Packers legend Robinson gets inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
Dave Robinson. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives
GREEN BAY - One of the unsung heroes of Vince Lombardi's championship Packers got the greatest personal moment of his football life Saturday night in Canton, Ohio.
Linebacker Dave Robinson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with six other NFL legends.
Introduced initially by ESPN's Chris Berman along with the other inductees at the start of the ceremony, Robinson strode in wearing the golden Hall of Fame jacket.
"This celebration is long, long, long overdue," said Berman.
His son David gave the introductory presentation.
As he saw his Hall of Fame bust for the first time, he smiled, laughed with his son, and enjoyed every moment in the spotlight.
"I love this place," were his first words.
After wishing four family and friends a happy birthday, he then went into his speech.
"This is the biggest day of the 21st century for the Robinson family, and I want to thank all of you...it took me 38 years to get here, and I enjoyed every step of the way...I came to Green Bay in 1963...50 years ago, the same year of the Hall of Fame."
"My mother and father are looking down on me now and saying, 'Way to go.' "
He thanked countless family - including his late wife Elaine, with whom he shared 44 years of marriage.
"If anyone is going to be a Hall of Famer, she earned it, the hard way," said Robinson.
He also gave gratitude to high school coaches and the staff who led him at Penn State University, before he talked about his Packers.
"I played on the left side of (Vince) Lombardi's (defense)...Willie Davis, Herb Adderley. Next to me, Ray Nitschke, and sometimes behind me was Willie Wood. On one side...five Hall of Famers."
It was because of Vince Lombardi, his demand of excellence, and his ability to look past race in a divisive era that Robinson became one of the great linebackers of his era.
"Marie (Lombardi) said, 'Vince only hollers at people with potential.' Starting the next day, he hollered at me. I said, 'He loves me!' " Robinson quipped during a jovial speech.
In the end, Robinson gave a personal testimony to the fan base of Green Bay, the most unique and possibly the most loyal in American professional sports.
"You've got to come to Lambeau Field...our fans own the team. Top that!"
Robinson was groundbreaker in race, and in pass coverage
Robinson was one of the first African-Americans to start at linebacker in the NFL. He was also one of the best outside linebackers of his era.
Robinson specialized in pass defense, and could cover any running back or tight end.
"When a fullback came out of the backfield, or Gale Sayers or Jim Brown, the responsibility came on my shoulders. I gladly accepted it," said Robinson to Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jay Sorgi.
It helped to have three Hall-of-Famers surrounding him on Vince Lombardi's defense, but he'll tell you that he helped those Hall-of-Famers out, too.
"Willie Davis, Herb Adderley and Ray Nitshcke was (in the Hall of Fame) because I was there...and my career was stellar because I could depend on Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley and Willie Davis. We were a team."
A team with one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.
The Packers ball-hawkers on defense were so good, that when you count scores from pick-sixes and fumble recoveries, they actually had a greater point-per-game defensive impact than the great Steel Curtain defenses of the 70's.
Robinson's greatest moment, however, came directly against the direct orders of the ultimate disciplinarian coach.
It came when the Packers defense had to hold the Dallas Cowboys on 4th and goal with less than a minute left in a 1966 NFL Championship Game they were winning in the Cotton Bowl, 34-27.
The Cowboys were knocking on the Packers' goal line door after one of the highest-scoring title games in league history, when Robinson was given an assignment not to blitz.
"I decided that the thing to do was beat (Cowboys quarterback) Don Meredith, and lucky for me, he was slower than I thought," said Robinson about a play on his own two yard line.
"My job was, I thought, to make the tackle. I didn't worry about how the coach designed the play."
As Meredith rolled out with :28 left in the game, Robinson reached him, but didn't make the tackle.
But as he grabbed Meredith's shoulders, he altered the throw enough to direct it to safety Tom Brown.
Brown intercepted the pass to clinch a 34-27 win and a berth in Super Bowl I.
As legend goes, Lombardi confronted Robinson in the locker room after the game and uttered "You weren't supposed to blitz!"
The angry tone left, and they celebrated the Packers' second of an unsurpassed three consecutive NFL championships.