Paul Robinson’s life, which began humbly in the small town of Marana, has been full of adventure, excitement, tragedy and happiness.
Robinson was a talented athlete in his youth and played basketball, track and football at Marana High School. He was the ninth out of 11 children in his family.
He graduated from high school in 1963 and enrolled at the Eastern Arizona College in 1964. Robinson met his future wife, Arlene Hines, while he attended EAC from 1964-65.
His sport was supposed to be basketball for the Gila Monsters, but he also ran track and played football.
Robinson was impressive enough as a runner to earn a track scholarship to the University of Arizona. He ran track for two years and married Arlene right before football started his senior year. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college.
After playing just one year of football for the Wildcats, Robinson was drafted in the third round of the 1968 AFL/NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
He signed for a $15,000 bonus and a $15,000 base salary, which he admits is paltry compared to what players drafted in the third round would receive today — even considering inflation.
Robinson played under legendary football coach Paul Brown, who led the Cleveland Browns to several AAFC and NFL championships. He also coached one of the greatest players in NFL history — running back Jim Brown.
Robinson idolized Jim Brown and tried to pattern his game after the superstar.
Robinson was unsure if he would even make the Bengals’ team at first. He mistakenly asked, “When are we going to meet this Paul Brown guy?” when Brown was in the room.
He was at a hotel in Cincinnati with a couple of other players getting ready to sign his contract, and Brown was sitting in the same room, wearing tattered jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers — nothing like what he wore on television. Robinson actually thought the iconic coach was the janitor.
Robinson survived the team cuts, and after he tasted success in his first game, he predicted he would win Rookie of the Year to the media.
They didn’t even know who he was when they first interviewed him and probably thought he was crazy, Robinson said.
Turns out he was crazy like a fox, and he won the AFL Rookie of the Year in 1968 while leading the league in rushing. Robinson was the first rookie to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
He was beaten out for AFL MVP by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath. Rob-inson was elected to two Pro Bowls as a member of the Bengals.
Robinson played for Cincinnati until 1972, when he was traded to the Houston Oilers for Ron Pritchett and Charlie Joyner.
Robinson spent two years with the Oilers, then decided to join the Birmingham Americans of the World Football League in 1974. The WFL lasted only two seasons — 1974 and 1975, but Robinson and the Americans won the league’s only championship game, the World Bowl, 22-21 over the Florida Blazers in 1974.
The league, however, had a myriad of financial problems and couldn’t even pay the players.
In 1975, Green Bay Packers head coach Bart Starr gave Robinson a tryout. After playing for the Packers for a short time, however, he was cut from the team.
Robinson said he had a hard time dealing with the freezing temperatures in Green Bay.
“It was cold up there,” Robinson said.
It was hard to play football when he couldn’t feel his feet.
After his playing career was over, Robinson spent time with his family. He has three daughters and a son. Tina, his oldest daughter, lives in Coolidge; Kenya, 35, lives in Phoenix; Jamika, 31, lives in Washington, D.C., and son, Paul Jr. (P.J.), 24, lives with Paul in Safford.
On Aug. 18, 1988, Paul lost his wife, Arlene, to a skin disease called scleroderma.
Life has changed for Robinson since that fateful day.
“I had to become a dad instead of a best friend,” he said.
Robinson said his wife always took care of the kids during his football career, so it was a change for him to be the caretaker.
P.J., his only son, has Melas syndrome, a rare and fatal form of dementia. Robinson refers to him as “my little hero.”
He enjoys living in Safford because he said it’s a “beautiful town (in which) to raise a family.”
Robinson talked about the strong sense of family in Safford and said, “Everybody works for the betterment of the community.”
He tries to keep a low profile these days, and likes being in a small town, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. He is doing his own part to make the community a better place by working for the Graham County Juvenile Probation Department.
Family is very important to Robinson. He took his role as father even more seriously after his wife died.
Every Sunday he calls all of his kids to see how they’re doing.
A man who once enjoyed life at the top of the football world now takes pleasure in the simplicity of this small town and the family-oriented values it personifies.
Article By Brian Wright, Sports Editor, Eastern Arizona courier