Eight new members were recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With this succession, Michael Travis Rose takes a closer look at the career of Johnny Robinson.
In football, as in life, perception is everything. Take, for example, the curious case of former Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson.
Robinson shares the 13th spot on the NFL’s all-time interception list with 57 in his twelve-year career. That statistic does not surprise teammates and opponents as they remember Robinson being in the right place at the right time.
Hall of Fame Chargers wide receiver Lance Alworth has a different perspective when reminiscing about his old nemesis.
“I used to laugh and say Johnny’s the only guy that was in the right place in the wrong time… for us,” laughs Alworth.
See, perception is everything.
The Dallas Texans drafted Robinson out of Louisiana State University in the first round of the inaugural AFL draft in 1960.
He started his rookie year as a flanker for the Texans. Serving as the Chiefs flanker for three years, Robinson accounted for 15 touchdowns and 1886 yards total both on the ground and in the air.
Chiefs head coach Hank Stram moved Robinson to safety in 1962, his third year. Neither Stram nor Robinson ever looked back.
As a Chiefs safety, Robinson flourished. The athletic DB roamed the defensive backfield of the Chiefs for the next 10 and a half years laying licks, snagging interceptions, and making life miserable for opposing coaches, wide receivers, and quarterbacks alike.
Robinson certainly made an impression on former Chargers QB John Hadl.
“Johnny Robinson was the best I ever played against at the safety position. He was a hell of a player. He was a smart player and a good guy,” recalls Hadl. “He’d line up like he was in Cover 2 or Cover 3 and go strong side, and when the ball was snapped, he’d reverse around and go to center field, and if you took your eye off him, you didn’t know he was there.”
The safety proved as tough as he was rugged. During Super Bowl IV, the Chiefs were uncertain that Robinson could play. He had broken three ribs and separated cartilage from a play in the win against the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship game the week prior.
That notion tickles teammate and fellow Hall-of-Famer LB/DB Bobby Bell. “Knowing Johnny, that was funny to think he might not be able to play. A rib injury wasn’t going to hold him back, not on the biggest stage. Johnny just wanted them to tape him up and let him play. And then he went out there and had a great Super Bowl game. His interception iced the game for us.”
Robinson would also recover a fumble in the biggest game of his life despite his injuries.
An injury in the 1971 Divisional Playoff game against the Miami Dolphins brought Robinson’s career to an end. The only remaining task for Robinson was to wait for the call from Canton.
And wait he did.
Despite having better statistics than most of his NFL and AFL counterparts, the Pro Football HOF passed over Robinson for HOF induction his first year of eligibility.
The 1970 Interceptions leader, Super Bowl IV Champion, 3x AFL Champion, 7x Pro Bowler, and AFL All-Time Team Robinson just did not seem to be in the right place at the right time…at least for the Hall of Fame committee.
Although nominated as a regular finalist six times between 1980 to 1986, the committee passed on Robinson each time.
Some suggest that it’s based on a bias against former AFL players among the Hall of Fame voters. However, Robinson had long ago proven (along with his fellow AFLers) that AFL players were just as good as NFL players.
He proved that prior to the 1960 draft when he passed on the Detroit Lions who drafted him in the first round (3rd overall), opting for the Texans instead.
AFL historians, football fans, and teammates campaigned to get Robinson into Canton.
Old foe turned friend, Alworth even wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame to support Robinson.
“Simply put, Johnny Robinson is one of the greatest safeties that I ever faced. In fact, I can’t think of any that I’ve seen in the 50 years since that have been better. When we ran cross patterns against Kansas City, I knew that I was going to get hit hard. I had to prepare myself specifically for him, both mentally and physically.”
48 years after his final interception, Robinson beamed as he unveiled his bronze bust and donned his long-overdue gold jacket during the induction ceremony.
Master of Ceremonies Chris Berman summed it up best when Robinson took the stage, “At long last, Johnny Robinson.”
Once again, the Chief was in the right place at the right time.