Dave Robinson stood on the field for the Super Bowl XLVII coin toss and waved to the crowd at the Superdome as it roared with TV cameras capturing close-up shots of his wide grin.
He also took center stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York, boasting about the Green Bay Packers owning an NFL-record 13 championships, and announced the franchise’s second-round draft pick.
Then, before he knew it, Robinson hit the banquet circuit, holding court in front of swarms of supporters in Akron, his hometown since the late 1970s, and De Pere, Wis.
Media outlets have inundated him with interview requests, and several organizations have asked him to serve as a keynote speaker at their events.
Nearly 40 years after his NFL career ended, Robinson, 72, is back in the limelight. He’ll be inducted Aug. 3 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and his enshrinement will serve as a grand finale to the whirlwind tour on which he has embarked since a selection committee composed of 46 media members elected him Feb. 2 in New Orleans.
“It’s been a merry-go-round,” Robinson told the Beacon Journal. “People are pulling at me left and right. Some days I have to look at the calendar to see what city I’m in. There’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s really crazy, but I’d do it all again. I’d gladly give one year of my life to get the honor of going into the hall.”
Now, after all the sacrifice, after all the waiting, after all the frenzy of the past six months, Robinson is eager for his lifelong fantasy to unfold. His dream of wearing a customary gold jacket and unveiling his bronze bust with his son David will finally come true.
“I’m not a real emotional guy, but I think when my son and I stand there and we unveil that bust, I think I may get a little teary-eyed,” Robinson said. “That bust is so awesome — what it stands for. They told us that bust can last up to 4,000 years, which means eons from now your relatives, your great-great-great-great-great grandkids can walk into that hall of fame, and even though I’ll be long gone, that bust will be looking down at them. It’s something that’s very close to achieving immortality. If you think about it, that’s an awesome thing.”
Robinson became a dominant force for the Packers at left outside linebacker not long after legendary coach Vince Lombardi drafted him out of Penn State in the first round of the 1963 NFL Draft. With Robinson and two other hall of famers, cornerback Herb Adderley and defensive end Willie Davis, anchoring the left side of Lombardi’s defense, the Packers won the NFL Championship for the 1965 season and the first two Super Bowls after the 1966 and 1967 seasons.
“Without Dave Robinson, I would not have made the hall of fame and neither would Willie Davis,” Adderley said in a phone interview. “That’s how important Dave Robinson was to us when he came onto the left side.”
Although passing attacks reign supreme in today’s NFL, offenses in Robinson’s era focused on pounding defenses with the run. And the majority of them were built to rush primarily to the right, targeting the defense’s left side.
“We literally dared teams to test us,” Davis said by phone. “We were taking on the part of the team that if you could shut it down, you had made a great impression in the game.”
Robinson, who stood 6-foot-3½ and fluctuated between 236-242 pounds during his playing days, always seemed to be in the right position, a key principle in run support. It’s one of the reasons he earned first-team NFL honors from 1967-69, three trips to the Pro Bowl, a place in the Packers Hall of Fame and a coveted spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
“I think Dave no question was a big, physically imposing individual,” Davis said. “But he probably had one of the sharpest minds that you’re going to run into in football.”
Robinson also excelled at disrupting the passing game by jamming tight ends at the line of scrimmage. Robinson had showdowns against hall of fame tight ends Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Charlie Sanders and Jackie Smith.
“He was a great player,” Ditka, who played for the Chicago Bears and later coached them, said in a phone interview. “Over a period of time I played against him a lot. He’s one of those guys I think that Lombardi probably was very proud of because he knew what he was doing. He didn’t miss assignments. He was dependable. He was reliable. That’s the kind of guy you want. You don’t want guys who have highs and lows. He was just very consistent.”
Former Packers center Ken Bowman, who was Robinson’s neighbor in Green Bay’s locker room, will never forget the way his old friend used to treat tight ends.
“He used to say, ‘The way I play corner linebacker, when I line up across from that tight end, I pretend that he’s trying to reach around behind me and grab my wallet, and I treat him accordingly,’ ” Bowman said by phone. “He was a tough player. He liked to mix it up. He liked to get in there and smash somebody with a forearm.”
Marv Fleming felt Robinson’s power firsthand. A former Packers tight end, Fleming routinely went head-to-head with Robinson at practice.
“His initial contact with you, I mean, he would hit you, and it would hurt,” Fleming said in a phone interview. “Dave Robinson was the best linebacker, in all my years of playing pro football, that I faced.”
Robinson’s instincts and awareness allowed him to compile 27 interceptions in his 12-year professional career. Those attributes also helped him seal the Packers’ trip to the first Super Bowl.
On Jan. 1, 1967, the Packers’ 34-27 lead against the Dallas Cowboys was threatened in the waning moments of the NFL Championship Game. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Packers’ 2-yard line, Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith rolled to his right while trying to find a target in the end zone. Robinson reacted by rushing Meredith, striking him and forcing a desperation pass that safety Tom Brown intercepted in the end zone to clinch the Packers’ berth in Super Bowl I.
