It was on this day in 1985 that Kevin Robinson played his last game for the University of Tennessee. Back then we all called him “Tony” and the Vols, ranked 20th in the country after losing to Florida the week before, were playing 15th-ranked Alabama in Birmingham. Legion Field was a hard sell-out with few scalpers to be found and the nationally-televised brawl was hardly a disappointment.
Robinson, a spectacular quarterback, had already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier in the fall after leading UT past Auburn (and Bo Jackson). The headline read, “The Tennessee Waltz – Tony Robinson Buries Auburn.” But on this particular “Third Saturday in October” Robinson’s luck ran out. He was sandwiched between a pair of Alabama linebackers and broke his leg.
Oh, Darryl Dickey came off the bench to engineer a thrilling 16-14 triumph over the Tide and it also didn’t hurt that Ken Donohue, who coach Johnny Majors had just hired away from Alabama, had a defensive plan in place that stymied his former players. But whatever became of Tony Robinson?
Shortly after his leg healed, Tony and another UT player – Kenneth “B.B.” Cooper – were arrested in January of 1986 for selling just over an ounce of cocaine to an undercover cop. Tony said he didn’t do it, that Cooper was the guilty one, but Robinson was sentenced to nine months in the Knoxville Penal Farm. A special deal was made after six months, which allowed him a pro tryout if he promised to return and complete the rest of his sentence.
So UT’s “Champagne Tony” reported to the Washington Redskins summer camp that year and in yesterday’s editions of the Washington Post, writer Desmond Bieler sought out and found the guy who – exactly 25 years ago – led the Redskins to one of the greatest victories in franchise history when they upset the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night TV.
Tony – who today goes by the name of “Kevin” – is celebrating a far different anniversary; it has been four years since he was last in jail. He’s helping coach a pee-wee youth team in Tallahassee and, at age 48, that means more to him than any moment he ever spent on a football field.
When Robinson arrived at Redskins camp, the NFL was on the verge of a strike. When the Players’ Association did indeed go out, Tony became part of the “Scabskins,” as union sympathizers labeled the rag-tag replacements. Defensive tackle Darryl Grant actually attacked the replacements’ bus as it crossed the picket line, shouting, “I look at these guys as guys who would steal the shoes off a dead man!”
Fan attendance plummeted in pro-union cities like Detroit and Philadelphia but the fans who showed up at RFK Stadium were surprisingly supportive of the stand-ins after the regular players wouldn’t cross the picket lines. As defensive back Charles Jackson famously said, “We are the official Washington Redskins … we represent the entire state of Washington.”
Robinson just wanted to make the team and get a paycheck after his six months in the Knoxville lockup. His start was delayed because his drug tests held him out of practice the first week and, when the season started, a guy named Ed Rubbert got the nod as the starter.
The replacements played hard every down and were 2-1 going against Dallas. Many of the Cowboys, including defensive tackles Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Danny White, runner Tony Dorsett, and quarterback Danny White, didn’t honor the strike and Dallas was heavily favored.
But when Ruppert hurt his shoulder early, Joe Gibbs looked at Tony and asked, “You ready?” and Robinson ran in, completed 11-of-18 passes for 152 yards and led a stirring 13-7 victory that Gibbs decreed as “one of the most exhilarating night’s we’ve had with the Redskins.”
Of course, the regular players came back the next week, built off the replacements' 2-1 record to finish the season, 11-4, and then topple Denver in the Super Bowl, a championship game that Tony watched from a prison cell in Knoxville.
After that there was constant trouble. He got in trouble with the probation people after illegally leaving the state, was caught using marijuana and cocaine shortly after and then a forgery got him two years in the slammer. Going under his Christian name, Kevin, he left Tennessee for Tallahassee, where criminal activity picked right back up in 1995.
“I’d get a job, finish the work … and I wouldn’t have a job. Money’s short, so I just fall back on what I know I can get some money. Fast, easy money,” Robinson told the Post writer. “That just kept happening.”
From 1995 until 2006 Kevin “Tony” Robinson – who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1985 – was charged 25 times, mostly for possession of drugs. Finally he saw the light and, after he was last set free on May 1, 2008, Tony hasn’t been back to prison. “Tony hasn’t been in trouble for a while,” he said in a quiet voice. “Tony’s been doing good now.”
He helps his brother as a painter, keeps to his family, and coaches pee-wee football. That’s it.
“I’ve just been under the radar, just working, just surviving, you know what I mean? I’m just now starting to step back and let people know I’m back in town. You see, when people haven’t seen you in a while they think you’ve been locked up,” he told the writer Bieler, “but I haven’t been in jail. No, I haven’t been in jail ….”