Grambling to name press box in honor of
May 8, 2006
By Nick Deriso
Long-overdue recognition for former Grambling
State sports information director Collie J.
Nicholson has drawn emotional praise from those
who were touched by him.
Collie J. Nicholson
The University of Louisiana System Board,
which oversees GSU, approved a plan late last
week to rename the Robinson Stadium press box
on campus after Nicholson, who spent three
decades building the school's national reputation.
There was James "Shack" Harris,
who played quarterback at Grambling in the
1960s: "He loved Grambling and he loved
the players," he said. "We reached
a national audience because of his tireless
efforts and contacts. He was way ahead of his
time in terms of marketing players." And
Doug Williams, whose early career was defined
by Nicholson's brilliantly descriptive stories: "It's
a great thing. It's a deserving one, too. The
fact is, he deserves all the accolades he gets."
The recognition for Nicholson, who has experienced
health problems in his early 80s, comes almost
three decades after he left Grambling. But
time hasn't dulled his impressive resume.
It was Nicholson who conceived of the classic-game
concept, where Grambling traveled with its
marching band to major American cities including
the ground-breaking 1960s sell-out at Yankee
And Nicholson who established the neutral-site
Bayou Classic rivalry game against Southern,
which remains a cash cow for the university.
And Nicholson who arranged a first-of-its-kind
overseas trip for the program, as Grambling
played games in Tokyo twice in the late 1970s.
"I would like to be remembered as someone
who tried to find a way to fit the Grambling
program into the general marketplace," Nicholson
told The News-Star in 2003. "I've tried
my best to do that."
He did it within the framework of a segregated
society, and long before the modem, the fax
machine and the all-day cable networks.
"I don't think a school has ever been
blessed with a better combination of support
than we had in Grambling back then," said
Harris, now an NFL executive. "He was
a big part of that."
Nobody short of legendary former coach Eddie
Robinson himself launched more careers.
"He has given recognition to so many
people who wouldn't have received it if not
for him and his hard work," Robinson told
us three years ago. (Robinson is the one who
gave Nicholson, so famous for giving the players
memorable nicknames, his own memorable moniker: "The
man with the golden pen.")
Paul "Tank" Younger, who Nicholson
relentlessly promoted after Younger scored
a then-record 60 career college touchdowns,
signed with the Rams during Nicholson's initial
year on the job as the first black college
player ever in the pros.
He helped nurture a host of Grambling greats
like Junious "Buck" Buchanan, Ernie "Big
Cat" Ladd and Harris, who would be the
first black player to be drafted at quarterback.
And not just by writing up game stories.
"When I was coming out (for the draft),
I remember working with 'Nick' on what to say.
I spent a lot of time with him, critiquing
me on doing interviews," said Harris,
who played for the Bills, Rams and Chargers. "Not
having a lot of experience with public speaking
during that time, it was so special to have
somebody like that."
But it would be Nicholson's tireless promotion
of the young Doug Williams that helped establish
Grambling as a widely known football school.
Williams sparked national headlines, thanks
to Nicholson, as the first player from a predominantly
black college ever chosen as a first-team All-America
by the Associated Press, a Heisman Trophy finalist
and the first black quarterback to be picked
in the first round of the NFL Draft.
"Me being voted fourth overall in the
Heisman is because of Collie J.; there are
not too many pens greater than his," said
Williams, who later coached at Grambling and
also works in an NFL front office these days.
"Collie J. is the one who put Eddie Robinson
out there in the media and kept all of us out
there," Williams said. "Everything
got started at Grambling because of Collie
Nicholson, who had briefly attended Grambling
before a stint in World War II, likes to recall
that he only ended up working at the school
after a chance meeting with then-president
Jones, known universally on campus as "Prez," convinced
the young Nicholson who was making a quick
visit before enrolling in the University of
Wisconsin to take a newly created job of sports
By the time Nicholson retired, 30 years later,
Grambling was a national presence.
Nicholson used trailblazing experience as
the first black Marine Corps war reporter during
World War II to push Grambling to the national
stage. "My time as a combat correspondent
gave me the understanding of what editors were
interested in," Nicholson told The News-Star
While Nicholson "retired" to Shreveport
not long after Williams left for the pros,
the truth is he continued to write for newspapers
across the nation on a range of topics, from
boxing to (of course) Grambling football. He
received lifetime recognition from the Louisiana
Sports Hall of Fame in 1990 and the College
Sports Information Directors of America Trailblazer
Award 12 years later.
A newly renamed press box at Grambling may
be the most appropriate recognition of them
all, said Harris and Williams.
"As long as there is a Grambling," Williams
said, "Collie J. should be a part of it."
Harris agreed: "It's a tremendous honor
for a guy who really made a significant contribution
to Grambling's growth and development and long-time
tradition. That has withstood the test of time.
He was a pioneer, so having his name on the
press box is very deserving."