Michael Robinson never left.
The Seahawks cut him in late August. He wasn’t with the team for the season’s first seven games. While he was absent, he endured a bizarre reaction to the prescription drug Indocin, lost 33 pounds and fought to keep his major organs from shutting down.
But despite the trauma and time away, Robinson never stopped being a Seahawk. Not in his mind. Not in his heart. From afar, he kept being the team’s fullback and special teams ace. He talked to Marshawn Lynch daily. He kept much of the team encouraged. He even shunned opportunities to play for the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants. It was all because he couldn’t envision the Seahawks finishing this special season without him.
Neither could the Seahawks.
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Now, with a potential Super Bowl run set to begin, Robinson roams the locker room, joking with Lynch and pounding fists with any teammate who wanders near him. For certain, he appreciates the opportunity to finish the job he helped start when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll arrived in 2010. He’s thrilled to be a part of a championship pursuit. Mostly, though, he’s simply glad to be where he belongs.
“Honestly, I didn’t picture myself with any other group of men,” Robinson said. “I wanted to come back for the guys. You just start to miss the locker-room dynamic. You miss the guys you go to war with. So it’s just good being around them, talking football, because I was out for two months. I had some job offers, but something told me I was going to end up back here.”
Robinson talks about the locker room the way you would your childhood home. It’s a special place, sweaty socks and all, full of eccentric personalities and crazy memories. When Robinson plays for a team, he isn’t there to collect a paycheck and record statistics. He isn’t even there just to be a mercenary for the sake of winning. He’s woven into the fabric of any team he represents.
He’s the counterargument to nerds who look only at numbers and game film and refuse to believe there’s any value in intangibles. Robinson, who turns 31 in February, is getting up there in football years, and the Seahawks want to be younger and more athletic at the fullback position. But even when they look beyond Robinson, they’re eventually drawn back to him.
The Seahawks brought in two young fullback types this season. They drafted Spencer Ware, a running back/fullback hybrid, in the sixth round. Then they signed 23-year-old Derrick Coleman. Both made the team out of training camp. After Robinson fell ill in late August, the Seahawks released him during the final cut.
But Ware has been injured almost all season. And when Coleman suffered a hamstring injury in mid-October, the Seahawks brought back Robinson. He has remained the starter since, even though Coleman has recovered from injury.
On the first day that Mike Rob, as he’s affectionately called, returned to his beloved locker room, the players walked past him and said “What’s up?” as if his return was no big deal. Soon after, they realized that, despite staying close to his team, he hadn’t been around for two months. It was the greatest compliment he could receive. Even when he was gone, his presence was felt.
“When you’ve been through some of the trials and tribulations that myself and some of the guys have been through together, you just build that unshakable bond,” Robinson said. “I can’t even put it into words. For whatever reason, I don’t know what it is, guys in this locker room feel like I’ve got their backs, all of them.”
Robinson’s goal has always been to have a greater value than his production on the field. He has been a good player throughout his career. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 for paving the way for Lynch to rumble. He’s as good a special-teams player as he is a lead blocker. But his leadership skills are even more impressive. That’s why he has gone from an uncelebrated acquisition days before the 2010 season began to a popular mainstay.
“I talk to young cats all the time, and I tell them you’ve got to find your value in other ways than on the football field,” Robinson said. “So when teams do have to make these business decisions, when they do have to think about cutting you, they have more to think about.”
His value is unmistakable, even on a team of stars. It’s a stretch to say the Seahawks wouldn’t be here without Robinson. They had a 6-1 record before general manager John Schneider re-signed him. But the Seahawks don’t take his intangibles for granted.
“He’s crucial to what we do,” cornerback Richard Sherman said.
Even though the Seahawks cut him once, Robinson isn’t bitter. He can’t be. In this game of cold business, he’s an enthusiastic survivor.
“I love the guys in this locker room so much,” Robinson said. “You can’t let the business and personal feelings get in the way of coming back. Because it’s about the relationships in this locker room. These guys had nothing to do with that.”
Robinson stands in his space, near the front of the Seahawks’ massive locker room, grinning. Home never looked so comfortable.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer