Johnny Robinson’s name should be in the upper echelon of pro football’s legendary safeties.
Without a doubt, Robinson is in the same stratosphere as Ronnie Lott, Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, and Troy Polamalu.
Robinson, who had a league-leading 10 interceptions in 1966 and 1970, set the bar high for these safeties and future generations of defensive backs.
Ironically, Robinson’s game reached unprecedented heights after Chiefs head coach Hank Stram asked him to become a safety prior to the 1963 AFL campaign.
He eventually became a six-time AFL All-Star who helped the Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl IV.
Robinson was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a month shy of his 81st birthday in 2019.
There’s no denying Johnny Robinson was one of the best defensive backs in pro football history.
Johnny Nolan Robinson was born in Delhi, LA on September 9, 1938.
When Robinson was a young boy growing up in Louisiana, he had always wanted to play football.
“I think back to when I was a young boy, and all I ever wanted to do was to play ball,” Robinson mentioned in his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech in the summer of 2019.
Robinson attended University High School which is inside the Louisiana State University (LSU) campus.
Little wonder Johnny Robinson grew up a staunch LSU Tigers fanatic.
A big weekend for former Louisiana high school athletes who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Congratulations to Kevin Mawae (Leesville High), Ed Reed (Destrehan High), and Johnny Robinson (University High) for their induction into the Hall! #LAlegends pic.twitter.com/8yFTf7fT7G
— LHSAA (@LHSAA) August 5, 2019
Robinson was a three-sport star in football, baseball, and tennis during his high school days in Louisiana.
He and his brother Tommy, a future doctor, were a formidable tennis doubles duo that won the national boys’ junior tennis title.
Since University High School was a small institution, Robinson was shocked when LSU Tigers head football coach Paul Dietzel recruited him.
He called it a “dream-come-true” story, per his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech.
Johnny Robinson would play a pivotal role in LSU’s undefeated season in 1958 and their quest for a second national championship.
College Days With The LSU Tigers
Johnny Robinson’s father Dub was the tennis coach at Louisiana State University.
The younger Robinson inherited his passion for tennis from his dad and earned All-SEC honors several years later.
The Robinson brothers, Johnny and Tommy, won an SEC doubles title in tennis during their college years in Baton Rouge, LA.
Johnny Robinson played running back for Paul Dietzel’s LSU Tigers from 1957 to 1959.
Robinson considered this a blessing in disguise when he spoke with ESPN’s Adam Teicher in the summer of 2019.
Playing halfback and flanker during his first two years in Baton Rouge helped him grow accustomed to the pro game several years later.
With Robinson leading the Tigers’ ground attack, LSU had an unblemished 11-0 win-loss record in the 1958 NCAA season.
Robinson scored four second-half touchdowns in LSU’s 62-0 thumping of the Tulane Green Wave on November 22, 1958.
The Tigers’ victory catapulted them to a No. 1 ranking in the nation.
#Chiefs Ring of Honor member and Super Bowl IV Champion Johnny Robinson finally made the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. His LSU Tigers just won a National Championship. You see where I am going with this, right ??? pic.twitter.com/IXSS1ait4X
— Brad Porter (@bradkporter) January 14, 2020
Robinson finished the season with 480 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 86 carries.
He promptly earned First-Team All-SEC honors at the end of the 1958 NCAA campaign.
LSU went on to beat the Clemson Tigers 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl to secure its second national title.
The Tigers annihilated the Miami Hurricanes at Tiger Stadium nine months later, 27-3.
Hurricanes assistant football coach Hank Stram was in awe of Robinson, per The Advocate’s Brooks Kubena.
Stram liked Robinson’s game so much he wound up playing for him when the AFL’s Dallas Texans hired the former to become their head coach in 1960.
The Tigers won nine games in the 1959 NCAA campaign. They played in the Sugar Bowl for the second straight year but lost to the Ole Miss Rebels, 21-0.
Robinson finished his three-year career at LSU with 893 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 192 carries.
