Dave Robinson laughs when NFL teams abandon linebacker coverage for tight ends and instead scour the country for big safeties and cornerbacks. Because of all his accomplishments, Robinson might be most proud of the work he did as a speedy linebacker against the best tight ends of the 1960s and '70s.
And it was his performances against Pro Football Hall of Fame tight ends Mike Ditka, John Mackey and Jackie Smith that convinced him that he, too, belonged in Canton, Ohio. Finally, 50 years after his career began with the Green Bay Packers, and 38 years after his retirement, Robinson will be enshrined Saturday.
"I knew who I played against," Robinson said recently, "and almost every tight end in the Hall of Fame, I played against and had good games against. I played with or against a lot of people in the Hall of Fame, and I thought I could compare my career with them. I know how others played, and I knew in my heart. These guys were Hall of Famers -- the Mike Ditkas, the John Mackeys, the Jackie Smiths -- and I knew I was in the same league."
Robinson said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds when he left Penn State in 1963. His speed helped him intercept 27 passes in his career, a total bettered by only eight AFL/NFL linebackers since 1960.
But as fast as he was, Robinson's strategy for defending tight ends had nothing to do with running. Be it in the 1960s or the 2010s, Robinson believes, the only way to stop a good pass-catching tight end is to hit him at the line of scrimmage.
"I loved to contact the tight ends," he said. "You don't have to knock him down, but if you can jam him, it throws the route off something terrible. I'm frustrated when I see third-and-6, third-and-8, and these tight ends get of the line because no one contacts them. One problem is that these linebackers are 6 yards off. I would ease up to the line of scrimmage and jam them at 4 or 5 yards. Make their life [tough]. If they do that, maybe the tight ends wouldn't be leading receivers."
Jamming the tight end was no more of a glory job in the 1960s than it is now. But here's how fellow Packers Hall of Famer Herb Adderley, who played cornerback between 1961-69, described it:
"He was one of the few linebackers in the league that could hold up the tight ends at the line of scrimmage, great tight ends like Mike Ditka and John Mackey. What people don’t realize is that Dave holding up the tight end gave [safety] Tom Brown more time to diagnose the play and to cover the tight end. It helped the defensive linemen to get in and rush the quarterback, because it would throw the timing off and the quarterback would have to hold the ball longer. It also helped me when I was covering the split end."
On Sunday, Robinson finally will receive the recognition for the otherwise unnoticed contributions he made to the Packers' glory years.