CANTON − Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson didn’t mention the Cleveland Browns by name. He didn’t have to.
The 3-7 Browns emerged from Sunday’s loss to Buffalo ranked last in the AFC in points allowed.
Robinson was talking about the Browns − and plenty of others − when he lamented tackling these days.
“I have never seen such lousy tackling in my life,” he said Monday as speaker at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club. “I’m talking high school, college or pros.”
Robinson spoke specifically about the Cleveland Browns and tackling later while addressing a packed room at the Hall of Fame.
He drifted back to the end of his rookie year with Vince Lombardi’s Packers, to a weird game called the Playoff Bowl, designed to determine third place for the NFL season.
First and second places had been decided on Dec. 29, 1963, when the Chicago Bears beat the New York Giants in the NFL championship game. The Browns and Packers had finished second in their conferences. They were the only other postseason teams back then, and they met in Miami on Jan. 5, 1964.
The Playoff Bowl became a joke and was discontinued after the 1969 season, but the one against the Browns was a turning point in Robinson’s life.
He had spent the regular season, in which the Packers went 11-2-1, playing behind veteran “Dapper” Dan Currie. A former No. 3 overall draft pick, Currie had been on a Sports Illustrated cover.
“I had a laminated copy of the article,” Robinson said. “I carried it around with me.”
Currie was the starting left outside linebacker. Robinson, the backup, got the start against the Browns in the playoff Bowl.
He viewed it as a chance to prove himself. He imagined playing a strong game against Cleveland’s Jim Brown, who led the league with 1,863 yards. Green Bay’s Jim Taylor was a moon shot behind, in second place with 1,018 yards.Robinson got his chance right away.
“Our side of the line opened up, and it was like Moses parting the Red Sea,” Robinson recalled. “I stepped into the hole, and here comes Jim Brown. That’s just what crossed my mind. ‘Here comes Jim Brown.’
“So I got ready to tackle him, using the fundamentals I had learned. Butt down. Back straight. Head up. Wrap, rip, and take him down. And I did, for a 1- or 2-yard loss.
“All the guys were patting me on the back, and I said, ‘I just tackled Jim Brown.’ I thought to myself, I can tackle Jim Brown.
“Football was divided into guys who could tackle Jim Brown, and guys who couldn’t. I was one of the coulds.'”
The next season, Cleveland took a step forward and beat the Baltimore Colts in “the game for first place.” The Packers were back in the fish-out-of-water Playoff Bowl, after an 8-5-1 finish in which Currie again started ahead of Robinson at left outside linebacker.
In April of 1965, Lombardi traded Currie to the Rams for receiver Carroll Dale. Robinson took over at left outside linebacker.
He tackled Jim Brown more than once in the 1965 NFL championship game, a 23-12 win over Cleveland. He stood out in Super Bowls I and II, easy wins over the American Football League champion Chiefs and Raiders capping the 1966 and ’67 seasons.
Coming out of Penn State in 1963, Robinson thought he was headed for the AFL. He was engaged to be married. His fiance liked the fact that the AFL team drafting him at No. 17 overall was San Diego.
The NFL team that drafted Robinson at No. 14 overall was Green Bay. The future Mrs. Robinson assured Dave she preferred balmy to blizzards.
Yet, they landed in Green Bay (long story), and he wound up in the Hall of Fame, remembered as part of the best defensive left side in NFL history. He played for the Packers for 10 years and then for Washington for two years.
Robinson grew up in New Jersey and played college football when, as a Black man, playing in the South wasn’t even a consideration.
He became a force at Penn State, at multiple positions, and traveled with the Nittany Lions to the 1961 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
A race-based death threat specified that a marksman would shoot him if he ran onto the field for pregame introductions. It was taken so seriously that he was held out of the starting lineup against Georgia Tech.
“I went in for the second series,” Robinson said. “I put a real good hit on a guy, and just when I thought he was maybe going to punch me, he said, ‘Nice hit, baby. Nice hit.’
“Later, a guy was coming from my left and I popped him real good. He said, ‘Nice hit,’ and he patted me on the butt and walked away. I’m thinking, this is a great guy.”
A few years later, Georgia Tech player Bill Curry became Robinson’s teammate in Green Bay.
“Bill told me that before the Gator Bowl game, his head coach, Bobby Dodd, told the whole team, ‘I know you guys have never played against a Black guy. I want all of you to remember one thing, that you’re gentlemen from Georgia, and I expect you to treat their Black players like anybody else.’
“What I learned from that is that things start at the top. Everything comes downhill. Bobby Dodd has always been one of my heroes.”
Robinson played pro football long before big money. He didn’t even think about the pros until late in his Penn State run, at which point he was studying for a career doing something that would pay more than $100 a week.
Packers money well exceeded that, but it was no retirement wage. One time he added up every dollar he made as an NFL player, calculating it to equal about one half of one game check for a current NFL starter.
After football, he entered the beverage distribution business, working for years in the Akron area.
For years, he always has struck people as looking younger than he is, projecting bright energy, and, at 81, that holds true.
He held the attention of Monday’s big crowd, which appreciated his stories and sense of humor. At one point he was caught off guard at the podium when his cell phone rang in his pocket.
Twice he pulled it out and amused the crowd with spontaneous banter. The phone rang again two more times. Finally, he tossed it in the air to someone down the head table.
He laughs about old guys and cell phones and wonders what Vince Lombardi’s Twitter rules might have been.
For the record, the Hall of Fame linebacker said the key to good tackling is disrupting the ball carrier’s center of gravity.
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