No matter what happens when the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013 is elected Saturday in New Orleans, longtime Akron resident Dave Robinson knows he must brace for an emotional roller coaster because he’ll be thinking about his late wife, Elaine.
“I’ll be thinking about the fact that she’s not there and she should be there,” Robinson said in a recent phone interview.
Robinson, 71, played outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers when they won the NFL Championship in 1966 and the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. He’s a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s, the Packers Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. He earned first-team NFL honors from 1967-69, was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and compiled 27 interceptions in his 12-year professional career.
Robinson’s ultimate goal, though, is still hanging in the balance.
In August, he and former Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers defensive tackle Curley Culp were named senior nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Senior candidates are classified as players whose careers ended at least 25 years ago. Robinson has been eligible for election for 34 years. This is the first time he has been a finalist, according to the Hall of Fame.
“From the time you start football as a young kid — I started when I was 14 or 15 years old — you always had to struggle to get on a team, you always had to make it,” Robinson said. “The Hall of Fame is the one team that’s the ultimate team. Once you’re in the Hall of Fame, that’s it. There’s no greater team.”
The Hall of Fame’s selection committee, which is composed of 46 media members, will meet Saturday to consider Robinson, Culp and 15 modern-era candidates for induction. The committee can elect a maximum of two senior candidates and five modern-era candidates. All nominees must receive at least 80 percent of the vote to be elected. The results will be announced at 5:30 p.m. Saturday during a one-hour special on NFL Network.
Robinson will be in New Orleans for the announcement and hopes to be inducted for several reasons. But the most important one, he said, is to honor the memory of Elaine, who died in May 2007 at age 64 after suffering a stroke. He and Elaine had three sons, Richard, David and Robert. Robert died in 2001, and Richard died three months after Elaine’s death. Like his father, David, 49, still lives in Akron.
“The real reason I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame is I wanted to do it for my wife,” Robinson said. “We dated for six years. We were married for 44 years. I tell people all the time, the hardest job in the National Football League is being the wife of a ball player. She persevered through all of that, and I wanted her to be there. But she passed away in 2007 and since then, I really got calloused and didn’t have the same drive to be in the Hall of Fame as I did before.
“I was kind of cavalier about it in August [when my nomination was announced], but the closer it gets to Feb. 2, the more I get excited, the more I get nervous, the more I realize what this really means to me. Money and all that, means nothing. Just being able to say Dave Robinson is in the Professional Football Hall of Fame is the biggest thing I could ever say or do.”
Robinson, who was born in Mount Holly, N.J., became a football star and earned a civil engineering degree at Penn State before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Packers. In the midst of his NFL career, Robinson got a job with Milwaukee-based Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. His playing days ended after a two-year stint with the Washington Redskins (1973-74), and his work in Schlitz’s marketing department led to him moving to West Akron in the late 1970s.
In 1990, Robinson became the second former NFL player to join the Hall of Fame’s board of trustees. He holds the title of secretary.
Robinson retired as the vice president of Superior Beverage of Akron — Mars Division in 2001. He served as a consultant for the company until 2006 and has also co-authored three books about his former legendary coach, Vince Lombardi.
In Robinson’s eyes, none of his accomplishments would compare to being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“After you make your first All-Pro team or Pro Bowl, then you start thinking about the Hall of Fame,” Robinson said. “You work hard to get to the Hall of Fame. To be successful, I will have fulfilled that dream. And it’s more than a dream. It’s some kind of driving force. It’s hard to explain. You have to be there and really want something awful bad that you sacrifice for it.
“I think back sometimes and think about how many times I got hit in the face, slapped alongside the head and got knocked unconscious, how many times I’ve tasted something salty and found out it was my own blood. There are so many things you go through. There’s so much in pro football that’s not very glorious. People think it’s a great thing to be a pro football player, but a lot of times there’s no glory involved whatsoever. Now after all that, being in the Hall of Fame would make it all worthwhile.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.