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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