Monday, May 17, 2010

Catching Up With Mark Robinson

Mark Robinson, a graduate of Penn State, played for seven seasons as a safety in the NFL. Originally a fourth round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1984, Robinson came to Tampa Bay via trade in 1988. He spent three seasons as a Buccaneer, eventually becoming a leader in the secondary and a team captain. Today, Robinson can be seen analyzing football on Bright House Sports Network and heard on the radio providing color commentary for University of South Florida football games. Robinson recently took some time to reflect on his football career and some memorable moments here in Tampa.

Q. What are your memories of the national championship game against Georgia in January 1983?

A. That game -- the Sugar Bowl -- was one of the most mentally draining games I ever played. Because of the amount of buildup and pressure surrounding a game of that magnitude, it really did help keep things in perspective. I remember sitting in front of my locker afterwards and there were reporters sticking microphones in my face. I was so tired that I couldn't even talk. It allowed me down the line to remember how far that you could push yourself physically and mentally, which you need to do to make that big play in a situation when you can win it all.

It's funny, a lot of people get into pressure situations -- even on the pro level -- and they are scared to make a play. You'd be surprised. I can remember standing in a huddle, it we're going up against John Elway in the fourth quarter. He's driving down the field and a couple of the guys are looking around like, "I hope he doesn't pass it my way" or "I hope they don't run it at me." It really flabbergasted me. As an athlete, you prepare your whole life for those moments. Those are the times you want to see how you measure up and put your best foot forward.

Before the game, one of our coaches came into the locker room, telling us how we were going to stop Herschel Walker. He said that we were going to make him bounce to the outside. Then he looked me in the eyes and said, "Robbie, clean him up!"

I was so stoked and excited because he put it in my lap. I was glad to have been given that opportunity.

Q. Given your experience playing big games in college, did you find yourself prepared for the NFL?

A. I thought I was, but you don't realize the drastic difference going from college to the pros. That's why I a lot of great college players don't make it in the NFL. Think of Archie Griffin, for example. A two-time Heisman Trophy winner and what did he ever do in the pros? It took me a while to figure out how to be a student of the game.

I was one of those players who worked hard. I'd come in to practice early and I would give you 160%, but when it's time to go, it's time to go. After practice, I'd shower and be one of the first people out of the locker room. One day I started thinking, "Why am I not starting?" So I started watching safety Deron Cherry after practice to see what he did. He'd shower up and then go into the meeting room. I was like, "He's watching film and they're not even asking him to watch film?" (laughs) I didn't quite understand it. Then I started paying attention, and even when I got into the meeting room I didn't know what he was looking for, but I picked up on it. I learned so much from Deron. Did he take me under his wing? Not really, but eventually he understood that I had to come in the game as a nickel back and contribute. He needed me to play at a high level. Eventually that's how you win respect. Then, they start to help you. Many veterans will turn away from you if you're not willing to put in the effort.

Q. Were you shocked to be traded to the Buccaneers in 1988?

A. Oh, without a doubt. My wife and I had just poured the foundation for our new house on March 31. The next day, I went to work out and got called into the head coach's office. He says, "Mark, we've traded you to Tampa." I'm like, it's April 1st. (laughs) Frank Gansz was a motivator, but he was kind of a jokester too, so I thought it had to be an April Fool's joke. No, it was real. I got traded for Steve DeBerg. Kansas City needed a quarterback. Then I came and met Mr. Ray Perkins. (laughs) And he was a piece of work. Oh man.

Q. Talk about your first experience in one of his infamous training camps.

A. It was grueling or whatever you want to say about three-a-day practices out in the heat. Coach Perkins was a hard worker. The first thing I say about him is that you've got to respect the time he put into his profession. If I ever faulted Coach Perkins, I would say that he wasn't flexible. Some coaches are just that way.

I remember one time at camp we were on the field running gassers in groups. Gassers are running drills when you run from the end zone out to the 10 yard line, touch the line and come back, then out to the 20, touch the line and come back, and so on. I was one of those players who'd run and touch just past the yard line. After our second one of these, I’ll never forget, Coach Perkins said, "Alright, line up and run it again. Robinson missed the line." I looked at him with this scowl because I didn't want to be called out in front of my peers. That lowered him in my book because I knew I did it right. We ended up running four or five gassers, and I remember after practice I wanted to take my equipment off and quit. I'd already earned a graduate degree, and I didn't want to put myself through something like this. Don't lie about me in front of my peers. My buddy, Harry Hamilton, looked at me and said, "Robbie, I know you touched the line. Don't even think twice about it. Don't let him pull you down as a professional." That's something I'll never forget at a time in my career when I was trying to make my name with a new team.

Q. The Buccaneers had a tough season in 1989, finishing with a 5-11 record, but two of the wins came against Chicago. How great did that feel to knock off the Bears twice in one season and record an interception in both games?

A. The Bears were a special team, one that you always marked with an asterisk on the schedule. I remember the interception against them in Tampa Stadium because it came on a broken play. I was all the way on the other side of the field. Their quarterback, Mike Tomczak, started scrambling, and as a defensive back when that happens, you're looking to match up. He was rolling to his right, and, looking from his vantage point, I was on the left side of the field. I can't remember his name, but I saw the wide receiver cutting across the field. A lot of times when a quarterback scrambles like that, he’s looking to throw the ball towards the sidelines. They figure if they throw it to the middle of the field, it's probably going to get intercepted. I dropped my coverage on the other and said, "There it is. That's it."
I started running across the field, and Tomczak doesn't realize where I am. The other safety had gone deep to take away the long ball, but I started running across anticipating where the throw was going. I cut in front of the receiver and I picked it off on the sideline. It was one of those moments that are a big play in the game. We ended up winning 42-35. I have a color picture that the team photographers took of that play. He printed up a bunch of those and I've been using them when I autograph pictures.

Q. You've been with the USF Bulls radio broadcast crew since 1997. With all the changes around the program, what do you expect out of the team in 2010?

A. Well, the new coach Skip Holtz is a dynamic guy. We share similar philosophies in football. He came into this situation with an open mind. He didn't come in and try to force the players into a new system. He wanted to see their strengths first and coach to those strengths before making up his mind. That's the perfect thing to do. In this day and age, you've got to be able to look at talent and put guys in position to make plays.

B.J. Daniels is going to be a great quarterback. He has tremendous arm strength and as he improves, his decision making process will get even better. He understands the game, he understands coverages, and could have a very special year. They have a good young program and I'm really excited about the coming season.

No comments:

Post a Comment