KNOXVILLE, TENN. -- Behind barbed wire, Tony Robinson counts the days. "Eighty-six more," he says, using his fingers to calculate.
In jail, it's more fun to look out a window than look at TV. Robinson asks: "Cold outside?" It is. But he hasn't had a breath of fresh air since Monday, the six-week anniversary of Dallas.
Monday at midnight, he checked back into this place, a one-story building painted gray. The sign outside says: "Caution, Penal Farm Entrance," but there are no armed guards around, just a black dog that sniffs but doesn't bite.
Inside, Capt. David Spitzer sits at his desk, armed with fly swatter. Smack! "I hate flies," he says.
When Robinson quarterbacked the replacement Washington Redskins over the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, Oct. 19, Spitzer sat curled up on his couch with a box of popcorn. "Look, honey!" he said to his wife. "Look at our Tony!"
The entire state of Tennessee -- 96,000 of them squeeze into Neyland Stadium every week -- considered Robinson "Our Tony" until he and University of Tennessee teammate Kenneth (B.B.) Cooper were arrested and charged with attempting to deliver cocaine. Once a Heisman Trophy candidate, Robinson was put away like an old trophy after pleading no contest to a reduced charge and sent to jail for nine months. Six months later, a Tennessee judge set him free to pursue a pro football career, with the provision he had to serve 90 more days after the season.
Knoxville newspapers reported the news with screaming headlines, but there were many irate callers. "I don't want to hear about that kid," said one. "He ain't eligible for the Vols no more, so to hell with him."
Others don't agree. When Robinson reappeared here at the Penal Farm last Monday, having been cut by the Redskins a month prior, Spitzer said: "Why did they cut you, son? You're better than that ol' Doug Williams."
Robinson, who like Williams is a black quarterback, nodded a thank you and deadpanned: "They sure do hit hard, though."
Nowadays, not a guard walks by without nodding or waving to Robinson. One wearing a Tennessee Volunteers cap came by to say:
"Saw you throw a couple up there in Washington, son."
"Uh, huh. Yep. I was just playin' around with 'em," Robinson replied.
"You got beat, though, right?"
"No . . . Noooooooo. We won."
"Who'd y'all play?"
"Oh, yeah. So what's your story now?"
"Just gonna do this time I got and go on out there next year."
"NFL."Losing a Numbers Game
Coach Joe Gibbs cut Robinson the day after the 13-7 victory, citing a numbers problem at quarterback. This meant Robinson had a numbers problem, too -- 90 more days behind bars.
First, he went back to the semipro Richmond Ravens, where his Ravens teammates were amazed at what he'd done to the Cowboys. "Boy," said one, "you're dangerous with some blocking."
He played one last game with the Ravens and then left for his home in Tallahassee, Fla. His father Johnny was in the hospital for a spinal tap, so it was good for the family to see his face. He won't let his mother Jean visit him in jail, and she figures it's because he's ashamed.
Robinson was hoping the Denver Broncos would sign him, because Gibbs had said they were interested. But the only call Robinson got was one from his lawyer: he had to be back in jail the Monday following Thanksgiving.
He left Tallahassee before Thanksgiving, but he left a video of the Dallas-Washington game behind, the one the Redskins gave him as a parting gift.
"We can sit and watch it whenever we want," Jean says. "And we've got some videos of his college games. We sit and watch them to remember him. I have a nephew here with me, and he wants to be like Tony. He watches all day by himself.
"He'll spend Christmas in jail. I think we'll all sit and watch the Dallas game in his honor."
Robinson said he spent Thanksgiving stuffing himself and watching football.
"Dallas lost! I've always hated Dallas," he said. "But the 'Skins had just lost to the Rams. The Rams! I was upset. God, the Rams! That night the Rams were better, though . . . And the Giants game. Ohhh, that was close, but I have the faith."
He remembers the replacement season, when he, Joe Cofer and Willard Scissum "hung together." He says they'd "run up and down the hallways," and he remembers playing poker on their measly salaries.
Last Monday, the six-week anniversary of Dallas, he packed his bags for jail. Warmup suit? Check. Football? Check. (He acknowledged later that he forgot his stereo headphones.) He was supposed to be there by 9:30 p.m., but Bo Jackson was running wild on the Seattle Seahawks, so he stayed put.
