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|Robertson left lasting legacy|
We lost a great man Tuesday in Johnny "Red" Robertson.
But just like so many of his state championship teams, Robertson didn't go down without a battle.
Robertson has long been a fighter, even after his playing days at Northwestern State and coaching days at Ferriday High.
I told someone recently if I could go back in time I would set the clock back about 12 years so I could enjoy watching Robertson's famed Ferriday teams of the 1950s.
Almost to a person, every former player I talked to for a series I did back in 2006 on the four state championships and 54 straight games without a loss told me how Robertson was ahead of his time.
He was scouting other teams when that was unheard of back then in high school. He once had a second uniform in his team's lockerroom for a game played in a downpour. His team came out for the second half spotless, while the other team looked like a poor dog left out in the rain.
I never saw the gruff side of Robertson, but heard about it plenty. It was hard for me to imagine this soft-spoken, easy-going and cordial man losing his temper.
Donnie Day, Manson Nelson, Butch Bateman, Frank Brocato and many others could tell you otherwise.
Then again, if he would not have been, his framed photo would not be in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame is filled with great athletes and great people. I would have a hard time finding someone as humbled as Robertson was back in 2002 when he was inducted in Bossier City.
Tim Brando introduced Robertson as the "Bud Wilkinson of high school football."
That's for sure, Tim.
Clyde Ray Webber served as Robertson's presenter. He honored Robertson and threw in some humor that had LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman almost falling out of his seat.
Webber would be another one who remembers the gruff Robertson. But he would also be counted among all the players who say their lives are better because of "Red" Robertson.
I missed seeing those games, but sure enjoyed Robertson re-hashing them in his living room with his lovely wife, Jimmie, beaming and throwing in a few stories about "Red" that were not about to come from his humble mouth.
About five years ago, I visited Robertson at Heritage Manor Nursing Home after he broke his hip following a fall at his home.
I had to admit to him later I wasn't exactly honest when I walked into his room.
I told Robertson I was doing a story on the number of players who played under him who went on to coach football.
I knew if I told him I was writing about his current health status, he would not want to say anything, to keep people from feeling sorry for him.
And, as a found out after the question, he was still sharp as a tack.
"James Poole, Bobby Marks, Eddie Hunter, Manson Nelson and Frank Brocato."
Robertson was diagnosed with kidney cancer around 2000 and underwent treatment at M.D. Anderson in Houston. He had to have his kidney removed.
No complaints, no self-pity. New game plan. Pity the opponent.
It doesn't know who it is messing with.
I could just picture Coach Robertson reciting those famous words of Jim Valvano and meaning them just as much.
"Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever," Valvano said.
That could have very easily come from Robertson and been just as sincere..
I found pictures of Robertson when he first started coaching at Ferriday High. It was like looking at the cover of a "Boys Life" or a promo for a Frankie Avalon beach movie.
Robertson said he was fortunate in that he did not need pins to mend the break and only had to have the bones heal before starting rehabilitation and getting out.
The problem is that he could not put weight on his left foot for fear of re-breaking the fracture.
Robertson said he was walking to unlock the front door at his carport when he started feeling woozy.
"I was going to the living room to sit down when I got dizzy and just started spinning around," he said. "I never had anything like that happen to me before in my life. Then all of a sudden I hit the floor."
Robertson spent several days in rehab.
"I just want to be able to walk," he told me, dabbing a tear away from his eye, upset that his emotions were getting the best of him.
Age and illness eventually took its toll on Robertson.
I visited with him at Camelot Leisure Living last year.
The soft-spoken Southern gentleman was even more soft-spoken. But he looked me in the eye when he answered the few questions I had for him.
And behind those eyes I could see the frustration of not being able talk louder or be more like the man who welcomed me into his home a few years earlier.
Robertson returned to each Hall of Fame ceremony after his induction.
But once again, his health would become his worst enemy.
I asked a few years ago if he was going to the induction ceremonies.
A weak voice answered, "I'm not going to be able to make it this year."
The disappointment in his voice choked me up and I tried to skip to another subject quickly.
Robertson left his mark everywhere he went. The Shreveport native was nominated as one of the top 100 football players to play football at Northwestern State in Natchitoches as part of a centennial celebration.
Robertson played under Coach Harry Turpin from 1946-49.
"That's nice to be remembered, but there's a lot of people who probably never heard of me," Robertson said with a laugh.
Robertson started out at guard at Northwestern before being moved to end. He also played defensive end.
Robertson was voted co-captain of the team his senior year.
"We weren't that good back then," Robertson said. "But we played our hearts out for our coaches. In 1946 we played the University of Arkansas and lost 21-20. We threw a pass to one of our ends and it hit him in the nose, but he dropped it. Otherwise, we probably would have won. Arkansas went on to play LSU in the Cotton Bowl. We played Mississippi State, but they did what they wanted to with us. Louisiana Tech was our big rival, but in my four years we never did beat them. I had to send them a player who played quarterback to beat them."
That player was James "Red" McNew, who was selected to Northwestern's top 100 team.
McNew, who played for Robertson in the early 1950s, played quarterback at Northwestern for four years.
"We all loved him," McNew said Tuesday. "He was a hallmark in our lives."
As I finished this story, I saw a brief glimpse of a Bulldog orange and blue sky.
Coach Robertson is still leaving his mark.
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