The eyes were brown and bright, and there was something else, wariness perhaps. The owner of the eyes, a skinny little 8-year-old kid they call Cotton, put a small dark hand into a larger white one, pumped solemnly and said, "Hey, man, are you a detective?" Behind him, Herbie Miller sighed softly. Miller is a street worker, a man trying to salvage something from the Harlem neighborhood where he has lived the 27 years of his life. "That's the image," Miller said sadly. "The negative image. They think every stranger, especially a Caucasian wearing a suit and a tie, is either a policeman or a truant officer. They can't envision someone nice who might really give a damn about them. And so they go out into the streets, and they don't care, and all they want is to be a hustler or a dope pusher and get enough money to buy a Cadillac. They are lost, from the cradle they are lost, and what we are trying to do is to help them find themselves."
A few hours earlier, on another street corner in Harlem, Harv Oosdyk, another social worker, a tall, bulky white man who 13 years ago graduated from NYU to the ghetto, was saying, and just a little angrily, "The answer is so obvious, so darn simple: a good education. Not just a general diploma, which is no more than a certificate of attendance, but a real education. Only 1% to 3% of these kids ever get a chance to go to college. In middle-class neighborhoods it's more like 60%. And in other places the average is 94% to 97%. With figures like those you know something is wrong. Damn it! Just because you grow up in the streets doesn't mean you are retarded."
And so, because a lot of people believe as Oosdyk believes, 64,204 fans wedged into Yankee Stadium last Saturday afternoon to see Morgan State (student enrollment 4,200) beat Grambling College (4,140) 9-7 in the first Invitational Football Classic for the benefit of the Street Academy Program. The last time the Stadium held a crowd that size for a college-football game was 18 years ago, when Army played Michigan. After expenses, it was estimated the ghetto education program would be enriched by more than $200,000. Some of it will go to finance new street academies, at $50,000 each; the rest into a scholarship fund, which so far has put 200 ghetto kids into college.
"And that's only starters," said William Curtis, a handsome, graying University of Pittsburgh graduate who is the son of a Ghana ivory and rubber trader. "For a Negro to be a trader in Africa," he notes with a grin, "that's something." Curtis is the manager of market development for P. Ballantine & Sons, and it was two years ago, when his company began sponsoring the telecasts of the Orange Blossom Classic from Miami, that he began toying with the idea of a ghetto charity football game. "I wanted to help the kids in the slum areas," he says, "not just black kids, but whites, as well. And then I thought: Who knows kids better than coaches? And so I turned to them."
October 6, 1968
That was last spring in Atlanta, the same weekend and not far from the cemetery where they were burying Martin Luther King. Curtis met with three of the nation's top Negro football coaches: Jake Gaither of Florida A&M, Eddie Robinson of Grambling and Earl Banks, the ex-Iowa All-America, of Morgan State. After three days they came up with the Football Coaches Foundation and preliminary plans for Saturday's game. Two other men were added to the foundation: U.S. District Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. of Pennsylvania and Richard H. Griebel, the president of Ballantine. Griebel said if the game fell on its financial face his company would pick up the check.
"That's all the men we wanted for the first game," Curtis said. "We wanted to see how it went. But I knew my people; I knew it would be a sellout." It was estimated that 90% of Saturday's crowd was Negro.
Unlike Curtis, others were not quite so confident. After all, Grambling vs. Morgan State? In blasé New York? "When we first started this thing," said Tom Richmond, whose firm handled the publicity, "we weren't at all sure just what we had. But the response was immediate and unbelievable. When the tickets began selling the last week in August we were amazed, and a week before the game there was nothing left but a few $25 seats. When something like this catches on you ask: What happened? What made it click? Right now, I'm not sure."
For sure, the biggest assist came from Grambling itself, which came in after a long ton of publicity the past two years, and with a record of having sent 60 of its players to the pros since the mid-40s. Twenty-two Grambling alumni are in the pros now, more than any other college except Notre Dame. "Why, you can't hardly watch a pro game anymore unless there's a Grambling boy or two playing," says Collie Nicholson, the Grambling sports-information director. "Of course, all that publicity the last couple of years didn't hurt. Five years ago we could have come into Yankee Stadium and 100 people wouldn't have turned out—even if it was free and we were playing Notre Dame."
Grambling's emergence on the national scene stems largely from an excellent, hour-long TV documentary, 100 Yards to Glory, produced by Howard Cosell for ABC (last week it was nominated for a TV Emmy). Several magazines followed with articles on the small-college football power. But ask any pro scout and he will say that Grambling has earned threefold every word written about it. Last season 29 scouts turned up at one Grambling game, 23 for another. The average is 12, and many of them spend the full week on campus grading the game film. Last year the pros drafted 36 players from the 12-team Southeastern Conference, tops in the country. They took 31 from the eight-team Southwestern Athletic Conference, of which Grambling is a member.
Despite an opening loss to Alcorn A&M last week, Grambling's reputation made it a slight favorite against Morgan State, a school founded in Baltimore two years after the Civil War ended and one that hadn't lost a football game since mid-1965. It soon became apparent that the Tigers from Louisiana were an even greater favorite with the huge crowd. So the disappointment was obvious and considerable when the clock began ticking into the final minute with Morgan State holding its two-point lead.
Grambling's first-string quarterback, James Harris, had suffered a shin injury and Robinson had not used him, but he sent Harris into the game in the last minutes and the Tigers began to move—zip, zip, zip. Now they were at Morgan State's two with 37 seconds left, and Henry Jones, a 235-pound fireplug of a fullback, was crashing straight ahead. Not quite enough. It was still a yard to victory and only 16 seconds left. Time out.
On the sidelines Robinson's assistant coaches were urging him to go for a field goal. "No," said Robinson, "let's win it the right way." Again the call went to Jones, wedge right, and a ton and a half of beef crashed head-on. "Touchdown," shouted an official. "No," called another. "What do you mean, no?" shouted Jones. "I was over the other time, too." Of course, the official who said no prevailed, and Grambling didn't, so now everybody was on Robinson for not going for the field goal.
"Why, it wouldn't have even been a field goal from that close," he said frowning. "Just a little old extra point. Maybe, I don't know. Maybe—but I tell you we've been working on that play. In the heat of battle sometimes you don't make the right decision. I guess this was one of those times. The thing is I'm the goat, not the team. I called that play, nobody else. But a man has got to go with what he believes."