When he checked in, the dog barked, and he remembered he was glad it didn't bite.A Matter of Time
Robinson doesn't have the run of the place, but he gets to leave his cell often because of his job. He's a secretary, sort of. Whenever an inmate arrives, he writes his name on the master list. When one leaves, he crosses his name off.
Since Monday, no one's come and no one's left.
"But I had to rewrite the whole list for the nurse," he says. "From A to Z. Took me a good 30 minutes."
He's had other jobs here, jobs where he got to leave the premises. But maybe he didn't handle the freedom so well. He and Cooper worked as landscapers at a firm called the Lawn Doctor. It wasn't too far from their apartment, and they'd go home at times.
Neighbors called to alert the Knoxville News-Sentinel, which assigned a reporter to follow Robinson and Cooper one day. Robinson says he saw the reporter follow him to the apartment. He says he got out of his car to chase the reporter, but the reporter swerved away from the apartment.
Headlines the next morning screamed: "Ex-Vols May Have Violated Work Release." Criminal Court Judge Ray L. Jenkins found that Robinson and Cooper actually had gone Christmas shopping one afternoon and that they never returned to the penal farm on time after work.
Jail sources say the late arrivals were nothing unusual, that inmates often return smelling of alcohol and marijuana. In such cases, the inmates are taken off work-release.
Robinson and Cooper got six extra months in jail.
Robinson does not complain about it. He says his personality is to "chill out."
A typical day for Robinson begins at 5 a.m., when he's up for breakfast. Here at the Knox County Penal Farm, the menu often consists of French toast, eggs, biscuits, gravy. Afterward, he goes back to bed and normally skips the 11:30 lunch because they always serve bologna.
"I'm a ham man, myself," Robinson says.
He works in the afternoon, sometimes as a "hall man." That means he walks in front of the cells, offering soap or towels to inmates.
The average cell has about 14 inmates, though they're split-level -- eight upstairs and six downstairs. Robinson's neighbors are "Big Daddy" and "Bugaloo." He says he likes to spend most of his time hearing Big Daddy "rap." He says Big Daddy is in for armed robbery and for escaping prison.
"He's an all right fellow," Robinson says of Big Daddy. "As long as you don't bother these guys, they don't bother you. But if you go poking your nose around, you'll get it smashed."
During the day, he says, the big thrill is finding out what's for dinner. It's a news bulletin that happens at about 4:30 p.m. Robinson doesn't like Wednesdays, because that's sauerkraut night, and he hates sauerkraut.
At night, the prisoners gamble for telephone money. Robinson says inmates are allowed to have as much money as they want and that poker games are high-profile. He says he uses his winnings to buy candy and soda.
His mother hopes he will learn something from all this, and Tony says: "I've learned that I've just got to watch policemen. They'll try to set you up."
That, he says, is how he ended up in jail. And that is all he'll say. A source close to Robinson says he and Cooper were in their apartment when a man, posing as a maintenance worker, offered them a lot of money to make a drug deal. The maintenance man had been paid off by police, and police were there to snatch them, according to the source.
Robinson says he does not do cocaine. He says he'll take a drug test anytime, any place. Growing up in Tallahassee, he says he smoked pot, but only because it made him hungry, and he loves to eat. Cocaine "was on the streets 24 hours a day, seven days a week," but he says "football was my thing, not coke."
Nonetheless, there are 86 more days of jail to deal with, and he says he dreams of an NFL career at least 15 minutes every afternoon. And the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League are beckoning, just in case the NFL says no.
"Sure, he's good enough to play in the NFL," says Hamilton's player-personnel director, Mike McCarthy. "But how many black quarterbacks start in the NFL? Warren Moon? Randall Cunningham? Doug Williams? Can you name any others?
"We like him. He doesn't have a drug problem. He's been tested and tested. He's clean. He saw a way to make a quick buck, but he's on the right path back. He's paying his debt to society, and we'll take a chance on him."
Robinson says he'll wait and see what happens with the NFL first. When he's not looking out some window, he's watching the Redskins on TV anytime he can.
"You know I'm rootin' for 'em," he says. "I'm waiting on that playoff money. I figure if I have to do time, this gives me something to look forward to. I'll have some money comin' to me when I get out. Hope they go to the Super Bowl."