(Eds: One in a series of Pro Football Hall of Fame induction previews. With AP Photos.)|
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
A short trip to Canton will follow Dave Robinson's long wait to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Now a native of nearby Akron, Robinson will make the brief drive down an Ohio interstate this weekend and enter the hall on Saturday. His superb 12-season pro career ended in 1974 with three championship rings, but the ultimate recognition of his performances as one of the game's most versatile linebackers didn't come until this January.
``That bust means an awful lot,'' Robinson said. ``That bust will last forever.''
Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who drafted Robinson out of Penn State in the first round in 1963, once called him ``as good as any defensive player.'' Several of Robinson's teammates who are in the hall, including Willie Davis, Herb Adderley and Ray Nitschke, claimed they would not have been so honored without Robinson on their side of the ball.
Yet he had to wait nearly four decades to be voted in as a senior candidate. Rather than expressing any bitterness over the lengthy delay, Robinson has been as giddy about making the hall as if he had been unanimously chosen in his first year of eligibility.
``I've been involved with the board of directors since 1980,'' he said, ``so I've been around the Hall of Fame a lot. I've never been on this side before. ... It's a big thrill.
``For every single man in the Hall of Fame, this is the last thing you'll ever be elected to. People forget All-Pro teams and Pro Bowls, but they never forget the Hall of Fame.''
Robinson never will forget the Packers' string of three NFL titles, including winning the first two Super Bowls. He points to his 87-yard interception return at Baltimore as a highlight in 1965, when Green Bay beat Cleveland for the league crown.
In `66, the first season ending in a Super Bowl - then called the AFL-NFL championship - the Packers needed to hold on at Dallas to win the NFL title. Robinson ensured their trip to the championship match against AFL winner Kansas City by pressuring Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith into throwing early from the Green Bay 2 on fourth down. Tom Brown's interception clinched the victory, and the Pack went on to win the first Super Bowl.
``Dallas chose to go to my side and I was able to make a big play,'' Robinson recalled. ``If we did not win that game, Dallas would have gone on to Super Bowl I and it might have become the Tom Landry Trophy and not the Vince Lombardi Trophy. That was a big game in NFL history.''
The following year ended with the Ice Bowl in Lambeau Field, with Green Bay winning again, 21-17 on Bart Starr's quarterback sneak in the dying seconds.
Robinson is the 12th player from Lombardi's Packers to make the hall. On defense, they are cornerback Adderley, end Davis, linebacker Nitschke, tackle Henry Jordan, safeties Emlen Tunnell and Willie Wood. On offense, it's Starr, running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, tackle Forrest Gregg and center Jim Ringo.
Plus Lombardi, of course.
Lombardi liked to have Robinson cover tight ends by himself, and some of those opponents were Mike Ditka and John Mackey, both Hall of Famers. Ditka praised Robinson's reliability, saying the linebacker ``was as dependable as they come, didn't make mistakes. Lombardi liked that, for sure.''
It puzzles Robinson to think about those players getting into the hall quickly, but he doesn't bemoan the delay for him.
``Why I had to wait so long I can't answer,'' he said. ``I knew who I played against - about every tight end in the Hall of Fame - and I can compare my career with them. Thsoe guys are Hall of Famers and I know I was in the same sentence with them, but I wasn't elected.''
Until January. On Saturday, he becomes a Hall of Famer in the shrine's 50th year.
``It is very special,'' the 72-year-old Robinson said. ``I entered the NFL in 1963, so it's my 50th anniversary of being in the NFL. The Hall of Fame and I started at the same time.
``My first granddaughter was born on Aug. 3, so we can celebrate her (18th) birthday and my induction. It's an awesome thing.
`'They say wine gets sweeter with age. This is as sweet as it gets.''