During the buildup to the start of any season, much of the focus is on everything new – the rookie draft class, the new free agents signed to bring more wins to the franchise and those players who have been building to this point in hopes that this will be a breakout year that will create new stars.
But at the heart of any team are the veterans who helped build the foundation that is holding up all the hopes and dreams of the younger guys.
Entering his 11th season, there isn’t anybody left from when Robison first arrived in Minnesota. He is the team historian of the last decade, philosopher and old guy on the defensive line.
As he prepares his body and mind for the 2017 season, he does so as he always has – keeping his focus myopic and looking straight head, taking every day as it comes and not looking past tomorrow.
As he sees it, the last few months have been a time for reflection and rejuvenation. Robison and his teammates are prepared to make a comeback from a season that started with high hopes and ended with disappointment.
“I think for us, we have been a situation where we were (11-5) and then you come back and turn around and you would be (8-8),” Robison said. “We ran into a lot of stuff last year with injuries and things like that, but there is no excuse. There were games that we should have won down the stretch. We understand that in order to be successful in this league, you have to work hard day-in and day-out. It really started back in April for us in the weight room, and I think in training camp, this is just going to continue. You are working hard every single day out here. The offense is tremendously getting better, in my opinion, so I think for us, when we go into training camp, we put the pads on, I think that is when the competition really ramps up and you get more of an idea of what type of team you are going to be.”
Robison has been a full-time starter since 2011 and, in those six years, he has missed just one start. But, from all appearances, that is going to change this year.
At the end of last season, Robison was quite forthright about his understanding of how the Vikings defensive line is going to evolve in 2017. He has manned his defensive end starting spot for six years and has fought off all challenges to his spot as the big dog in the yard.
In January, however, he admitted that, while he was coming back and didn’t have any plans to retire, Danielle Hunter had earned the opportunity to start … at his expense.
Hunter has praised Robison for his mentor role and the lack of professional jealousy. He’s been a consummate professional. That kind of praise is what Robison plays for and backs it up with leadership in the locker room.
“It means a lot to me,” Robison said. “I have always prided on myself as far as doing the little things right, always trying to go out and better myself, make sure I am taking the right steps, make sure I am in the right place all of the time. I have always been a guy, obviously everyone knows I am a vocal guy, but I always try to be a guy that leads by example by doing things right. When you have a guy like Danielle and obviously is on track to have probably what these guys have had, being in the Ring of Honor one day, and hopefully he can stay healthy and do the things he needs to do because he has a bright future, but to have a guy like that, that looks up to you and has told me many times that he really wants to emulate some of stuff that I do, it means a lot.”
It has also meant a lot to head coach Mike Zimmer. As a long-vested veteran of the football wars, Zimmer has seen a lot of players come and go. But, even as long as he’s been around, he sees something in Robison that isn’t always commonplace – a player willing to sacrifice his own playing time if Zim and the coaching staff are convinced Hunter getting more playing time gives the team a better opportunity to win.
Taking away a man’s starting spot has often led to conflict and controversy. Not with B-Rob. As Zimmer has witnessed, high-character players make a team and Robison epitomizes that quality.
“Probably as good as I have been around,” Zimmer said of Robison’s work ethic and team-first mentality. “He said he would do anything he could to help this football team. I think he understands that Danielle is a very talented guy. He did something in the defensive meeting room that was pretty stand up. He did things the correct way, like a true professional.”
The end of the playing tunnel is in sight for Robison. He signed a restructured deal that includes the 2018 season and, if all goes as hoped, he can spend the next two years cementing his legacy as a Viking.
At a time when Hall of Famers routinely switch teams at the end of their careers, being able to get a deal done that, like former teammate Chad Greenway, will let him play his entire career for the Vikings, Robison is content and enjoying the fruits of his labor and being able to see the sun slowly go down on his career on his terms – an honor he deserves because he earned it.
“It was important to me, definitely,” Robison said. “This is a place I want to be. I have spent my whole career here, and I definitely want to end my career here. It was important for me to get that second year. I think I have said it time after time again, I think it is a rare opportunity that you see a player be loyal to an organization and vise-versa, the organization be loyal to a player. Nothing is guaranteed in this league, but at the end of the day, I got the second year and hopefully that gives me options to be able to finish out my career here in Minnesota.”