By TJ Troup
Johnny Robinson was drafted by the Detroit Lions, and for a moment if he had decided to head north he would have been a part of probably the greatest secondary of all-time. Picture for a moment a secondary of corners Night Train Lane, and Dick LeBeau, and safeties Yale Lary and Johnny Robinson....wow! and DOUBLE WOW!
Robinson decided to take his skills to Dallas and be a part of the fledgling AFL with the Texans. His first two years he was the right halfback on offense; which meant he was a flanker to the tight end side (usually on the right), and sometimes aligned in the backfield as a running back. Robinson had a very productive rookie year in 1960 as he gained 1,069 all-purpose yards.
The first win in franchise history came on September 16th against the Oakland Raiders as Johnny gained 68 yards on just 10 carries. He scored touchdowns both rushing and receiving that day. For the year he gained 340 yards rushing on 67 carries (5.1) in games Dallas won, and just 118 yards in the games the Texans lost.
Watching film of him on offense what stood out the most was his ability to adjust to the ball in flight.....as anytime the ball was tipped Robinson adjusted and made the catch. Though he had adequate speed, he was effective after the catch as a change of pace weaving runner.
The two strongest teams in the AFL after two years were the Oilers & Chargers, and the Texans had a 3-5 record against them. Hank Stram needed to make changes on both sides of the ball. Len Dawson came in and played the quarterback position expertly; while a revamped secondary had a brand new right safety in Johnny Robinson.
The Texan secondary in '62 was much improved with rookie Bobby Hunt playing strong football at left safety and being chosen for the AFL all-star game. Robinson received very little recognition, yet film study shows him often in the right place defending either the run or pass. Late in the year Bobby Ply takes over for Hunt for two games, and intercepts seven times in victories over Denver and San Diego in the Cotton Bowl. Quarterbacks did not throw into Robinson's area and as such Ply was attacked, and responded by taking the ball away.
Houston has again won the Eastern Conference, and the two-time defending league champions are not going to "give" up the title without a fight. One of the legendary games in AFL history in Jeppesen Stadium in Houston is the six quarter marathon victory by the Texans 20-17.
Heroes abound for both teams, and one of those heroes was Johnny Robinson with two key interceptions. Lamar Hunt moves his team to Kansas City and his team during a ten game span in '63 wins just one game!
Robinson intercepts in three games that year, and Dallas won all three games. He finally begins to be noticed and is selected for the AFL All-Star game and receives some All-Pro recognition. The '64 Chiefs again are inconsistent but win their final two games to finish 7-7. Robinson for the only time in his career does not play in every game (he misses four contests).
There are changes at the cornerback position in '65, but Robinson is still playing quality football at right safety and just misses being consensus all-pro. Johnny has his best year to date in '66 as the Chiefs win the west. Rarely does the schedule maker have a team playing three times on the road to open a season, yet Kansas City having already won their first two games can accomplish that impressive feat of having won three in a row on the road for the first time in team history if they can beat Boston.
The Texans/Chiefs enter the game with a record of 5-5-2 against the Patriots since '60, more more importantly they have won just once in Massachusetts. Patriot quarterback Babe Parilli pitches towards his favorite target Gino Cappelletti in the first quarter and Robinson knifes in front of the receiver and intercepts. Johnny weaves his way to the end zone and Kansas City is on their way to an impressive 43-24 win! Robinson ties teammate Bobby Hunt for the interception title with 10.....and all ten are in VICTORY!
Before going any further on the Robinson saga it must be noted that though he is listed as the right safety, and most historians naturally think that means "free safety"....that is a misnomer. Johnny may align on the right but if the tight end is on his side of the field he is actually the strong safety. There are times he takes the back out of the backfield man to man. There are times he plays deep centerfield. There are times he helps or "rolls" coverage to double cover a talented opponent receiver. He did it ALL and there were safeties in pro football that lacked his skills and awareness.
