LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Dave Robinson, Hall of Fame Packers linebacker, will headline the Gateway Area Council Boy Scouts of America’ 19th Annual Golf outing for Scouting at the La Crosse Golf & Country Club on Monday.
Robinson just returned from Canton, Ohio, where he participated in the 2022 HOF Induction ceremonies as former Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler was inducted.
“It was great to see LeRoy inducted—so well deserved,” Robinson said. “It was a busy weekend—they keep us busy in Canton. I’m resting up to come to La Crosse Monday for a great Boy Scout golf event.
As a player, Dave Robinson knew exactly where he stood with Vince Lombardi.
“He was the boss,” Robinson said of the Green Bay Packers legendary coach and general manager. “I was one of 40 players and Vince Lombardi was the head coach and GM. No doubt about it. I knew my place.”
But as the Packers’ player representative in 1968, Robinson sat across from Lombardi at the bargaining table in New York as NFL owners and players negotiated a labor contract.
“That was a unique experience, to say the least,” Robinson said with a laugh from his home in Akron, Ohio, Sunday. “I had a great respect for Vince Lombardi and his opinion. The players wanted to see if I would cow-tow to him. We were the defending NFL champions and had won Super Bowl II.”
Lombardi had clout, and he was determined to keep Packers together during the contract negotiations.
“Lombardi said he worked too hard to build this team and they would not be divided,” Robinson said. “He wanted them either locked out or in camp together. The players were going to strike, but the owners locked us out of training camp that year and we finally got a contract signed and got better pay and pension.”
Robinson said he and Lombardi had several spirited discussions in the 11th hour of negotiations at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel about an anti-discrimination clause. “Vince said, ‘Robbie, do we have a problem with discrimination in Green Bay?’ I said, ‘No, coach, but we’re winning. There are problems on some other teams in the league.’
In the end, the clause was included in the labor contract.
“The lawyers argued that it was a standard thing at the time,” Robinson said. “The owners wanted to see if I would get emotional and worked up. So I was very careful to base my words on fact, not emotion. I was very careful to be respectful yet stand up for my opinion. Vince Lombardi was no longer my coach, but he still was the Packers’ general manager who had to sign my contract.”
Six years earlier, Robinson had signed his rookie contract of $15,000 per season for two years on the roof of a taxi cab in Jacksonville, Fla., right after the 1962 Gator Bowl.
The No. 1 draft choice of the Packers was still in his uniform on Dec. 29th when he met with personnel director Dick Voris, who then took the cab directly to the airport to fly to New York and hand-deliver the contract to Lombardi for his signature.
“The Packers were playing the Giants in the NFL Championship Game, so Vince was a little busy,” Robinson said. “In those days, the draft was held in December and you wanted to sign right after your bowl game and before the first of the year. Tax purposes, you know? I also got a $15,000 signing bonus, so I was a very happy man. First time in my life I had some money to my name and in the bank.”
The Penn State All-American defensive end (and tight end) never thought he would end up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Robinson, an athletic 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, was also drafted by the San Diego Chargers of the upstart American Football League.
“Montreal of the CFL drafted me too, but that wasn’t really a consideration,” Robinson said. “I called my finance from a Gator Bowl practice and said, ‘Baby, we’re going to sunny San Diego.’ They had a package of $38,000 but ran out of money and we’re going to trade me to Buffalo because they had money. She had been to Buffalo, and knew how cold it was. She had never been to Green Bay.”
Elaine Robinson would quickly learn about the harsh Wisconsin winters.
“She didn’t come to Green Bay until my second year,” Robinson said. “I had the best times of my life. Herb Adderley and Willie Davis and I worked so well together on the left side of the defense. We were so strong that teams usually ran away from us. With Ray Nitschke and LeRoy Caffey, we had a great group of linebackers.”
They formed one of the top units in the National Football League.
“I think you can pretty safely say that was one of the greatest groups of linebackers in the history of the game,” said Jerry Kramer, former Green Bay guard. “Robinson. Nitschke. Caffey. The Packers had a lot of great players, and the light can’t shine on everyone. I think Robbie maybe didn’t get as much light as he deserved.”
One moment when Robinson shined was the 1966 NFL Championship game in Dallas, but he still incurred Lombardi’s wrath for not executing his assignment.
In the game’s final minute, on fourth down at the 2-yard-line, Robinson blitzed and forced Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith into throwing up a lame-duck pass in the end zone that was intercepted by safety Tom Brown to secure a hard-fought 34-27 victory.
Afterward in the locker room, Robinson received congratulations and praise from teammates. But not from the head coach.
