebration, as everyone shared in stories of Robinson’s life-long love affair with this school and this town.
“This weekend has brought together so many memories,” said Williams, best known as the most valuable player of the 1988 Super Bowl. “There is nothing sad about this weekend.”
As family, then friends, then the general public flooded into the new museum space, housed in the renovated former women’s gymnasium on the Grambling campus, city officials had to begin limiting the number of people inside the facility because of fire codes.
While visitors encircled the lifesize bronze statue of Robinson that is the centerpiece of the museum, Eddie Robinson Jr. was taking a moment to soak everything in.
“Just the thought of someone renovating a structure of any kind in the name of family member to us is just unbelieveable,” said Robinson, whose mother Doris didn’t feel well enough to attend. “My father always liked the saying that dreamers are the saviors of the world. This is certainly a dream come true.”