Robinson is the consummate pro. He is a strong tackler, a willing "hitter", and displays range in covering the field. His ball awareness is superb and having been a receiver.....he has sure hands and adjusts the ball superbly in flight.
The Chiefs travel to Buffalo on January 1st, 1967 to play the two time defending champion Buffalo Bills. Right before the half Kemp zips the ball towards to Chiefs end zone, and their he is as always—-Robinson nabs the errant pass and weaves his way 72 yards. Kansas City is headed for the first AFL-NFL Championship game in the Los Angeles Coliseum to take on the Vince Lombardi Packers. Though the Chiefs gave a game effort in the first half, they just do not have the defensive personnel at some positions to beat a team as powerful as Green Bay, and Hank Stram must have spent the winter in somber evaluation.
The Jets, Raiders and Chiefs stand head and shoulders better than the other teams in the league, and Kansas City knows they will have to beat both New York and Oakland to finally return to the Super Bowl. Though there were a couple other strong defensive teams in the history of the AFL; there is no doubt that the '69 Chiefs were the best in AFL history, and the one man still there from the beginning is Johnny Robinson.
He can look in the eyes of many stalwart defenders in the defensive huddle during the '69 campaign, and Robinson knew they were destined for greatness. After defeating the world champion Jets on December 20th in Shea Stadium, the Chiefs travel to Oakland for the AFL championship. Another impressive road victory over their hated rivals in silver & black sets up the showdown in New Orleans Louisiana against the mighty Norseman who have ravaged and savagely beaten both the Rams and Browns.
Left corner Jim Marsalis knocks the ball from the receiver's grasp, and Robinson recovers the fumble and returns the ball 2 yards. There he is sitting on the Tulane turf with his index finger pointed skyward with the ball. This is going to be the Chiefs day. Minnesota on their second possession of the 4th quarter are on their own thirty-eight yard line and Kapp throws towards Beasley at the Chief forty. Johnny on the spot Robinson intercepts to stop the drive.
Earlier in the game Willie Lanier made an outstanding interception on a pass to Beasley, and if you study the film you see Robinson was right behind Lanier on the play. Robinson finishes his AFL career as a champion. The AFL did not keep complete records in all statistical categories.....and the area that needs to most research is in the area of opponent fumble recoveries.
Some folks enjoy research, and as such you are about to read a stat that you cannot find anywhere....not in a Kansas City Chief media guide, not in an encyclopedia—only here at the Pro Football Journal. Johnny Robinson recorded 52 takeaways in his AFL career—THE MOST. Robinson intercepted 43 passes, and recovered 9 opponent fumbles.
The Chiefs schedule for 1970 was a real challenge since they faced three contenders from the NFC in the Cardinals, Vikings, and Cowboys. Twelve games into the year Kansas City is 7-3-2 and still has a chance to earn a play-off berth; but they fall short on a Saturday afternoon game in Oakland, and then with nothing to play for but pride, are beaten in San Diego to close out a disappointing season. Though a team game, Robinson leads the NFL in interceptions with 10.
Attempting to play safety at the small college level, sure enjoyed watching Robinson play when I had the chance. His performance against Baltimore on a September Monday night game was inspiring, and again he earns deserved all-pro honors. Kansas City rebounds in '71 to win the AFC West, and in his last regular season game against Buffalo on December 19th he intercepts.
When he intercepted his team won 35 times and lost just once. No player ever has a higher win percentage. Johnny Robinson's career ends at home in the legendary two over-time thriller loss to the up and coming Dolphins on Christmas Day. John Turney recently evaluated all the safeties in pro football history and has Robinson ranked 8th all-time.
Please check out his and all the other safeties listed. Every football library should have a copy of The Other League, and on page 143 is a classic photo of Johnny Robinson coming up from his right safety position to take on the Packer sweep. A fitting way to close this saga on a man who FINALLY has been chosen for the Hall of Fame. Johnny Robinson—way to go!