A crucial position switch at the beginning of Johnny Robinson’s pro football career would make him one of the most dominant defensive players in Kansas City Chiefs franchise history.
Pro Football Career
Johnny Robinson had such glowing credentials coming out of LSU he became a first-round draft pick in both the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL) in 1960.
The Dallas Texans (who became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963) selected Robinson in the first round of the 1960 AFL Draft.
On the other hand, the Detroit Lions made Robinson the third overall pick of the 1960 NFL Draft.
Ironically, Robinson had no ambitions of becoming a professional football player.
All along he thought he’d become a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. However, his life took on a new direction at the turn of the decade.
Robinson signed with both the Lions and Texans. However, when the courts intervened, he leaned toward Dallas because of its proximity to Louisiana and warm weather, per the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jim Thomas (via CantonRep.com).
Robinson eventually signed a three-year, $43,500 deal with the AFL’s Dallas Texans, per Kubena.
Robinson remembered his dad’s advice when he left for his first training camp in 1960.
“Be a gentleman when you win; be a man when you lose. If you lose, hurt so bad that you work harder so it won’t happen again. Prepare, sacrifice, and give your best,” Robinson mentioned in his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech some fifty-nine years later.
Robinson started his first two AFL seasons as a halfback. He had a combined 15 touchdowns in 1960 and 1961 for the Texans.
Dallas won an average of seven games during that two-year span and missed postseason contention.
Heading into the Texans’ final season in Dallas in 1962, head coach Hank Stram made a change that would dramatically change Johnny Robinson’s football career.
Stram felt Robinson could’ve been a great running back in the pro football ranks.
However, the Texans, who already had halfback Abner Haynes and fullback Jack Spikes, were already loaded on offense.
Stram needed to shore up Dallas’ defense in 1962. The latter initially refused.
When Stram explained to Robinson switching to safety would extend his gridiron career, he finally agreed.
Johnny Robinson not only enjoyed a prolific twelve-year pro football career, but he also became one of the premier safeties of his era.
Better yet, he helped the Texans win eleven of fourteen games in the 1962 AFL season.
The Texans went on to beat their in-state rivals, the Houston Oilers, in the 1962 AFL Championship Game in double overtime, 20-17.
Texans owner Lamar Hunt then uprooted the team to Missouri where they became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963.
Johnny Robinson continued wreaking havoc on defenses when he donned Chiefs Red and White.
In fact, he earned six consecutive AFL All-Star berths after the Kanas City Chiefs came into existence.
He also earned five straight First-Team All-AFL selections from 1965 to 1969.
San Diego Chargers quarterback John Hadl considered Robinson the best safety he played against during his career.
Hadl knew about Robinson’s antics: he’d line up pretending he was in Cover 2 or Cover 3 and go to his strong side after the snap.
Robinson fooled the quarterback by going to center field instead. That way, he had a greater chance of intercepting the pass.
Hadl remembered a game against the Chiefs in the latter’s old stadium.
The Chargers were near Kansas City’s goal line. Hadl threw the ball to one of his receivers but had no idea Robinson was lurking nearby.
Robinson promptly intercepted Hadl’s pass and raced downfield toward the other end zone.
Chargers head coach Sid Gillman was beside himself. Hadl heard him screaming, “You better catch that son of a b**ch!”
Hadl tackled Robinson’s legs and prevented a sure pick-six to Gillman’s relief.
Robinson also gave Oakland Raiders signal caller Daryle Lamonica fits whenever their teams squared off.
“Johnny Robinson’s the player I’ve had the most trouble with as a passer,” Lamonica said (via Medium.com’s Sal Maiorana). “He’s broken up more plays against us than any other.”
For his part, Chargers Hall of Fame wide receiver Lance Alworth wrote a letter to Robinson (via The Advocate) saying the Chiefs free safety was “the best I played against.”
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier felt Robinson’s uncanny ability to thwart plays stemmed from his quarterback mentality – he instinctively knew what the quarterback was going to do before the snap.
It wasn’t a surprise considering Robinson played on both sides of the ball during his football career.
