Former Chiefs great Johnny Robinson is 79 years old, and he should have been in the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago. So it was perhaps appropriate that he and his family waited more than five hours by the phone on Friday in their home in Monroe, La., to learn if he was the Veterans Committee nominee for the Class of 2019.
He was getting scared, not knowing if the long wait meant good news or bad, when the call came from Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker telling him he was the selection — and thus almost certain to be voted in when the full committee meets in February.
“It was a glorious moment,” said his stepson, Bob Thompson, who has long figured it was part of God’s plan that this would happen later in life for Robinson to allow him to fulfill his calling of running a boys home for the last 38 years.
Noting his stepfather was the only remaining player not in from a Hall of Fame-produced poster in their den depicting the best players of the 1960s in the AFL and NFL, he added, “He saved the best for last.”
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Robinson, a safety who was a crucial part of the only two Super Bowls in Chiefs history and played a pivotal role in their Super Bowl IV victory over Minnesota, was overwhelmed by the news.
“What can I tell you other than that I’m just thrilled to death,” he said.
Some minutes after he learned, he stepped out of the den and went to his wife, Wanda.
“Poor Johnny, he came in here and put his arm around me and he just kind of boo-hooed,” she said. “It just built up inside of him.”
Robinson still needs the approval of the full voting committee on the eve of the Super Bowl in Atlanta, something Baker reminded him of during the call.
“I guess I’m in then, right?” Robinson said.
To which Baker in a video smiled and clarified: “Well, here’s what it’s going to take; it’s not quite that easy yet.”
But as the sole senior pick this year, precedent speaks to the likelihood: Every year since 1998, at least one of the submitted senior finalists has been received the 80 percent voting support by the entire 48-member Selection Committee necessary for being in that year’s class.
Per the Hall of Fame, the overall process “will consider 18 finalists, including a Senior (Robinson), two Contributors (to be named Thursday, Aug. 23), and 15 Modern-Era Finalists (to be determined from a preliminary list announced on September 13; trimmed to 25 semifinalists in November and to 15 finalists in January). Current bylaws call for a class no smaller than four or larger than eight. The Senior Finalist will be voted on for election independent of the other finalists.”
According to Thompson, Baker assured the family he’d make it in and that they need to be in Atlanta when it becomes official.
“He’s been the elephant in the room,” Thompson said.
Or outside the room, in fact.
If elected, Robinson will become the sixth member of the 1960s Chiefs defense to enter the Hall of Fame, joining linebackers Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier, defensive tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp and cornerback Emmitt Thomas. Quarterback Len Dawson, kicker Jan Stenerud, coach Hank Stram and founder Lamar Hunt are the other Chiefs figures from that era who are enshrined.
Robinson would likely join tight end Tony Gonzalez in the Class of 2019 as he is expected to be elected in his first year of eligibility. Other Chiefs already in Canton include guard Will Shields and linebacker Derrick Thomas.
Starting when the Chiefs were the Dallas Texans, Robinson more or less was the defensive quarterback for three AFL title teams and a Super Bowl champion.
He snagged 57 interceptions (only three players in NFL history had as many or more when he retired in 1971) and had a way of making them count (the Dallas Texans/Chiefs were 35-1-1 when he had an interception) and coming through in the most meaningful games.
Robinson had two interceptions in the 1962 AFL championship victory over Houston, a pivotal one in the 1966 AFL title game against Buffalo and 11 solo tackles in the ensuing first Super Bowl against Green Bay.
And in the 23-7 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV, Robinson had an interception and a fumble recovery while playing with three broken ribs.
Robinson was a six-time finalist but was passed over for a combination of reasons, including bias against players who had played most of their careers in the AFL and the notion that the Chiefs’ defense of that era already was well-represented in the Hall of Fame.
Now, he says, he hopes he can “handle myself like a Hall of Fame football player.”
He already has. It just took a while for the powers that be to properly recognize it.