"Eddie's the father of athletics at Grambling," says Tiger Basketball Coach Fred Hobdy. "He likes walk-ons. He can make something out of very little."
Johnson, the wingback, is the latest distillation of the Robinson ethic. Lightly recruited and primarily a basketball player in high school in Baker, La., Johnson plays the position in Robinson's beloved wing T once manned by the likes of Charlie Joiner, Frank Lewis and Sammy White. "I came to Grambling to see how good I could be," he says. Told that Robinson, not one given to overpraise, had called him "the most exciting flanker in football," Johnson, who has scored six TDs this season, said, "That was nice of him, but I haven't done anything lately."
All Johnson did against Florida A&M was ensure that there would be a post-game celebration. The Rattlers had punched across the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but at that point Grambling's offense, Eddie Robinson's wisdom and Trumaine Johnson took over. Brent completed two quick slants to Stevens and then found Johnson in the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown and a 21-21 tie.
Slightly more than a minute later, A&M had to punt. Johnson, a sleek 6'2", 190-pounder with 4.37 speed in the 40, took the ball at his own 36, feinted straight ahead, turned left toward the sideline and zipped off for a 64-yard touchdown return that was breathtaking in its swiftness. A two-point conversion off a busted extra point ran Grambling's lead to 29-21. After one more Rattler series, Johnson was in the end zone again, taking a 20-yard strike from Brent for an insurmountable 36-21 lead.
"I wasn't giving up at halftime," said Johnson. "I was thinking about Eddie Robinson, about how much he deserved this."
Next year Robinson and the Tigers will move into a new $7.5 million on-campus stadium with an initial capacity of 27,000, which they hope will soon be increased to 43,000. The crowd at Bragg was 22,127, largest in that facility's history, but small now by Grambling standards. The Tigers had drawn 43,333 at Shreveport's Independence Stadium the week before against Alcorn State for Robinson's 299th victory.
"Rob thinks if you block and tackle, everything else in life will fall into place," says Nicholson. "He changed black college football. He brought it out of the boondocks to the major stadiums in the world."
It would have been improper, somehow, for Robinson's 300th victory to have come in Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, or Yankee Stadium, or Shea, or the Silverdome, the Astrodome, the Superdome, the Rose Bowl, or the L.A. Coliseum—all of them places where his Tigers have performed. Number 300 came against old rivals in old haunts. It was better this way. The wetness on Robinson's cheeks in the meeting room afterward was not from champagne.
"I'm a crier," he said. "I can't hold it back. I owe so much to so many. We came back, showed the character you need in life. With work you can make outstanding people out of ordinary guys. They raised me up on their shoulders tonight, but Monday or Tuesday they'll be mad with me again. I couldn't tell the players anything after the game, nothing but thank you."
When all he said was "thank you," heads were buried in hands again as they had been at halftime—but now for altogether different reasons.