“I could see everything. I could see the whole field, and maybe other safeties couldn’t see that,” Robinson told The Advocate in 2019. “I had played offense. I knew all the offensive formations and what they were trying to do.”
The Chiefs averaged just six wins per season from 1963 to 1965.
Loved Johnny Robinson and this Hank Stram led Chiefs team. https://t.co/Gn2KxSXY6a
— zatoichi (@purplezato) August 4, 2019
Thanks in large part to Robinson’s AFL-leading 10 interceptions, the Chiefs were back in business in 1966.
The Chiefs reached Super Bowl I pitting them against Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers that year.
Behind Bart Starr’s 250 passing yards and two touchdowns, the Packers routed the Chiefs, 35-10.
Robinson finished with nine tackles in the loss.
Robinson and Co. received another shot at retribution just three years later.
Johnny Robinson almost missed Super Bowl IV – the biggest game of his gridiron career and Chiefs franchise history.
Robinson defended a deep sideline pass a week before the big game. He leaped high to make a play on the ball but landed on top of the official’s head as he came down.
Robinson felt searing pain surge through his body. X-rays confirmed he sustained broken ribs and a torn cartilage.
A thoracic surgeon tried to neutralize the pain with novocaine, to no avail. The shot made Robinson dizzy instead.
Robinson’s brother Thomas intervened at the perfect time.
Thomas Robinson was an aspiring doctor doing his residency in ophthalmology at Tulane University in New Orleans. He told Johnny about a long-lasting eye medication that could offer some relief.
The New Orleans Saints’ thoracic surgeon got the medicine and gave Johnny Robinson several torso injections.
To Robinson’s surprise, the medicine worked like a charm.
The thoracic surgeon gave Robinson several more shots before kickoff of Super Bowl IV. Robinson rolled the dice with it – he hadn’t practiced all week so it was his only lifeline for the title game.
Stram threw a pass above Robinson’s head to see if he was up for the daunting task.
Robinson caught Stram’s pass. It was a good sign. Robinson told his coach he wanted to play in the Super Bowl.
Stram agreed but there was a catch: when the defense came off the field, Robinson had to sit right next to a doctor on the sidelines.
It turned out the Chiefs were concerned Robinson might puncture his lungs with broken ribs. The doctor had to monitor him every time the defense left the gridiron.
Congratulations #42 pic.twitter.com/BKl1R9YOYc
— Wayne_In_Akron (@Wayne_In_Akron) February 3, 2019
Robinson shook off the effects of the previous week’s injury. He finished with an interception and a fumble recovery in the Chiefs’ 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
Johnny Robinson won a national title with the LSU Tigers almost twelve years earlier. Now, he was a Super Bowl champion.
Robinson asked Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson a day before Super Bowl IV if he had watched film of the Vikings defense.
Dawson acknowledged that Minnesota had a good defense, but their offense could outperform them on the big stage in New Orleans.
Robinson, who was recuperating from broken ribs and a torn cartilage, told Dawson he had been watching film of the Vikings offense the entire week.
Robinson felt the Chiefs could shut them down.
That’s what exactly Robinson and Co. did.
Dawson told the Kansas City Chiefs’ official website in October 2015 that’s the difference between the Super Bowl I and Super Bowl IV: the latter team had more swagger than its predecessor.
The Super Bowl IV triumph was a fitting end to the Chiefs’ days in the AFL.
When the AFL and NFL merged at the turn of the decade, thirty-two-year-old Johnny Robinson was still at the top of his game.
He led the NFL with 10 interceptions and became the starting safety of the AFL’s All-Time Team in 1970.
Robinson also earned his first Pro Bowl berth and First-Team All-Pro selection that year.
The Chiefs had a combined seventeen wins in 1970 and 1971. They never made it past the AFC Divisional Round.
Johnny Robinson retired following the 1971 NFL season.
The Chiefs inexplicably missed the postseason for fourteen straight years following his retirement.
Johnny Robinson’s 57 career interceptions are the second most in Chiefs franchise history behind Emmitt Thomas’ 58.
