Rudel: Today’s Penn State honoree has overcome, too

Penn State will honor a senior class today that has shown a collective commitment and resolve that have been more impressive than most of its wins this season.

In that regard, maybe it’s fitting that the former Nittany Lion who will be introduced at halftime overcame more than his share of adversity as well.

You likely have to be at least 60 years old to remember having seen the great Dave Robinson play in person.

He was among the first to play at Beaver Stadium, after the team moved from old Beaver Field in 1960, and while he didn’t endure racism at Penn State, he did when the Nittany Lions matched up with southern teams in bowl games.

Robinson was a true freshman when the Lions played Alabama in the 1959 Liberty Bowl, when freshmen were ineligible. He knew he couldn’t play, but he was told he could not dress or even be on the sidelines as the SEC mandated that the only black player permitted to participate for Penn State was tackle Charlie Janerrette.

Two years later, Robinson was the first black to play in the Gator Bowl (1961, win over Georgia Tech) and because blacks were not permitted to stay in Jacksonville, the entire Penn State team stayed in St. Augustine.

“Rip [Engle] and Joe [Paterno] told me they’ll make sure we all stayed together,” Robinson, who initially expressed reservations about playing in the south, said.

Once there, he received death threats, but he played the game and left his mark on the field. Among the plays he made was a leaping sack, forcing a fumble that he recovered.

“If you were watching it that day, you couldn’t believe it,” Penn State historian Lou Prato said. “With the speed of today, it’s more routine, but back then, it was one of the greatest plays in Penn State history.”

The next season, PSU returned to Jacksonville and despite a loss to Florida, Robinson was voted the game’s most valuable player.

“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Penn State,” he said.

Playing offensive and defensive end, Robinson earned All-America honors at Penn State in 1962 and was a first-round pick by the Green Bay Packers.

Under Vince Lombardi, Robinson became an All-Pro linebacker three times and was a key part of the Packers’ first two Super Bowl champions.

In August, Robinson, now 72, was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s just the sixth Penn State player to be so honored, joining August Michalske, Lenny Moore, Franco Harris, Jack Ham and Mike Munchak.

Robinson’s presenter in Canton was his son, Dave. When his bronze bust was unveiled, Robinson found himself overcome with emotion in part because he had previously buried two sons – Richard, who died of a heart attack in 2007, and Robert, who died of kidney failure in 2001.

His wife, Elaine, also died in 2007, three months before Richard.

“I had to regain my composure,” he said.

The youngest of eight siblings, having grown up in Mount Laurel, N.J., Robinson has also lost all four of his brothers and two of three sisters.

“It would be nice if more of my family was here with me to enjoy it,” he said.

Today, he resides in Akron – “that’s the one place Cleveland can make fun of,” he likes to say – and was an honorary captain, along with Floyd Little, when the Nittany Lions met Syracuse at the Meadowlands to open the season.

Disappointed in Penn State’s Board of Trustees and upset with the NCAA sanctions after the Sandusky scandal – “I can’t understand why they were compelled to take away those victories,” he said – Robinson was encouraged by Franco Harris to stay in touch with the program and accepted the offer to be recognized today.

Robinson has been impressed with what he’s seen of the Bill O’Brien regime.

“I’m just amazed at what he’s done,” he said. “It’s just a shame he doesn’t have all the scholarships and can’t go to a bowl game [until 2016], but he’s still held it together and has a very representative team.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or