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A star in the making, by any name
Eugene Robinson went by a lot of nicknames during his improbable 11-year career with the Seahawks.
First, it was “Red Grange.” Which morphed into just “Grange,” after the legendary running back who had a pretty cool nickname of his own – “The Galloping Ghost.” Red Grange? “The guy was a misfit,” former teammate and coach Paul Moyer said. “He had one sack down, one sock up. He played unorthodox corner.”
Then, it was “Little D.B.” Explains Moyer, “Because he was Dave Brown’s protégé.”
It was Kenny Easley who dubbed Robinson “Orca,” because his voice would go up a few octaves when he called the defensive signals from his free safety spot. “I have no idea what he’s saying,” Easley once cracked. “It’s just this high-pitched sound coming from behind his facemask. Like an Orca.”
|Blue and Green Dream Team|
The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
But in the end, just call Eugene Robinson the free safety on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, where he is joined in the secondary by Easley at strong safety and the late Brown at one of the corners.
“First of all, it’s an honor,” Robinson said this week from Charlotte, where he serves as the analyst for radio broadcasts of Carolina Panthers games and also coaches football, wrestling and track and field at Charlotte Christian School.
“You’re talking about being included with some illustrious people – Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy, Kenny Easley, Dave Brown. Many of those guys I played with, who I thought were absolutely outstanding. To be counted among that group, and that people thought my play was on par with their play, I count it as an honor and a blessing.”
For a guy who showed up in 1985 as an undrafted rookie out of Colgate, as a cornerback no less, Robinson left an indelible mark on the franchise. He is the Seahawks’ all-time leading tackler (984) and ranks second in career interceptions (42) to Brown (50) and fumble recoveries (14) to Jacob Green (17) – one of the ends on the reader-selected 35th Anniversary team.
Robinson led the team in tackles four times, including a career-high 114 in 1988. He also was the leader in interceptions four times, including a career-high nine in 1993. He was voted to the Pro Bowl twice (1992 and ’93) and a defensive captain five times. Robinson also was selected the team’s Man of the Year for three consecutive years (1991-93) and four times overall, as well as winning the Steve Largent Award in ’93.
Suffice it to say, it would be impossible to write the history of the franchise without not only including but featuring Eugene “Red Grange” “Little D.B.” “Orca” Robinson.
“It’s a great story. It really is,” said Moyer, who was Robinson’s teammate from 1985-89 and his position coach from 1992-94.
A great story rooted in very humble beginnings. Robinson is one of five members of the 35th Anniversary team that came to the Seahawks as a rookie free agent – joining kicker Norm Johnson, nose tackle Joe Nash, linebacker/special teams player Rufus Porter and fullback Mack Strong.
“It means more to have had the career I did after the way it started,” Robinson said. “I was telling my son the other day that as a free agent you’ve really got to carve out a place. That’s hard to do, because you’ve got to overcome the stereotypes – where they’re maybe looking at you as a Band Aid, not as a true fit.
“So it’s harder for the free agent in that regard. People expected Kenny Easley to be great. He was a No. 1 draft pick. They expect that, and respect that. But you’re not expected to go in and make a splash when you’re a free agent, or a Band Aid.”
Robinson’s stay in Seattle only seemed to improve with his time in a Seahawks uniform. His Pro Bowl berths came in his eighth and ninth seasons. He was named AFC defensive player of the week for the first time in his ninth season. His career high in interceptions also came in his ninth season.
“Eugene has gotten better every year, and it’s not a fluke,” Moyer said at the time. “There’s a reason for it. You watch Eugene work in practice after practice. That’s what separates him from the average guys or the good guys.”
The Seahawks and Robinson separated in 1996, when he was traded to Green Bay (for defensive end Matt LaBounty). He started on the Packers’ Super Bowl teams in 1996 and 1997. Then, it was on to the Atlanta Falcons for two seasons, when he was voted to his third Pro Bowl and played in his third Super Bowl in 1998.
Robinson played the 2000 season with the Panthers, and that’s how he and his family ended up putting down roots in Charlotte. Robinson and his wife, Gia, have been married 25 years and their kids are now young adults – Brittney, 23, who graduated from Clemson and works as a paralegal in the Washington, D.C., area; and Brandon, 21, who is a senior-to-be safety at Liberty University and has, according to his proud father, “a great football I.Q. and really good skills.”
But Robinson will always be remembered as a Seahawk; one who fondly remembers his time in Seattle.
“I have great memories,” Robinson said. “What stands out to me is how I grew up under Dave Brown and Kenny Easley.”
Even if Robinson did go to extremes in his attempts to imitate Brown.
“I remember (former cornerback) Keith Simpson saying to me, ‘Man, you look like Dave Brown,’ ” Robinson recalled with a laugh. “He said I dressed like Dave Brown, and I didn’t realize I was starting to dress like him – with my socks up high and my pants up high. I was trying to emulate him, and the same with Kenny Easley.
“So Keith Simpson was trying to get to me, but I considered it a great compliment.”
Another moment that continues to draw interest in Robinson’s memory bank was the 17-16 victory at Arrowhead Stadium in 1990. The Seahawks had lost eight consecutive games to the Chiefs in Kansas City, and appeared headed for No. 9 as linebacker Derrick Thomas had Dave Krieg in his grasp for what would have been his eighth sack.
But quicker than you could say Paul Skansi, well, let Robinson relive the stunning developments on that mid-November afternoon.
“Dave Krieg spins away from Derrick Thomas and hits Paul Skansi right in the mouth with the football,” Robinson said of the 25-yard touchdown pass that turned just another loss to the Chiefs into one of the signature wins in franchise history.
“That day was a fight. It was a big fight. And it was culminated in the play made by Skansi and the play made by Dave Krieg. That sticks out because Kansas City was our nemesis. We could never beat them in Kansas City. So that moment, it was golden.”
Just like Robinson’s career turned out to be.