Dave Robinson: Remembering the Career of the Legendary NFL Linebacker

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Dave Robinson: Remembering the Career of the Legendary NFL Linebacker
Vernon Biever/Getty Images

Dave Robinson, a linebacker ahead of his time and a pivotal component for several championship teams as a member of the Green Bay Packers' 1960s dynasty, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.

The seven-man class, which also includes Bill Parcells, Warren Sapp, Cris Carter, Larry Allen, Curley Culp and Jonathan Ogden, will be formally inducted during an enshrinement ceremony at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio.  

While Robinson so frequently made the game look easy during his 12-year NFL career, nothing about his journey to the Hall of Fame was straightforward. 

After retiring in 1974, Robinson waited 39 total years and 34 eligible years before the call came that ensured he would be joining 10 of his former teammates and legendary head coach Vince Lombardi in the Hall. He was voted in as a senior candidate in January.

Lombardi originally drafted the versatile Robinson with the 14th overall pick in the first round of the 1963 draft. An All-American in 1962 for Penn State, Robinson played both defensive end and tight end while helping lead the Nittany Lions to a 24-8 mark over three years, per the College Football Hall of Fame. The National Football Foundation inducted Robinson into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. 

Despite being drafted by the Packers, Robinson wasn't certain he'd end up in Green Bay.

The San Diego Chargers of the AFL also drafted Robinson, and it was his fiancée's wish to live in sunny San Diego over cold, wintery Green Bay, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

When the Chargers ran out of money to pay Robinson's contract, however, San Diego agreed to trade Robinson to Buffalo, which had the necessary funds to handle his two-year, $38,000 deal. When Buffalo didn't sound appealing to the future Mrs. Robinson, the linebacker packed his bags and headed to Green Bay. 

Once in Wisconsin, Robinson didn't take long to make the most of his new football home.

Right away, the Packers moved Robinson from defensive end—his collegiate position—to outside linebacker. After learning the position as a backup during his rookie season, Robinson became the 1964 starter alongside Ray Nitschke and Lee Roy Caffey—a position he wouldn't give up until after the 1972 season. 

The 6'3", 245-pound Robinson was a man ahead of his time at outside linebacker.

He used his length and experience to rush the quarterback from the left side of the defense. His strength allowed him to be a force against the run. And despite his size, he was more than athletic enough to cover the best tight ends of the era in the passing game. 

Over his career, Robinson plastered himself to Hall of Famers such as Mike Ditka and John Mackey. Lombardi never had to worry. Ditka once said Robinson was "as reliable as they come," and that Lombardi "liked that" about his starting linebacker, per the Associated Press

There was plenty more to like in Robinson. 

In addition to intercepting 21 passes during his 10-year Green Bay career, Robinson always seemed to make a big defensive play when the Packers needed it most. 

In 1965, Robinson picked off the Baltimore Colts during a pivotal tilt late in the season. He returned the interception 87 yards, helping the Packers knock off the Colts and enter the postseason. Green Bay would go on to win the NFL championship a month later. 

The next season, Robinson might have altered football history forever.

With the Packers facing the Dallas Cowboys in the 1966 NFL title game and clinging to a seven-point lead, Robinson hurried a last-ditch pass from Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith on fourth down. The wobbling pass landed right in the breadbasket of Packers safety Tom Brown, who was patrolling the back of the end zone.

The Packers held on to win, 34-27, and later beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I. 

Had Robinson not forced the ill-advised pass, it's possible the Cowboys could have advanced to the first Super Bowl, and the now easily recognizable "Lombardi Trophy" might instead be named the "Landry Trophy." 

In fact, the Packers might not have even participated in the NFL title game had it not been for another Robinson play earlier in the 1966 campaign. 

A recovered fumble from Robinson late in a Week 13 contest with the Colts helped clinch the Western Conference title and ensured that the Packers would be participating in the postseason. 

But he wasn't done. In 1967, Robinson blocked a field goal during the Western Conference Championship game that would have put the Los Angeles Rams up by double digits. The special teams play woke up the Packers, who went on to beat the Rams before claiming victory in both the legendary Ice Bowl and Super Bowl II. 

For all his efforts, Robinson was named an All-Pro from 1967 to 1969 and to the Pro Bowl team in 1966, '67 and '69.

He manned the left side of the Packers defense with Hall of Fame defensive Willie Davis and Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, creating one of the best trios to ever play on one side of the field. Teaming with Nitchske and Caffey also formed one of the best linebacker trios of the generation. 

Robinson will now be remembered in the same light as so many of his former teammates. 

He certainly had the resume. 

From 1965 to 1967, he intercepted 12 passes, including a team-high five in 1966. His career, which later took him to Washington for two seasons, ended with 27 interceptions for over 400 yards and one touchdown. The NFL did not record tackles or sacks until after Robinson retired, or his statistical profile would be much more complete. 

Robinson told Packers.com that the wait that accompanied his induction to the Hall was well worth it. 

“When you wait a long time, you gain a great deal of appreciation for what it really means to get in the Hall of Fame," Robinson said. "I was 14 years old when I started playing football, and this is it. I can’t go any higher.”

A career that included big play after big play and three straight championships has finally come full circle. Robinson, after 34 years of waiting, will finally be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame come Saturday.

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