“David was the one who made that play,” Brown said in a phone interview. “He immediately attacked Don Meredith, and he’s the one who made that play. It wasn’t anything I did because the ball was just thrown up in the air, and anybody could have intercepted the ball.”
Robinson spent 10 seasons with the Packers and another two with the Washington Redskins. His long wait to enter the hall of fame began when he retired in 1975.
“I went in the hall of fame in 1980,” Adderley said. “Willie Davis was my presenter. Willie Davis went in the following year in 1981. Dave Robinson should have been right behind Willie Davis.”
Robinson will become the 12th player from Lombardi’s Packers inducted into the hall of fame. The others are Adderley, Davis, offensive lineman Forrest Gregg, halfback Paul Hornung, defensive tackle Henry Jordan, middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, center Jim Ringo, quarterback Bart Starr, fullback Jim Taylor and safeties Emlen Tunnell and Willie Wood. Lombardi was enshrined in the hall of fame in 1971, the year following his death.
Many of Robinson’s teammates believe his journey to the hall of fame might have been prolonged because so many other Packers from Lombardi’s teams were inducted.
“Exactly,” Steve Perry, president and executive director of the hall of fame, said when asked about the theory. “Some would say that he played if you will ‘in the shadow of other Green Bay Packer players,’ Nitschke being one example. But if you go back, as the selectors have done, and look at everything on an even-keeled basis, they came back and said, ‘If Robinson had retired before Nitschke, he might have got in before Nitschke.’
“But Nitschke retired first. He got in first. Other players retired. They got in, and at some point, you have a tremendous number of Packers in there. So maybe, subliminally, in the back of their minds, it’s a factor. But the process really works because the guys work so hard to look for any of those imperfections and fix them.”
Robinson had been eligible for election for 34 years, but he didn’t become a finalist until August 2012, when he was named a senior nominee. Senior candidates are classified as players whose careers ended at least 25 years ago. Like modern-era candidates, senior nominees need at least 80 percent of the vote to be elected.
“For Dave Robinson, I would say long overdue, but better late than never,” Davis said. “Dave Robinson is one of the finest outside linebackers I have ever seen. If you look in the Packers’ archives in the good games, in the big moments, Dave probably stands out as well as anyone.”
Robinson was born in Mount Holly, N.J., graduated from Moorestown High School in 1959 and went on to earn a civil engineering degree at Penn State before the Packers drafted him. He worked in marketing for the Milwaukee-based Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. during his NFL career. About five years after he retired from football, the beer company transferred him to Northeast Ohio. Robinson retired as the vice president of Superior Beverage of Akron — Mars Division in 2001 and was a consultant for the company until 2006. He has since co-authored three books about Lombardi.
In 1979, Robinson and his late wife, Elaine, bought a home in West Akron, where they raised their three children, Richard, David and Robert. Elaine died in May 2007 at age 64 after suffering a stroke, and Richard and Robert died in 2007 and 2001, respectively.
Robinson, who has held the title of secretary on the hall of fame’s board of trustees since 1990, considers his induction the ultimate tribute to his wife.
He often reflects on the tough times he and Elaine endured as a young black couple in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, when they were denied service at restaurants and gas stations while traveling the country in the midst of his NFL career.
“[Many people] had been taught one thing all their lives since they were little kids, and all the sudden you try to tell them, ‘Now you’ve got to accept the black guys as equals,’ ” Robinson said. “A lot of people just physically couldn’t do it, and so you felt the wrath. It was hard, and that went into the ’70s.”
He and David, 49, also remember how Elaine evolved into the backbone of the family while her husband pursued his gridiron dreams.
“She’s the one that molded my brothers and I as young boys and as young men,” David said. “[Wives of football players] go through a hell of a lot. You’re married to a gladiator, but you’re raising young children. That’s a contrast of environments.”
Robinson chose David, who graduated from Buchtel High School in 1982, to serve as his presenter at the enshrinement ceremony.
“My son said, ‘Well, Dad, in light of the fact that Mom and my two brothers have passed away, I’d like to present you for them. I’d like to represent my mother and my two brothers,’ ” Robinson said. “So I couldn’t argue it.
“You can’t do these things on your own. You’ve got to have people surrounding you. That’s what it takes. That’s the only way you can make it in football. It’s a family affair.”
Robinson is the youngest of Mary and Leslie Robinson’s eight children. His only living sibling, sister Henrietta, 78, is planning to travel from Moorestown, N.J., to attend the hall of fame festivities.
“You couldn’t stop her from coming to Canton,” David said of his aunt. “There’s not an army big enough that could stop her from seeing this.”
It will be a day Robinson, his son and sister will cherish for the rest of their lives.
“It’s a long wait,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else. But I think the longer you wait, the more you appreciate it, the more you realize just how special the hall of fame is, how important it is.”