NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Doug Williams thinks of his mentor every day but never more fondly than during the Bayou Classic weekend.
Long before Williams became a Super Bowl MVP, former Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson gave him a taste of greatness at the Bayou Classic.
``It was the very first one, 1974 in Tulane Stadium,'' Williams remembered. ``And I walked out of that tunnel, and there were 80,000 people in the stands. What was really significant though was it was 80,000 African-Americans.''
That first game was the realization of Robinson's dream of a prestigious game, with a bowl-type atmosphere, for Louisiana's two black colleges - Grambling State and Southern University.
Robinson, who died in April, retired in 1997, with 57 years of coaching and 408 victories to his name. He grew up dreaming of LSU football but could not attend games there because of segregation. Still, the roar of the huge crowds inspired him to want the same for Grambling.
``I grew up in the shadow of LSU, and I used to listen to the Sugar Bowl on the radio,'' Robinson said in a 1993 interview. ``And I always wondered if I could ever be a part of anything like that.''
M in the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami before 48,000, feeding Robinson's dream. When he got home, Robinson wrote the Sugar Bowl to try to arrange something similar but was unsuccessful.
Finally, he hit on the idea of creating an annual game with Southern. After a trial run in Shreveport drew more than 40,000, Tulane agreed to allow the schools to play in its stadium.
``That whole day was like a dream,'' said Williams, a freshman and Grambling's starting quarterback. ``I was from Zachary, La. In high school we'd get 800, 900 people, and at Grambling maybe 3,000.''
In the 34 years since Grambling beat Southern 21-0 in that first game, the Bayou Classic has inspired least 13 other black college classics.
Before Hurricane Katrina, the game drew as many as 200,000 fans to the city and pumped an estimated $85 million into the economy. Attendance remains down since the storm. Last year only 47,136 attended - 70,000 is a sellout.
The event now stretches over Friday and Saturday, with a job fair and a Friday night battle of the bands, pitting the ``Human Jukebox'' of Southern against the ``Marching Tigers'' of Grambling.
``It doesn't take the Bayou Classic to make me think of Coach Rob,'' said Williams, who played in four Bayou Classics, coached in six and has seen everyone of them, in person or on TV. ``I think of him everyday. But at Bayou Classic time everyone thinks of him.''

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