With its famed band in tow, Grambling's football team will help San Jose State kick off the 2003 football season -- and realize a two-year dream of SJSU Coach Fitz Hill.
The game is scheduled for Aug. 23 at Spartan Stadium.
A matchup with Grambling State, a college in Northern Louisiana that has won the past three Black College National Championships, appealed to Hill ever since he took the SJSU job in late 2000. Even though it has never played above the Division I-AA level, the Grambling football program is one of the most storied in the country.
The school won eight Black College National Championships and 408 games under legendary coach Eddie Robinson from 1941 to 1997.
The school offered educational opportunities to blacks during the time of segregation and gave the gifted few, including current coach Doug Williams, chances to develop as athletes as well.
``I graduated from high school in 1973 and integration had been in place for just three years,'' Williams said Monday, one day before the formal announcement. ``Few African-American quarterbacks were given a chance to play. I wasn't heavily recruited.''
So Williams went to Grambling -- and flourished. He was a first-team All-American in 1977 and played in the 1978 East-West Shrine Game. Williams was the first player taken in the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 1987, he was named Super Bowl MVP with the Washington Redskins as he became the first black quarterback to lead a team to the title.
``Just like Dr. Martin Luther King paved the way, Doug Williams paved the way,'' Hill said. ``At the time, people said black quarterbacks couldn't win the big game, couldn't think.''
So Hill finds it fitting that Williams' team will be involved in the Dr. Martin Luther King Literacy Classic, a game that will coincide with the grand opening of a library bearing the civil rights leader's name.
Williams, who became Grambling's coach in 1998, said his team had options to play elsewhere, but he chose to face SJSU because of his respect for Hill. Williams and Hill, one of only four black coaches at the Division I-A level, got to know each other in 1995 and 1996. Williams was a scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hill an assistant at Arkansas.
SJSU's program is entering a crucial time. The team drew an average of just over 10,000 fans to its home games last season. If that number doesn't increase to 15,000 by 2004, when new NCAA rules are implemented, the school could lose its I-A status. The publicity generated by a game against Grambling, which Hill expects will be a sellout, might help the situation. Grambling regularly draws more than 30,000 fans to its road games.
Having been a black quarterback at a time when there were few, Williams, a Grambling alum, sympathizes with Hill.
``We don't get the pleasure of being recycled,'' Williams said, noting that no black head coach to lose a I-A job has ever coached at that level again.