Carolina gets tip on Super Bowl week — from Eugene Robinson

990131 Miami, FL -- Denver Bronces vs the Atlanta Falcons at Super Bowl XXXIII in Pro Player Stadium on Sunday, January 31, 1999. Falcon defender Eugene Robinson #41 is under the eye of scrutiny from the press during the pregame warm-up. (AJC Staff/MARLENE KARAS)

Former Falcons safety Eugene Robinson found himself surrounded by photographers and was in the national spotlight after being arrested the night before the Super Bowl during the 1998 season. (AJC file photo)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s Super Bowl week and Eugene Robinson is back in the news. But this time, he wasn’t wearing handcuffs. This time, he didn’t look weary from having cried all night while being consoled by Falcons’ teammates. This time, he wasn’t a national punchline.

“I thought, ‘How did I get from way over here to way over here?'” Robinson  said Tuesday. “It’s easy to lose your way when you’re selfish. That’s what I was. Selfish.”

Robinson, the former NFL and Falcons safety and now a radio analyst for the Carolina Panthers, spoke to the team’s players before they left Charlotte for this week’s Super Bowl in the Bay Area. The subject of the talk: How to handle the distractions and temptations of Super Bowl week. Or more specifically: What not to do.

Coach Ron Rivera agreed with Robinson’s request to speak to the team because 17 Super Bowls ago the former player became one of sports’ all-time examples of how quickly and drastically things can jump the rails.

Painful flashback time: The ’98 Falcons made a run to the Super Bowl. Robinson was one of the team leaders. He wore his Christianity on his sleeve and he was honored on the Saturday morning before the Super Bowl in Miami as the NFL’s Man of the Year. But that night, on the eve of the game, he was arrested for soliciting oral sex from an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. He played in the game but it was believed — and Robinson confirmed Tuesday — that the hangover of the arrest and his lack of sleep from the experience contributed to Denver’s torching of the Falcons’ defense for 457 yards, including 336 passing, in a 34-19 Broncos win.

A key moment of the game came in the second quarter when Denver receiver Rod Smith beat Robinson for an 80-yard touchdown pass.

Robinson said he had been thinking about the possibility of speaking to Carolina players since after the fourth week of the season, believing the team had Super Bowl potential. He did so, without the media knowing, last week in Charlotte. Word leaked out at Media Day on Monday but Robinson declined comment when approached by the Charlotte Observer’s Joe Person. On Tuesday, Rivera acknowledged Robinson’s speech, saying he “spoke to the pitfalls of being here, and I thought that was a very courageous thing he did. Our players seemed to respond very nicely.”

Robinson surprisingly showed up at Carolina’s media session Tuesday and was stopped by a handful of media members that soon grew to a large group. Suddenly, he was on stage again, and this time he embraced the moment.

“I told them, ‘Look, I really love this team. I don’t want this to be the story because it’s (about) the Carolina Panthers but there are some things you need to know,'” Robinson said. “When you get down here to the Super Bowl, it’s easy to lose your way. It’s easy to be distracted. It’s so easy, for all the hard work you put in, to jeopardize that because of your own internal selfishness, and that’s basically what it was. So I wanted to remind them: Dude, you have to remember why you’re here. Those dudes you lock arms with, that’s important. And you’ve got to remember that. If a team beats you, that’s different. But if you beat yourself, that’s criminal.”

Robinson said he apologized to Falcons players and for the embarrassment and distracted he created for them and the NFL. He said for those reasons, his faith and the pain he caused his family, “I wanted to give (the Panthers) the story. They know about me. They know I work for the team. So (I thought): I want to tell you before somebody else admonishes you.”

Robinson said he still feels sick “every time I hear the word ‘solicitation.'”

Five years later after the Falcons’ Super Bowl incident, Carolina reached the Super Bowl in Houston against New England, Robinson was employed by the Panthers as a radio analyst. He was approached then by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter but made only brief references to the incident and said. “My deepest prayer is that nothing like what happened to me happens to anybody else.”

But chose not to expand on his thoughts then or speak to the players, saying, “I wasn’t ready yet.”

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7 comments
TheWalrus
TheWalrus

"First, ask her if she's a cop. Second, carry only small bills. You don't wanna be waving hundreds around in that part of town at that time of night. Ain't no telling WHAT kind of criminal you'll run into. Third, take an Uber. Taxis are too expensive and you don't wanna risk losing your deposit on a rental. Fourth - and I cannot stress this enough - ask her if she's a cop."

askguy
askguy

Jeff - I read this this morning and was reminded once again of why we lost the only Super bowl the Falcons have attended (can't quite say they contended, because they didn't).  Taking me back to the morning of, when the news leaked out of what "Mr. Christian" had done and how I knew the outcome of the game, as did the rest of the Falcon's faithful.  Thanks for the memories?

OrvilleWright
OrvilleWright

If the Falcons had won that Super Bowl, I am pretty sure the world would have ended.  Maybe it's just me.  With that being said, they all played like they were tired from being up all night.  I was just talking about his error in judgement the other day.  I am glad he is able to move on.

Savdon
Savdon

You knew when you heard the news that morning that ATL was doomed.

E983
E983

As OH:IO I too woke up to that story. I had guests that woke up to that story. I know to this day he didn't lose the game. But, that had to be the worst game after the run. Do I blame him? No, I try not to but to see what happened to his teammates that day just tells me they all lost focus.

Through his experience, strength and hope he told the story. That's courage.

OH:IO
OH:IO

I  HATED waking up to that story that morning. It had been a magical run up to that point. 


That said, he's paying it forward with humility and grace. What else can he do?