JERSEY CITY, N.J. — After four neck surgeries two years ago that left him temporarily unable to throw a football, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning's appreciation for possibly winning his second Super Bowl will be close to unchallenged. But his depth of feeling will be no greater than that of Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, should he win his first.
In late August, the dude was close to dying. Now he's starting Sunday in the NFL championship. If he gets hold of the Lombardi Trophy, no one will be able to unhinge his hug.
The passion was apparent in the first minutes after the Seahawks won the NFC Championship. As the crowd roared and the confetti flew at the Clink, Robinson wept, openly and unashamedly.
"I had a long year," he said Monday, recounting his bizarre health collapse that forced the Seahawks to cut him Aug. 31, and the recovery that allowed the team to re-sign him Oct. 22. "Being cut, being sick, not really realizing the extent of the sickness. I didn't know that my kidneys were failing and my liver was failing."
Two weeks into the exhibition season in mid-August, Robinson, 31, was taking twice daily doses of Indocin, a relatively routine anti-inflammatory prescribed for muscle soreness, and started feeling poorly. It couldn't have happened at a worse time.
At $2.5 million, he was the game's highest-paid fullback, a position coach Pete Carroll values but one that was falling out of NFL style faster than helmet-to-helmet hits. As Robinson's production faded, he was being challenged by undrafted rookie Derrick Coleman, a younger, faster, cheaper version of himself.
By his third trip to the hospital, a liver and kidney specialist discovered Robinson was having an an unexpectedly severe allergic reaction to the medication, coupled with dehydration and some unhealthy eating. Robinson was ordered to stay, and given morphine to ease the pain.
"(Doctors) just said it was the perfect storm,” Robinson said during the season. “Come to find out it was real bad."
Popular as was Robinson within the team, and as physically vulnerable as he was, the Seahawks nevertheless made the decision to cut him, because they didn't want to pay for a player who couldn't produce.
Properly diagnosed, Robinson went home to Arizona for two weeks to recover, part of which included regaining 33 pounds from his 240-pound playing weight.
But as health and strength came back over the next weeks, options dwindled. The free agent drew interest from Tennessee and the New York Giants. But he was hoping for a call from the Seahawks. Not long after Coleman strained a hamstring after catching a pass at Arizona Oct. 17, the phone rang.
Robinson was back. Took a cut in pay, but he was back.
"I wrestle with it," he said, "but it was easy when I looked at my relationship with the guys on this team. That's why you play this game. I feel like a big reason why we're here is that every man in that locker room thinks the same way."
The esprit de corps on this team runs thick and deep. Robinson primarily is the lead blocker for running back Marshawn Lynch, the man responsible for unleashing the Beast. In that way, he resurrects an old Seattle sports joke: Wally Walker was once considered the Sonics' most valuable player because he drove Jack Sikma to all home games.
But Robinson also goes beyond the football duty to serve as Lynch's interpreter/channeler/go-between/horse whisperer. Whenever a question comes up about the publicly circumspect Lynch, Robinson is asked to explain for his compadre and locker neighbor. A former Penn State quarterback with a communications degree, Robinson politely indulges.
Now comes the highest test of that responsibility. Tuesday is Media Day, Super Bowl week's annual ritual of excess in which every player on each team is obligated to endure good and bad questions from the global media and representatives of the nearest planets.
Each team puts 17 of its players on podiums, the rest of the roster scattered in the lower bowl of the Prudential Center, a generally numbing experience for which the NFL has the brass to sell tickets at $35 a pop. Watching journalists do their jobs is like watching an animator draw cartoons. Something worthwhile may emerge, but the magic is largely invisible.
A report on NFL.com Monday said that Lynch was undecided about participation. If he skips it, he likely will be fined a substantial amount. He already has a potential $100,000 fine hanging over his head if he backtracks on an earlier commitment, forced by NFL rules, to cooperate with media.
Neither Robinson nor Lynch are committed to a podium position, so . . .
"I think," said Robinson, smiling, "I'll sit next to him."
Reluctant as is Lynch, the fact that he is indulged his eccentricity is another small hallmark of the Carroll regime. Lynch is a bit of a mystery and a bit of a hoot, but Carroll has a big tent, as long as there are leaders such as Robinson.
"It's fun," Robinson said of the Seahawks atmosphere. "With the facts of salary caps and things like that, you understand that everybody can't get the big mega-deals they want. Pete and (GM) John Schneider understand there has to be more there to attract the player. It's almost like recruiting again.
"When players come visit the Seahawks, they see how much fun we have, how much we enjoy competing and enjoy our work. You see the philosophy all over the building. You don't mind taking a little less to come here so you can be part of something special."
Robinson is the perambulating paradigm of that belief. After almost dying at work, he was dying to get back to work — for less money.
In the nine games he played upon his return, Robinson has a single rush for no gain, two receptions for 27 yards and the task of knocking down the most ruthless linebackers in the business. And he word-caddies for Lynch.
Man couldn't be happier.
Art Thiel is all over the Super Bowl and the Seahawks' preparations for the big game. Thanks to our sponsor MTR Western, a motor coach service for college and pro sports teams. Find out more about MTR Western by clicking here.