State Your Case: Johnny Robinson

Rick Gosselin

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Johnny Robinson made one mistake in his quest for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He signed with the wrong league.

The Detroit Lions thought so highly of the LSU All-America that they made him the third overall selection of the 1960 NFL draft. He validated those scouting reports with seven Pro Bowls, all-decade acclaim and three championships during his 12-year career. Twice he led the league in interceptions.

Except that those accomplishments came in the American Football League -- not the National Football League.

Robinson chose the Dallas Texans over the Detroit Lions in 1960 because Lamar Hunt was offering his draft picks more money than the rival NFL and was stocking his team with Southern players. Dallas was a lot closer to Baton Rouge than Detroit.

Robinson went on to become one of the great safeties of his era and one of the best interceptors of all time. Only a dozen players in history intercepted more passes than the 57 of Robinson. Seven of them are now in the Hall of Fame and another, Ed Reed, isn’t eligible yet.

The upstart AFL was considered an inferior brand of football to the established NFL -- right up until the time the New York Jets schooled the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The following year, Robinson and the Kansas City Chiefs proved it was no fluke by routing the Minnesota Vikings in the final game ever played by an AFL team.

Still, the Hall of Fame selection committee has been reluctant to give the AFL its due. There are only 19 AFL-era players enshrined. The Green Bay Packers themselves have 11 players enshrined from that same decade.

A great player is a great player regardless of the league. Robinson led the AFL with 10 interceptions in 1966, then led the NFL with 10 more interceptions in 1970 after the two leagues merged.

Robinson has been a finalist six times but the committee always looked elsewhere for its enshrinees. When it comes to AFL defensive backs, the committee has historically closed its eyes. Even though it was a pass-heavy league, there are only two AFL-era DBs in Canton, cornerbacks Willie Brown and Emmitt Thomas -- and Thomas had to wait 25 years to get in as a senior candidate.

A knock on Robinson is that he wasn’t a beast in run support. But with four Hall of Famers in Kansas City’s front seven -- Buck Buchanan, Curley Culp, Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier -- the Chiefs didn’t need him to make tackles. They asked Robinson to play centerfield in pass coverage and few have done it better in the history of the game.

Robinson has been eligible for 38 years. He’s now in the seniors pool. He deserves stronger consideration than he has received thus far from the selection committee.

Follow Rick Gosselin on Twitter at @RickGosselinDMN

Johnny Robinson photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs
Johnny Robinson photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

Courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs


NFL Stories