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Bibbs Meets Her Love For Life -- Twice

Courtesy: NC A&T Sports Information
          Release: 02/27/2012
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Coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs poses with actor Jon Voight.
Courtesy: NC A&T Sports Information
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Pat falls in love

After graduation, she and her cousin Geraldine "Pumpkin" Cooper look for a place to stay.

Across the street from the university is an apartment complex owned by then head football coach Eddie Robinson named Stadium View Apartments. Robinson uses those apartments in part to give his former football players a place to stay after graduation. He also hires former players to manage the complex.

One of Robinson's current players, a 6-foot-2 defensive lineman named Ezil Bibbs, Jr., was spending a lot of time at Stadium View. Ezil Bibbs is not playing in 1973 because of a hamstring injury. Therefore, he hangs out with his friend, former backup center at Grambling, David "Hook" Hookfin.

Hookfin's responsibility is to show and rent apartments to potential tenants. His job is becoming easier in 1973 because there are no available apartments to rent. When Pat Cage and Pumpkin come to Stadium View looking to rent an apartment, they really have no chance of finding housing.

When the two women walk in, Ezil can't believe his eyes. "Whoa," he thought to himself as Pat Cage starts to speak.

"Hook, we need a place to stay. Do you have anything available?" an inquisitive Pat Cage asked.

"Tell you what, we do have one available," said Hook. "It's not ready right now, but I can show you one tonight."

Satisfied with this answer, the two women walk out believing their mission is accomplished.

"I thought you didn't have any apartments available, Hook," a confused Ezil Bibbs said.

"I don't," Hook replies.

"Then what are you going to do? They're coming back tonight," Ezil worries.

"Did you see those two women?" Hook asked his friend. "Somebody's going to have to get put out.  Look, I need you to be here when they get back," Hook demands. "We're going to show them an apartment."

"What happens when they find out there is no apartment?" Ezil asked. "We'll worry about that later," the strategically thinking Hook answers.

Ezil is not so sure about Hook's plot. As Hook begs his friend to go along with his scheme, Ezil realizes how much Hook likes Pat Cage's cousin. Hook's affection for the cousin leaves Ezil with the woman he wants all along - the long-legged, full figured school teacher named Pat.

She has the kind of good looks that makes a man go against his better judgment, so Ezil agrees to be there for the showing. 

Luckily for the two Grambling men, a professor is doing research in Mexico. Thus the two men are able to show the two attractive ladies a "furnished apartment."

 "Oh yes, it's going to look just like this," Hook tells the ladies. "Oh this is nice, when can we move in?" asks Cage in a blunt tone that eventually becomes her trademark.

As it turns out, Hook's strategy is brilliant - for Ezil any way. By fate, an apartment opens up a few days later. Hook doesn't get the girl. But Ezil defeats the odds of Hook's strange plan and the fact that Cage has a boyfriend at the time, to get Cage to fall in love with him. Thirty-eight years later, the two share two daughters, two grandchildren and life's wins and losses.

"I can't tell you what Pat was thinking when she first saw me," said Ezil. "But I was sure hoping I could get her to eventually feel about me the way I definitely felt about her. She was not only a beautiful woman. She was an extraordinary person and had an extraordinary personality."

After marriage, Ezil turns his fabulous collegiate career, into an opportunity to play in the Canadian Football League. The two travel all over Canada together with Bibbs learning the game of football every step of the way. She eventually returns to Louisiana to further her teaching career after telling her husband we can't do this together for the rest of our lives.

"We were having a blast," said Ezil. "We were growing up together. To this day, she watches more football than I do. I don't know what it is, but Pat, even back then, thought there was something big she was supposed to accomplish."

A year after graduation, Pat meets one of Ezil's former teammates. He is a tall, lanky redshirt sophomore football player from Zachary, La., named Doug Williams. When he meets Pat, she is riding around in a long, green Ford Thunderbird.  Williams, who eventually becomes a legend in his own right, as the first and to date the only African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl, doesn't know his former mentor and current professional football player, Ezil, is married to the lady driving the Bird.  

After Williams realizes who the lady is, a longtime friendship begins between the Bibbses and Williams. "Ezil was playing pro ball at the time, but you could already see how much he supported her. Usually, you see the wife supporting the husband as a coach. But Ezil has been there every step of the way for Pat. Over the years I've seen him be her trainer, her ball boy, her cook and her chauffer. Whatever she has needed him, he has always been there. It's a heckuva a relationship.

The offer of a lifetime

Ezil's support manifests itself in 1975. Pat becomes what is called a "traveling instructor." She goes from school to school teaching physical education. The high school principal at Ruston offered her something more permanent. He wanted Pat Bibbs to teach and start a high school girls basketball team.

 "At the time, I was thinking go for it," said Ezil with a smile. "It was an extra $1,500 per year. That was good money back then."

