SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It’s one thing for a coach to warn his players about staying out of trouble, which tends to be easier to find during the week of the Super Bowl.
It’s another for players to hear that message directly from someone who actually got himself into hot water before the big game.
Meet Eugene Robinson. In 1999, the night before Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami, the then-safety for the Atlanta Falcons was arrested on charges of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer.
On Sunday, before the Carolina Panthers departed for here to play in Super Bowl 50, they heard Robinson’s first-hand account of that cautionary tale and an admonishment to be careful because the same thing could happen to them.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to be a story at all, because this is about the Carolina Panthers, but there’s some things that you need to know. Because when you get down here in the Super Bowl, it’s easy to lose your way, it’s easy to be distracted, it’s so easy to lose fine focus and … for all the hard work that you put in, it’s easy to jeopardize that work,’” Robinson, who has been a radio analyst for the Panthers for 13 seasons, told reporters Tuesday.
“I said, ‘That’s the easiest thing to do because of your own selfishness,’ and that’s basically what it was,” he added. “It was just me being very, very selfish and not looking at the guys in that I locked arms with throughout the entire season. So, from that standpoint, I wanted to remind them. I said, ‘Dude, you better remember why you’re here. The guys you lock arms with? That’s important. If a team beats you, that’s different. But if you beat yourself, that’s criminal.
“I allowed myself to beat myself and to beat the team, and that was criminal.”
Not long before his arrest, Robinson received the Bart Starr Award for his outstanding display of character and leadership. The day after his arrest, which he remembers as “the worst night of his life,” Robinson gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass against then-Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway on the way to a 34-19 Falcons loss.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who along with team General Manager Dave Gettleman asked Robinson to give the speech, admired the way Robinson owned his mistake.
“It was one of the bravest things I’ve seen a guy do,” Rivera said. “When he got done, our guys gave him an ovation. For him to step up and relive that and tell the guys he was wrong, he forgot the reason why he was there, that’s a huge message. And I think that’s a great message.”
Robinson, who retired after spending the 2000 season with Carolina, is proud that he rebounded from his lapse in judgement to remain married for 30 years. He also points out that “parents entrust me with their kids,” given that he coaches high school football, wrestling and track.
“I just told the guys, ‘Don’t mess this up,’” Robinson said. “I’m a living example.”