Note: Much has been made of the Earl Campbell-Isiah Robertson collision. Campbell is a Hall-of-Famer and his story is well-known. But what about Robertson?
Here is a profile of Robertson written by JW Nix. Nix makes the case that Robertson, too, should become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame fraternity.
Los Angeles Rams
1971 – 1982
168 Games Played
15 Fumbles Recovered
6 Pro Bowls
1971 Defensive Rookie of the Year
Isiah B. Robertson was a first round draft choice by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1971 NFL Draft. He was the tenth player chosen overall. Robertson hailed from Southern University, where he became the school’s first College Division All-America selection as a senior in 1970.
He is a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame, the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame, the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Robertson still holds the school record of returning an interception 102-yards for a score.
While at Southern, the football team was stacked with future NFL players. Some of his teammates included Hall of Famer Mel Blount, Harold Carmichael, Al Beauchamp, Ken Ellis, Ray Jones, Richard Neal, Jim Osborne, Alden Rouche, Lew Porter, Donnel Smith, and Harold McLinton.
When Robertson joined the Rams, the famous “Fearsome Foursome” front line was nearing the end of their glory days. They still had Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, as well as Pro Bowler Coy Bacon, but Jones would leave the Rams at the end of the season and Bacon would join him with the San Diego Chargers in 1973.
Los Angeles just lost legendary linebacker Maxie Baughan, who should be in Canton, to retirement. Robertson stepped into that vacant spot and stood out right away. He got a career best four interceptions and was named to the Pro Bowl. He was also named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, beating out such future Hall of Famers like Jack Ham and Jack Youngblood, as well as legends like Jack Tatum, Lyle Alzado, Phil Villapiano, Mike Wagner, and Dwight White, for the honor.
He returned to the Pro Bowl in 1973, as well as earning a First Team All-Pro honor. He scored once off of three of his interceptions that year. It was the first of five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons for Robertson.
Known for blazing speed mixed in with high intelligence and a knack for always being around the ball, Robertson became one of the NFL’s top outside linebackers in the 1970’s. He matched his career best total of four interceptions in 1975, yet gained a career high 118 yards. One swipe went 76-yards for a score, the longest ever by a Rams linebacker.
The 1976 season was his last being named First Team All-Pro, but he went to the Pro Bowl one last time the next year. He was hurt much of the 1978, causing him to miss three games, as well as eight starts. They would be the only games of his career that Robertson missed.
The Rams traded Robertson to the Buffalo Bills just before the 1979 season. Buffalo signed him to a contract extension that made Robertson one of the highest paid linebackers in the league. He picked off two balls that year, both of which happened in one game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He took one ball 23 yards for the last touchdown of his career.
The Bills had a young linebacking unit with Jim Haslett, Lucius Sanford, Shane Nelson, and Chris Keating. All would be key ingredients in the Bills resurgence, and Robertson served as their mentor.
Buffalo had not won their division since 1966, when they were members of the American Football League. The 1975 season was the only time they had made the playoffs since the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, but they lost in the first round. The Bills won 11 games in 1980, which was the most wins they had since winning the 1964 AFL Championship.
The Bills won their division again in 1981, helped by a pair of interceptions by Robertson. Buffalo would win their first playoff game since winning the 1965 AFL title before losing to the Bengals, who eventually reached Super Bowl XVI, that year.
The 1982 season is best known for losing seven games to a players strike. Robertson started in all nine games, picking off a pass. He informed Buffalo that he was retiring at the end of the year, so Darryl Talley was drafted to take over.
Once clocked at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, Robertson was more than a linebacker with blazing speed. It is no coincidence that most of the defensive units he suited up for ended up being amongst the best in the NFL yearly.
The Rams were ranked first in defense in both 1974 and 1975, and gave up the fewest points. Los Angeles would reach the NFC Championship Game thrice in his eight season with them. His reuniting with Chuck Knox was no mystery. Knox, who took over as the Bills head coach in 1978, was Robertson’s head coach with the Rams from 1973 to 1977. Knox knew Robertson would help Buffalo start winning again, which they did.
Sacks and tackles were not recorded statistics in his era, but Robertson was often seen crashing off the edge to lay into the opposing quarterback. He was also superior in pass coverage, often seen shutting down a tight end or running back all game. A sound technician, Robertson also was known for bone-crunching hits at high speeds.
He had a knack for the big play much of his career. In a 1974 playoff game against the Washington Redskins, he picked off a pass thrown by Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen. Robertson then proceeded to hurdle several men and break four tackling attempts on his way to a 59-yard touchdown that sealed a 19-10 win for the Rams.
Hall of Famer Les Richter is the only Rams linebacker who appeared in the Pro Bowl more than Robertson. His six Pro Bowls is tied with five other Rams as the most in team history. Robertson is the only Rams linebacker ever to be named First Team All-Pro twice.
No other Rams linebacker has more interceptions or yards returned off of interceptions than Robertson, as well as his having the longest interception return ever by a Rams linebacker. His two scores off of interceptions is second to Jack Pardee as the most ever.
He is fourth, behind Richter, Pardee, and “Hacksaw” Jack Reynolds, for having the most fumble recoveries ever by a Rams linebacker. While he played just four years in Buffalo, only five Bills linebackers have more interceptions than him.
Consistent, dependable, tough, fast, and smart. Though Hall of Famers like Ham, Ted Hendricks, and Bobby Bell were chosen on the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team, Robertson was worthy as well. Bell went to one Pro Bowl in 1970 and none more until he retired in 1974. Hendricks went to four Pro Bowls that decade.
The 1970’s had some of the greatest outside linebackers in NFL history. Ham, Hendricks, and Bell are joined by Chris Hanburger and Dave Wilcox enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yet it is a neglected position in Canton as well. Men like Baughan, Robert Brazile, Chuck Howley, and Matt Blair join Robertson on hoping Canton awakes and finally inducts them.
What makes the situation sadder is to see one-dimensional outside linebackers like Andre Tippett, Derrick Thomas, and Rickey Jackson get inducted in the last decade while a long list of equal or better players like Robertson still wait. Though worthy, they basically spent their careers rushing the passer while the more well-rounded players are now going three or four decades since they retired.
If you want the big play, Robertson provided it. Of you want steady consistency that never came off the field and could cover all aspects of defense, Robertson provided it. If you need accolades, he provides that as well.
Since retiring as a player, he has created a message called “Run To Win” in a long-term resedential recovery program for men he named “House of Isaiah”. It helps youths keep clear of drugs. Robertson also works with the Special Olympics. If you want to see some rare video football of him scoring touchdowns, laying out crushing tackles, as well as doing spectacular things while possessing the football, visit http://www.isiahrobertson.com.
There is little to no argument about the worthiness of his inclusion into Canton. When one looks at his whole body of work, it is easy to see that Isiah Robertson should be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
See Crazy Canton Cuts for more profiles of gridiron legends.