It is more than that to Pat, however. Pat loves the game, but never had an opportunity to play because until the early-to-mid 70's, high school basketball was not an option for most girls. What an opportunity, the 23-year-old Bibbs thought, to offer females an opportunity to use high school basketball to get a scholarship and an education. It was an opportunity she never had while attending Grambling.

"I'll try it out. I'll see if I like it," she tells her husband. "If I don't like it, I'll try something else."

But who is she kidding? There is nothing else. She finds life's next challenge, and goes after it.

Within days, she pours over every basketball book available in the library. She buys numerous basketball books. She studies. She calls friends and does her own research. She quizzes her hubby.

"I don't know anything about basketball, honey," he often replies.

But through the question she is asking, one thing is clear to Ezil. "Pat is serious about this thing," he thinks to himself.

Pat coaches at Ruston for a season before returning to Canada with her husband. Ezil eventually gets an opportunity to play for the New York Giants. But Pat was right; his career eventually ends, leaving the couple to enact their backup plan.

Ezil goes to work for Xerox. Pat takes a job at Dubach High School, a school still coming to grips with desegregation. Pat becomes the high school basketball coach in 1977, and from there the legend starts.

In eight seasons at Dubach, Pat Bibbs wins two state titles. She is runner up three times, and claims five district 1B titles, while winning 231 games.  She does it the Louis Charles way. She is brash, bold, defiant and successful. At a school where you still had to have a white prom queen and black prom queen, a black Mr. Dubach and white Ms. Dubach, there is an understanding about how a starting lineup is supposed to look.

There could be black starters, but no more than two. Rumor circulates that Bibbs is going to start five black females. She is told such a move can lead to her being fired. Others are nervous at the backlash such a move brings to the black community.

"If I lose my job, I'll lose it playing the best five players," she often responds.

She plays her five best players that night. She wins. She is told by a local businessman who carries a lot of influence in the town, "You'll regret doing this."

"You do what you need to do. I've already done what I needed to do," she snaps back as she walks away from him.  

Bibbs learns two important lessons from the fallout. Do what is right, even if right is unpopular, and winning does a lot to combat ignorance.

Ignorance is disappearing fast in Dubach because Bibbs keeps on winning. Before the NCAA bans such activities, she often plays 5A schools twice her size before Louisiana Tech women's games. A coach of one of those 5A teams is named Gary Blair. It is the same Gary Blair who eventually leads Texas A&M to the NCAA women's basketball national championship in 2011.

"The thing I remember about Pat is that she never wanted to settle," said Buddy Davis, a sportswriter for the Ruston Daily Leader. "She reached for the stars, while others stayed in the clouds. She preferred players who exemplified high character and work ethic."

Bibbs goes back to college

All of Bibbs' triumphs are not going unnoticed. Grambling's president at the time, Dr. Joseph Johnson, reads the Ruston Daily Leader daily. He also recognizes the landscape of sports is changing. Women are becoming more prominent in sports. A young Californian named Cheryl Miller scores 105 points in high school game. The NCAA adds nine women's intercollegiate championship tournaments in 1982. Among the additions is a championship for women's basketball. Louisiana Tech defeats Cheyney State in 1982 to win the inaugural title. If Louisiana Tech can earn national prominence by winning a national title, why not Grambling, Dr. Johnson thinks to himself? Dr. Johnson has the best of all worlds.

Nearby La Tech has already made women's basketball a big deal in his area. He too has a women's basketball program, and right down the street is one the state's best high school basketball coaches. The cherry on top of the milkshake?...she is a Grambling woman.

"Dr. Johnson knew what he had in women's basketball," said Bibbs. "I knew the potential women's basketball had. I wish more black schools would have taken it seriously. I think a lot of black schools missed out on opportunity to have a sport where we could compete on a national level. It was new. Everyone was coming in on the ground level."

After Dr. Johnson makes a visit to the Bibbs' household to make her an offer to become the head women's basketball coach at Grambling, she accepts. In 1984, she becomes the second women's basketball coach in school history.

The Lady Tigers finish tied for fourth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference during Bibbs' first year. In 13 seasons, there is only one other year the Tigers finish lower than third. In 1987, Bibbs wins the first of her 12 regular-season conference titles.

A year later, she wins the first of her 10 conference tournament championships. A month later, she gives birth to her baby daughter, Satin.

"She never stopped coaching when she got pregnant with Satin, said Bibbs' sister Victoria "Vicky" Cage-Frazier. "She never went on maternity leave, she just got out there on that floor and kept coaching." 

Bibbs is at the top of her game privately and professionally. At age 38, she has done exactly what Dr. Johnson wanted of her. The women's program is a giant. But while her successes are piling up, her father, her rock, is ill.

The man she counts on to be sitting in the gym across from her bench during her time at Ruston, Dubach and Grambling dies in June of '88. 

"They say I'm just like him," Bibbs said. "I wear that label with honor."

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