Saturday afternoon will mark the first time that Eddie Robinson Jr. and Connell Maynor have coached against each other. It won’t, however, be the first time that Robinson Jr., the current Alabama State head coach, and Maynor, who leads Alabama A&M, have met on the football field.

Robinson Jr., a former All-American linebacker, reminded Maynor of the first meeting on Wednesday during a press gathering, or really more of a celebration, to promote Saturday’s 81st renewal of the Magic City Classic.

“Actually played against him [on Dec. 22, 1991], when he was at North Carolina A&T in the Heritage Bowl,” said Robinson Jr., gesturing toward Maynor, who was sitting about 10 feet away. “He didn’t do too well, that’s why he’s smiling. I wanted to bring back those old bad memories.”

Alabama State was indeed the winner, beating a Maynor-quarterbacked North Carolina A&T team, 36-13, in the inaugural Heritage Bowl, which was set up to match the top HBCU teams in the country. The game was played in Miami.

A few minutes after the trip down memory lane by Robinson Jr., Maynor had his turn at the podium.

“Coach Eddie Robinson Jr. was a great football player,” Maynor said. “As he said, we played against each other in [1991], a couple years ago, in the Heritage Bowl. Unfortunately for us, we lost. Fortunately, for them, they won. They had a great football team. He was a great linebacker on that team. Y’all saw when he was walking up here he was limping a little bit. He hurt his hip. I played quarterback, he played linebacker. I ran the quarterback draw and I gave him the old Maynor (swivel). Where’d he go? He hurt his hip. He still limps to this day, he never will forget.”

The truth is that the last part was not quite accurate. Robinson’s hip problems came from playing 10 years in the NFL. But it was a fun moment between two competitors who have quickly become friends.

“I can’t say enough about Coach Maynor,” Robinson Jr. said. “He welcomed me to this conference, had a lot of jokes for me, played golf with me, didn’t beat me too bad. He’s been one of those coaches who reached out to me since I’ve been at Alabama State in my first year. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Robinson Jr. is not only in his first season as the Alabama State head coach but he is in his first season as a coach at any level. The Hornets are 4-3 overall and 2-2 in SWAC play. Two of the losses were to UCLA, which is a nationally ranked FBS team, and unbeaten Jackson State. Robinson Jr. made national headlines following the Jackson State game because of his postgame beef with Deion Sanders.

His focus right now is solely on finding a way to get another win in the Magic City Classic. He was 3-1 as a player against the Bulldogs. This is his first shot at the Bulldogs since Alabama State athletics director Dr. Jason Cable gave Robinson Jr. a chance to coach at his alma mater.

“Just wanted to make sure I could thank everyone and Dr. Cable for entrusting me to lead this Alabama State program and for giving me another chance to beat Alabama A&M again,” Robinson Jr. said. “It was great beating them when I was a student-athlete, I’m looking forward to beating them as a coach, also,” Robinson Jr. said. “It’s going to be a great game. It’s two teams, both in the same situation, we both want to stay in that [SWAC] East race and we want to beat each other. We also realize that other than that last Saturday in October, the two institutions are tied together. We need each other to survive. I love that school in Huntsville every single day of the year, except that last Saturday in October.”

Maynor had a 12-year career in the Arena Football League before becoming a successful college coach. He was 45-6 in four years at Winston-Salem State, taking his team to the Division II national championship game in 2012. He coached four seasons at Hampton University before coming to Alabama A&M in 2018. He was 25-13 in his first four seasons at Alabama A&M, including a 5-0 record and SWAC championship in the 2021 spring season. He is also 4-0 in the Magic City Classic.

“It’s a rivalry, but, at the end of the day, we’re all friends and we’re all family,” Maynor said of the Magic City Classic.

Maynor said on Wednesday that winning games is a small part of his job.

“The last three things I tell my players every single day in practice, ‘Go to study hall, go to class and don’t forget to pray,’” Maynor said. “The reason I do that is people don’t remember the first thing you say, they always remember the last thing you say. I always talked about grades at the end of practice and always end it with don’t forget to pray. That’s what I am. I’m a God-fearing man. I try to make my players be better fathers, role models, leaders. We don’t want to be losers. Losers make excuses. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to find a way. Find a way to pass a class, find a way to graduate, find a way to make a play, find a way to win the game, find a way to put food on the table, find a way to put shoes on their feet.”

With all that said, though, he had one final thing to say to Robinson Jr.

“At the end of the day, you’re one up on me, buddy,” Maynor said. “I got to even it up on you. It ain’t personal. I got to even that up.”

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