But instead of a springboard to NFL success that many predicted, Robinson’s performance stands as a one-hit wonder, in a game remarkable enough to inspire a Hollywood movie, “The Replacements,” starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.
After that game, the Tallahassee native embarked on a different sort of career, one that would repeatedly put him behind bars. A steady stream of convictions, most of them for drug dealing, and probation violations brought him one jail term after another. Together they amounted to an adulthood largely locked away from the game — and the family — he loves.
Finally, at 48, Robinson is happy to celebrate a milestone. Not the 25th anniversary of his brief Redskins career, though he is clearly proud of his three-game stint with the team, especially his role in the 13-7 upset win at Dallas. No, after leaving jail for what he hopes was the final time in 2008, Robinson has marked an unprecedented four consecutive years of freedom.
“I don’t plan on going back to jail,” he said on a recent Sunday, settling his lanky, 6-foot-3 frame into a chair on his sister’s porch. “I’m not trying to live that life anymore.”
Robinson owes his brief NFL career to the hardball labor negotiation tactics that the league adopted in 1987, when it employed replacement players because of its experience with the strike of 1982. No games were played for about two months that year. The players emerged from that strike with a significant pay increase and the owners were left with huge losses in revenue and fan interest.
Five years later, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement expired, and the players’ union was threatening to strike over the issue of free agency. This time, the league’s response would be different. Its strategy would give disgruntled players more incentive to cross the picket line and provide TV networks something that could at least be called NFL football.
On Sept. 22, 1987, two weeks into the regular season, the players went on strike. But the league announced that the show would go on, with or without athletes anyone had actually heard of. Games resumed Oct. 4.
The scramble for replacement players was on, and the Redskins were ready.
“We went at the whole thing very aggressively,” said Bobby Beathard, then the team’s general manager. “And looking back and hearing some teams talk about it, and even some friends, they didn’t go at it aggressively, I guess either feeling the strike would end soon or it wasn’t that big a deal.”