Alcorn State’s Melvin Spears: Grambling game will say a lot about where we are

SWAC matchups in Shreveport, La., between Alcorn State and Grambling, going back to the days when legends Eddie G. Robinson and Marino Casem patrolled the sidelines, have always been special. That continues today.

The 2011 Port City Classic this week pits Grambling’s Doug Williams, beginning his second stint coaching at his alma mater, with Alcorn’s Melvin Spears — a former protege and eventual successor at Grambling. There are bragging rights on the line, in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and in their hometowns. After all, Spears and Williams are cousins.

“It’s really like deja vu,” Spears tells me. “It like going back to where we started with Eddie Robinson and Marino Casem. Traditionally, the winner of this ballgame back then would win the SWAC. It’s fitting that we both will start there, and it will say a lot about where the programs are.”

Robinson and Casem played to a virtual draw over Casem’s first decade at Alcorn, though Robinson eventually established a 13-8 advantage. Casem would claim seven football titles at Alcorn, where he set a school record for wins, while Robinson earned 17 SWAC crowns at Grambling. (This stirring rivalry continued as Casem moved over to coach at in-state rival Southern. Three times, Robinson and Casem met at the Bayou Classic and the average margin of victory was just 6 points.) Both Robinson and Casem, who finished with a coaching record of 160-91-8, are now members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

[TDR REWIND: Alcorn State adds one of SWAC’s grittiest recent standouts as receivers coach.]

Fast forward to this weekend: Just as much history. Heck, maybe more. Together, Spears and Williams won three straight league championships at Grambling. Now, Spears and a staff dotted with Williams-era names (former defensive coordinator Michael Roach, and standout players Bruce Eugene and Tramon Douglas) will try to best their former mentor.

“We know a lot about the offense, because we are all disciples of Doug Williams — and that says a lot about the folks he had around him,” Spears tells me. “You know they are going to be well prepared, well coached and as stingy as they’ve always been. That’s the legacy of Grambling, and that’s why they got picked No. 1 (in the SWAC’s preseason poll of Western Division programs). We had the luxury of being there, so we understand the whole legacy thing.”

Move over, Robinson and Casem. Time to start a new legacy.

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