|Monday, August 16
Robinson atones for mistake
By Paul Newberry
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The Prophet considers himself redeemed.
Eugene Robinson has made peace with his wife and children. He apologized to his coaches and teammates. He settled his legal problems. He gave back an award for high moral character. He took a pay cut. He worked out harder than ever in the offseason.
Does all that erase the pain he caused or his humiliation for a monumental lapse in judgment.
Of course not.
No matter. Robinson is no longer looking back at his arrest for soliciting sex from an undercover policewoman the night before the Atlanta Falcons played in their first Super Bowl.
"When I say that really is behind me and I've got to move forward, it really is," the Pro Bowl safety said.
"A lot of stuff took place that no one is ever going to know about, no one is ever going to see, and probably no one even cares about. But me, I had to do a lot of work. I've done what I can do."
For 14 years, Robinson was one of the NFL's most upstanding players, renowned for his religious beliefs, work ethic and vocal leadership. His teammates called him "The Prophet" and, indeed, he seemed to have links to a higher power when he helped the once-hapless Falcons reach the Super Bowl.
Then, on the eve of the big game in Miami, a lifetime of good work became the butt of jokes on talk shows and late-night television.
On the morning of Jan. 30, Robinson received the Bart Starr Award from a religious-based group, honoring him for high moral character. In the afternoon, he lounged by the pool with his wife, Gia, and their two children, Brittany and Brandon.
That night, police say, he drove away from the team hotel to a seedy part of the city and was arrested when he offered $40 to the officer for oral sex.
After spending a couple of hours in jail and commiserating into the early morning hours with his family and a small clique of teammates, Robinson decided to play. The Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos 34-19, a key play coming in the second quarter when Robinson was beaten by Rod Smith on an 80-yard touchdown.
Robinson spent the new few months trying to make amends, then arrived at Furman University for his 16th -- and most likely -- final training camp. Now 36, he has been to the Super Bowl three years in a row -- twice with Green Bay before signing with the Falcons -- and would like to get back one more time before retiring.
"I don't have the desire to say, 'Hey, look at me. I'm a good guy,' " Robinson said. "It's deeper than that. It's a much more personal, deeper level. It means going to people, looking them in the eye and apologizing. You talk to them and be real, then leave it at that."
The Falcons seem willing to accept his apology.
"He just made a mistake," coach Dan Reeves said. "He can't change it. It's there. But it's really important for him to go on with the rest of his life. That's what he's trying to do. I don't know of anyone who's gone through life without making a mistake. Unfortunately, his was publicized."
In training camp, Robinson doesn't appear much different than he was before that infamous night. He's still one of the most vocal players on the practice field, constantly barking orders to teammates with the fervor of a revival preacher. He's still open with the media, though he seems a bit more guarded than before.
"I don't see any difference with him," said cornerback Ray Buchanan, a close friend and one of those who consoled Robinson after his arrest. "He hasn't changed his personality. He's the same type of guy. We looked at it as everybody makes mistakes. He got caught up in the wrong situation."
A few days after the Super Bowl, Robinson returned his Bart Starr Award. In March, he entered a program for first-time offenders that required him to undergo an HIV test and complete a course on AIDS. In return, his record was cleared.
Facing the possibility of being cut, he agreed to sign a new contract with the Falcons that reduced his salary from $1.9 million to $1 million. He also showed up for the team's offseason program at the urging of Reeves.
"I think he's in better shape than he's been in a long time," the coach said. "He's ready to finish his career out, hopefully, on a high note."
The Falcons also re-signed cornerback Ronnie Bradford, supposedly with the idea of giving him a look at free safety, Robinson's position. This isn't a new situation for the incumbent, who was a college walk-on at Colgate and made it to the NFL as a free agent.
"I never felt like my job was secure, anyway," said Robinson, maintaining a solid hold on his position during the early days of camp. "I always go out there wanting to prove something."
Clearly, Robinson's actions the night before the Super Bowl proved to be a distraction for his teammates. While no one criticized him in public, there was some private disgust that a supposed leader of the team would be cruising the streets before the title game.
"I know there's some guys who say we didn't need that added distraction to take away from the team, especially at that particular moment," Buchanan said. "At the same time, once we were on the football field, you can't point the finger at Eugene just because you didn't read an assignment or read the wrong assignment."
Robinson readily accepts the blame for Smith's long touchdown. He refuses to take the entire fall for Atlanta's poor performance in the Super Bowl.
"A game is not predicated on one person," he said. "I don't play offense. I don't play many of the special teams. I play defense. I've got to be accountable for my portion of the defense. Hold me culpable for that."
As for his arrest, Robinson knows there are people who will never forget. Without question, there will be fans who ridicule him from the stands and reporters who question his integrity from the press box.
No matter. Robinson isn't looking back anymore.
"I'm just not going to let something like this drag me down," he said. "This team has a lot more at stake. We've got a lot more stuff to accomplish. I'm still in the mix, and all my energies are pulling in that direction."