Neyland winner praises UT stadium

John Robinson has made several visits to Knoxville, and each time, he's been blown away by the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium. Robinson will make a fourth trip into the storied arena when he is honored Saturday with the Neyland Award for outstanding contributions to college football.

``That's the greatest stadium I've ever been in,'' said Robinson, former coach at Southern Cal, UNLV and the Los Angeles Rams. ``I used to think the Coliseum in Los Angeles was, but that Tennessee stadium – there's just something different about it. Just the aura around it.''

Robinson said stadiums at Michigan and the Rose Bowl are shaped like saucers. Not Neyland Stadium. The steep angle of the steps gives you a higher vantage point.

But that's not the only thing about UT that impressed Robinson.

``I always thought Tennessee fans were classy,'' Robinson said. ``It's just a first-rate place and it's been sold out every time I've been in it.''

John Robinson was in Neyland Stadium in 1980, when his No. 5 Trojans escaped with a 20-17 win over unranked UT on a last-play field goal.

He was in Neyland Stadium in 2004 when his Rebels from UNLV were routed 42-17 by two freshmen quarterbacks.

And he was in Neyland Stadium doing radio broadcast for last season's opener when the Vols shocked California 35-18.

He will be honored Saturday at the annual Orange and White game for a stellar coaching career that ended after the 2004 season.

``Anything with Tennessee always stirs something in me,'' Robinson said from his home in Chandler, Ariz. ``I believe it's one of those places in college football where you say, it's one of the key bench marks of what college football is supposed to be.''

The first time Robinson visited Neyland Stadium, there were no skyboxes, no club seats and no Jumbotron. Capacity had been increased 10,5000 to 89,749.

Tennessee had just lost to No. 16 Georgia and Herschel Walker the week before. Johnny Majors didn't want to start the season 0-2. But the Vols weren't quite good enough to upend the Mighty Trojans.

``I remember Tennessee had about 40 wide receivers that could all run a four-flat,'' Robinson said. ``We were constantly worried about deep threats. I remember them hitting a crossing pattern and the receiver went right by our guys so fast, you couldn't believe it. And we had some players that could play.''

USC's gifted secondary included Pro Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, All-Pro safety Dennis Smith, Joey Browner and a guy named Jeff Fisher, now coach of the Tennessee Titans.

Tennessee might have had fleet receivers, but they weren't used much. The Vols completed only five of 11 passes in the game, four to Anthony Hancock for 135 yards and one to Willie Gault for 15. Hancock scored on a 56-yard pass play with 3:57 left to tie the game before Eric Hipp hit a game-winning 47-yard field goal on the last play.

Marcus Allen, a 186-pound fullback for Heisman Trophy winner Charles White in 1979, led USC with 132 yards on 39 carries.

Allen won the Heisman in 1981. He was the first college back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.

``Marcus Allen was one of the best competitors I've ever been around from a mental standpoint,'' Robinson said. ``He's in the Hall of Fame for that reason.''

In 2004, Robinson brought UNLV to Knoxville. In the history of Neyland Stadium, only Florida has attracted a larger crowd than the Rebels; 108,625 fans were eager to see Tennessee's true freshmen quarterbacks, Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge.

Robinson had a sparking coaching career. At USC, he won three outright Pac-10 titles and tied for two more. He won the 1978 national title and finished second in 1976 and 1979. He won eight of nine bowls games, going 4-0 in the Rose Bowl.

He took the Rams to the playoffs in six of his nine years, losing the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl winners Chicago (1985) and San Francisco (1989).

``It stung a lot,'' Robinson said of coming so close to the Super Bowl.

Robinson played against Fisher, a Bears safety, in that 1985 NFC title game.

``He was extremely competitive,'' Robinson said. ``He wasn't a great physical specimen. He was a high school receiver. But he excelled in toughness.''

Robinson coached one year for the Oakland Raiders (1975) under his childhood friend, John Madden. Oakland lost to the Steelers in the AFC title game but won the Super Bowl the next season.

``If you asked who is the greatest player I've ever been around, it would be hard for me not to pick Ken Stabler,'' Robinson said. ``He had the kind of leadership that Joe Montana had. It was kind of low key. Never wore thin. Not the kind of guy that was a pain in the butt. He always seemed to say, `Stick with me, we'll win.'''

You could have said the same for John Robinson.

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