An unsmiling Lombardi walked by Robinson and growled, “You weren’t supposed to be blitzing.” Later, on the plane ride home, he hugged his linebacker and told him he made the game-winning play.
“He graded me a -2 on the play,” Robinson said. “I didn’t do what I was supposed to do on that play. Even though it was successful, I didn’t execute my assignment the way coach Lombardi wanted me to. As a teacher, Vince wanted me to understand how it was designed and what I did wrong. But it was a play that was meant to be, I guess.”
In the rematch with Dallas the following year, Robinson defied the coach before the Ice Bowl game and requested gloves from assignment equipment manager Dominic Gentile.
“I asked for brown gloves,” Robinson said. “How would Lombardi even know I had them on? It was miserable cold! Anyone who handled the ball wasn’t supposed to have gloves. Mine came off on passing plays, because I didn’t want to drop a ball.”
Robinson was a consistent performer who earned All-Pro recognition from 1967-69 and was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1966-67 and 1969. He tied for the team lead with Bob Jeter with five interceptions in 1966. The NFL did not keep official tackle statistics until 1975 and sacks until 1982.
Robinson was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in February 1982 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. He has been a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but has not garnered the necessary votes for induction.
“I was close in 1990,” Robinson said. “I wanted to make it very badly at one time. I served on the hall of fame board for many years and had to take my name off the ballot. Then it went back on as an old-timer and people had kind of forgotten about me.
“But I just didn’t have the stats, and all they go by is stats. Opponents respected us and didn’t go my way very often. The way we dominated the decade of the 1960s, I don’t think we can have too many guys in the Hall of Fame.”
Robinson is not going to lose any sleep over having his bust in Canton, Ohio.
“If I get it, I get it,” he said. “If I don’t, I don’t. I would like to, of course. But when my wife died (in 2007), I lost some interest. A big part of it for me was I wanted it for her. We were partners in life and I always wanted her to be a part of that if it happened.”
Robinson said his career highlights were winning Super Bowls I and II, with the added pressure of representing the established NFL against its AFL rivals.
“Vince made us believe,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t just win that first Super Bowl game by 13-10 or 20-17. We had to do it by two or three touchdowns or we would embarrass the NFL. There was a lot of pressure to win.”
Green Bay accomplished its mission with a 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Los Angeles. They duplicated the feat a year later at Super Bowl II in Miami with a decisive 33-14 triumph over the Oakland Raiders.
Then the aging Packers started to decline.
After Lombardi retired, the Packers finished 6-7-1 in 1968 under new head coach Phil Bengtson. The next two seasons produced 8-6 and 6-8 records, and Bengtson was replaced with Dan Devine. Robinson ripped his Achilles tendon in 1970 at age 29.
Robinson is very blunt in his assessment of Devine and does not hide his distain for the former Packers head coach.
“I always said Vince Lombardi was the best coach I ever played for,” he said, “And that Dan Devine was the worst coach—at any level. High school, college, or pros.”
After a 4-8-2 campaign in 1971, the Packers finished 10-4 and won the NFC Central Division title. It was Robinson’s final season in Green Bay.
“Devine traded me to Washington,” he said. “And that was fine because I wasn’t going to play for him anymore.”
Robinson played two seasons under Redskins head coach George Allen before retiring in August 1975. During his career, Robinson worked in the offseason as an engineer at Campbell Soup in Camden, N.J., through 1967 and then for Schlitz Brewery in Milwaukee. He went fulltime with Schlitz upon your retirement from pro football.
He started his own beer distributorship in April 1984 in Akron until semi-retiring in 2001. Robinson then worked in sales for an artificial turf company before officially retiring in 2006.
From 2001-2007, Robinson experienced loss far greater than anything on a football field.
The Robinsons lost their youngest son, Robert, to kidney failure in 2001. Six years later, Elaine died in May after a stroke and three months later their oldest twin son, Richard, died of a massive heart attack
“2007 was a tough year for me,” Robinson said. “It’s a lot worse than losing any football game. And I’m not always as well as I like to pretend. It’s something you never get over, losing your wife and sons. You have to live with it every day, but you never get over it.”
Robinson, who had a pacemaker and defibulator installed in June, lives at home with his son, Dave. Robinson, 68, enjoys watching sports on television or in person, especially NFL football. He’s a notorious channel-surfer, according to his son.
Asked what Robinson does during his retirement, he tells an interviewer to close his eyes.
“What do you see?” the gregarious Robinson asks with a laugh. “Nothing. That’s what I enjoy doing. Worked hard all my life, so I enjoy taking it easy now. I wake up every morning and say, ‘What should I not do today.’ But I try to stay busy and I’m having fun in my retirement.”