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The net effect of this calculated hype is that Grambling is now well known. It's "a gypsy team with a floating schedule," as Robinson puts it, willing to play anybody anywhere if the terms are right. The hype has also made the Tigers the game on a lot of schedules. "People come out of ratholes to watch us play Grambling," says Jackson State's Gorden. Finally, Grambling's promotional campaign has made it a moneymaker. Last year's game against Southern University at the Super Dome generated revenues of more than $1 million. "Eddie Robinson simply has vision," says President Johnson. "I just wish he'd live forever."
Even if he would want to, by law Robinson cannot coach beyond age 70. That leaves him with at the most six more seasons, by the end of which he could have more than 350 wins. Everyone agrees that Robinson is probably the last coach with a shot at catching Bryant. Times have changed. You don't get a head coaching job at 22 anymore. And once you've got it, you're more likely to get fired. Or you come down with that new coaches' disease—burnout.
Robinson is hardly a candidate for that malady. He certainly hasn't lost that inner fire; he cries whenever he wins a big game or somebody throws a testimonial for him. But he is less emotional than he once was. He promised Doris a few years ago that he'd cool it. "He was taking losing so hard, tearing his hat off his head and all, that we just had to have a talk," says Doris. "He was going to have a heart attack. I said, 'Maybe we better go back to Baton Rouge and you get a job at Standard Oil.' He vowed he'd take things easier, and he's been good about it."
Robinson's famed equanimity off the field helped him at a coaches' convention in the early '70s. USC had just clobbered a lily-white Alabama team on the Crimson Tide's home field largely on the running of black Fullback Sam Cunningham. A Tide assistant looked at Robinson and said, "Sam Cunningham did more for integration in Birmingham in one day than Martin Luther King did in a lifetime." Robinson was able to smile at the comment. "That's the thing about sports," he says. "Once people play together, they see they can live together."
Robinson's graciousness is also at the root of his love for Bryant, a man who was hardly a leader in the civil rights movement. They first met at a coaches' clinic years ago, and after that Robinson traveled all over to hear the Bear speak. "Something you can't overemphasize about Eddie," says Dallas Cowboys Vice-President Gil Brandt, "is the number of clinics he went to just to learn." But why Bryant in particular? Bryant respected Robinson as much as Robinson respected him. They liked each other because they were two old boys from the South, and they knew what sacrifice meant. Above all, though, they were both winners.
"The greatest thing about Coach Bryant was that he could talk to kings and queens and the man in the street," says Robinson with genuine affection. But what about breaking Bryant's record? Robinson thinks for a moment. "Ed be happy if football history would record that I had done something unique," he says. "But not necessarily that."
Says Doris, "If he could just have Bear back, that would be enough."
And why? To play the man. It was one of Robinson's biggest dreams. He even talked to Bryant about it—just to line up one time across from the man and have a chance at him. All those wins staring at each other—by God, now that would be unique.