Gold Jacket Spotlight: Dave Robinson Weathered Each Challenge

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Dave Robinson Weathered Each Challenge

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If weather apps and data had been readily available in late 1962, the forecast for the National Football League’s dynasty of the era might not have included linebacker Dave Robinson.

When Dave – a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 and this week’s featured enshrinee in the Gold Jacket Spotlight – was coming out of Penn State after an All-American senior season, three pro football leagues sought his talents.

Green Bay and Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi selected Dave with the last pick in the first round, 14th overall, of the 1963 NFL Draft (held Dec. 2, 1962). The San Diego Chargers had chosen him with the 17th overall pick (Round 3) in the AFL Draft two days earlier. He also was selected by Montreal in the Canadian Football League.

The Chargers initially put together a contract totaling $38,000 and presented it to Dave after a practice as Penn State was preparing to play the University of Florida. (In that game, Dave would take the field as the first African American in the Gator Bowl and won the defensive MVP award despite the Nittany Lions losing 17-7.)

“I called my fiancée from a Gator Bowl practice and said, ‘Baby, we're going to sunny San Diego,’” Dave told his future wife, Elaine, to whom he would be married for 44 years. But before the deal was signed, the Chargers said they had run out of money and were going to trade his rights to the Buffalo Bills.

Elaine “had been to Buffalo and knew how cold it was,” Dave told a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter many years later in recalling their life-shaping decision. She vetoed the idea of going there.

“She had never been to Green Bay,” Dave pointed out.

Elaine would learn – with Dave playing in the Ice Bowl as the most famous example – that Green Bay might not get the snow Buffalo does, but it could be brutally cold.

The Robinsons warmed up to the city, though, with Dave helping to anchor what many football experts consider the greatest “left side defense” in the history of the National Football League. With Willie Davis at end, Dave at outside linebacker and Herb Adderley at cornerback, the Packers won three consecutive NFL championships (1965-67) behind a defense that ranked in the top three in most categories each season and captured the first two Super Bowls.

Equally effective against the run and pass, Dave finished his career with 27 interceptions that he returned for 449 yards with one touchdown. He also recovered 12 fumbles and blocked several kicks. He was selected to play in three Pro Bowls, was an Associated Press first-team All-Pro in 1967 and is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s.

“Bill Parcells said, ‘Dave Robinson was a Lawrence Taylor before there was a Lawrence Taylor,’” Dave’s son David said in presenting him for enshrinement. “People who had the ball knew Dave Robinson was on the field that day. … He loved being in the action. He loved being in the right place at the right time.”

Like the final seconds of the 1966 NFL Championship Game – and the play Dave cites as his most memorable in 12 NFL seasons.

With the Packers leading 34-27 and under a minute to play, the Dallas Cowboys faced fourth-and-goal at the Packers’ 2. Dave jammed Hall of Fame receiver Bob Hayes at the line, then cut behind the guard, chased down quarterback Don Meredith from behind and pinned his arms. A desperation heave into the end zone resulted in a game-clinching interception.

“Wherever the ball was, that was his job to get there,” David Robinson said.

Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

January in Green Bay was never so warm and sunny.

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