Robinson, who had at least six interceptions in four seasons, is also one of just seven players with at least 10 interceptions in multiple seasons.
There’s no question Johnny Robinson set the bar high for defensive backs of his generation and beyond.
Johnny Robinson and his wife Wanda have two sons, Matt and Tommy.
Robinson ventured into the coaching profession after he hung up his cleats in 1971.
Robinson served as a scout on Stram’s coaching staff until the Chiefs dismissed the latter in 1974.
Robinson became the World Football League’s (WFL) Jacksonville Express’ defensive back coach a year later.
After the WFL folded in 1975, Robinson was reunited with Stram in New Orleans. Robinson became a scout for the Saints that year.
Robinson began dealing with rheumatoid arthritis at the peak of his football coaching career, per Maiorana.
He wasn’t even forty years old at the time.
It was around this time when Johnny Robinson lived on the beach and turned to alcohol to cope with his problems.
One day Robinson purchased whiskey at a local liquor store and saw a sign in an adjacent bookstore which read, “Our Father’s Bookstore.”
For some reason, the name lured Robinson inside where the owner invited him to go to church, per The Kansas City Star (via The Chicago Tribune).
The pastor’s sermon hit home with Robinson, who promptly threw his whiskey in the trash can.
Robinson then became the assistant football and head tennis coach of the Louisiana Monroe War Hawks.
Before long, Robinson was ordained at the World Ministry Fellowship and eventually became an associate pastor in West Monroe, LA.
Robinson also endured several health issues during retirement. Aside from rheumatoid arthritis, he also dealt with thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stroke, and a quadruple heart bypass.
Robinson’s ailments mysteriously disappeared several years after he became an ordained minister.
He believed the hand of God was at work in his life all along.
“I can’t help but believe I had a divine healing,” Robinson said (via Medium.com). “I simply woke up one day with no pain, and I’ve never had any since.”
Robinson also served as a police chaplain when he met a 10-year-old boy named Jimmy, who was sexually abused in youth prison.
Robinson eventually acquired custody of the boy.
Johnny Robinson wants to be remembered for the work at his Boys Home rather than his football career.
Robert Wagnon, who lived at the home from 1984 to 1986, wrote Johnny a letter thanking him for the impact he had on his life. pic.twitter.com/5yMq0lSBfl
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) August 22, 2019
It was Jimmy who inspired Robinson to reach out to troubled youths in subsequent years.
Robinson stumbled upon a house which was for sale on his way home from juvenile prison one day.
With the help of funds generated from a friend and former LSU Tigers teammate George O’Neil, Robinson started the Johnny Robinson Boys Home in 1980.
Robinson left the coaching profession and dedicated himself to his newfound calling that year.
As of the summer of 2019, Robinson’s boys home has seven buildings, a cafeteria, a classroom, and indoor basketball and tennis courts, per Kubena.
All of the boys in the facility call Robinson “Dad.” His wife Wanda, son Matt, and stepson Bob Thompson currently manage the boys home.
Robinson’s Christian faith helped him cope with the tragic death of his son Tommy in 1985.
According to The Kansas City Star, a man named John Wayne Edlin rammed Tommy Robinson’s car off a Mississippi road, killing the football legend’s son and his passenger Paula Sims.
Tommy Robinson was just twenty-two years old.
Edlin received a life sentence for his act. Johnny Robinson visited him in prison and forgave him for what he did.
Johnny Robinson played his last pro football game in 1971.
He officially became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019. He had to wait forty-eight years for that elusive gold jacket and bust in Canton.
Robinson discussed his mindset during that waiting period in his induction speech.
“The journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame may have been long and the road may have been hard at times, but I found that sometimes you must go through the valley in order to stand upon the mountain,” Robinson said in 2019.
Fellow Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, who played eleven seasons for the Baltimore Ravens, also revered Johnny Robinson.
“We played because of you,” Reed told Robinson during a luncheon for Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists in February 2019.
Robinson became the tenth player from Kansas City’s 1969 championship team who became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, per Chiefs.com.
Johnny Robinson is also a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.