GREEN BAY—With Dave Robinson’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, the entire trio that anchored the left side of Vince Lombardi’s defense for the Packers in the 1960s has now reached Canton, Ohio.
Robinson was the left outside linebacker for the Packers’ three consecutive title teams of 1965-67, playing alongside left cornerback Herb Adderley and left defensive end Willie Davis.
Adderley got into the Hall in 1980 and Davis the year after. Robinson had to wait quite a while longer, receiving election as a senior candidate along with fellow senior nominee Curley Culp and five modern-era inductees.
“When you wait this long, it gets a little sweeter,” Robinson said in a brief phone interview with packers.com following the announcement. “When you wait a long time, you gain a great deal of appreciation for what it really means to get in the Hall of Fame. I was 14 years old when I started playing football, and this is it. I can’t go any higher.”
Robinson added that joining Adderley and Davis in the Hall solidifies for him that the trio formed the strongest defensive left side in league history. In that era, most quarterbacks were right-handed, which tilted offenses toward running and passing to the right, making a defense’s left side vitally important.
Robinson’s fellow left-siders are taking as much pride in Robinson’s election as the new Hall member himself.
“He is very deserving and should have been in a long time ago,” Davis said in comments distributed to media by the Packers. “It is a great moment for me to have Dave chosen. It is a fulfillment of something almost as important as if it was for me personally. I think Dave was so overdue.”
Adderley and Robinson published a book last year entitled “Lombardi’s Left Side” and have both been back to Green Bay recently for book signings and other events.
“I have never really felt the full satisfaction for me being in the Hall of Fame without Dave being in there, and I would have felt the same way if Willie Davis wasn’t in there,” Adderley said. “With Dave making it, it solidifies my feelings about the three of us and how we played together, shutting down the run and the pass. Whenever I talk to Willie or Dave, it always comes up, how we shut down the left side of the field.”
Robinson played 10 seasons (1963-72) for the Packers, coming to Green Bay from Penn State as the 14th overall draft pick in the first round in 1963. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s, selected to three Pro Bowls and named first-team All-Pro two times.
Both Adderley and Davis marveled at how Robinson defended some of the top tight ends of the era, such as Mike Ditka and John Mackey. He recorded 21 interceptions in his Green Bay career – including 12 in the three consecutive championship years of ’65-67 – and was an integral part of one of the league’s perennially toughest defenses.
“I never played with someone that was more knowledgeable,” Davis said. “I would say that the greatest thing about him was how physical he was. I can tell you right now, there wasn’t a tight end that didn’t have great respect for Dave. They gave him that respect because of how he played.”
Robinson made one of the biggest plays in franchise history when he pressured Dallas quarterback Don Meredith into throwing a pass safety Tom Brown intercepted in the end zone in the closing moments of the 1966 NFL title game, preserving the Packers’ 34-27 victory.
Robinson was criticized by Lombardi for “freelancing” on the play, but he explained that a couple of snaps earlier the Cowboys ran a similar play, he executed his assignment and Meredith’s pass was dropped in the end zone. Robinson wasn’t going to give Meredith another chance on fourth down.
“If I did it the way they wanted me to, they would have gotten the pass off again,” Robinson said. “The way I looked at it, my job was not to take on the guard the way it was drawn up. My job was to get to the quarterback and stop that pass.”
Earlier in the ’66 season, Robinson was involved in another pivotal play, recovering a fumble by Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas that Davis forced late in the game deep in Green Bay territory. The turnover gave the Packers a 14-10 road win that clinched the Western Conference championship.
“The things that made him a great linebacker were his size, speed and intelligence,” Adderley said. “Of course, everyone makes mistakes, but Dave never made the same mistake twice. He was a great team player.”
In addition to Robinson and Culp, the 2013 Hall of Fame class includes offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden, receiver Cris Carter, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and coach Bill Parcells.
Former linebacker and current Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene was a Hall of Fame finalist but was not elected. This marks the second straight year Greene reached the finalist stage, which is the group of 15 modern-era candidates discussed by the selection committee on Super Bowl weekend. He had been a semifinalist multiple times prior to last year.
Greene’s road to election remains difficult, considering the other finalists he has been and will continue to be up against. Other finalists not elected on Saturday were defensive linemen Charles Haley and Michael Strahan, receivers Tim Brown and Andre Reed, running back Jerome Bettis, offensive lineman Will Shields, cornerback Aeneas Williams and owners Eddie DeBartolo and Art Modell. Eligible for the first time next year will be receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks and coach Tony Dungy.
Robinson is the 22nd member of the Packers to enter the Hall and the 12th Lombardi-era Packer, including the iconic head coach himself. Robinson’s election perhaps paves the way for guard Jerry Kramer to get in someday via the same senior committee route.
Kramer’s exclusion from the Hall has long been considered an injustice by many. He was a five-time All-Pro and he’s the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team not in the Hall.
“I hope it helps,” Robinson said of any effect his election might have on his former teammate. “Jerry deserves it, and I’d like to see it. I’d like to be with him when he’s inducted.”