‘Team guy’: Stacy Robinson loved being a Giant, despite everything

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Robinson in Super Bowl XXI. (nfl.com)
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Stacy Robinson, a starting wide receiver on the Giants' 1986 championship team and member of the 1990 team, died of cancer this week at the age of 50.

I met Robinson in Washington, D.C. in 2009 as part of my research for a book about the 1986 team, and I really liked him. At the time, he worked for the NFLPA as the director of player development, and lived in suburban Silver Spring. He was paunchy and normal-sized (around 5-11), with a warm and engaging demeanor. His answers to my questions were insightful and honest, often ending in a fond memory that registered on his face with an impish smile and a chuckle.

Robinson had a rather disappointing career. He was drafted in the second round on the strength of his 4.3 40-yard dash, but his hands didn’t match his speed. There were rumors that he had a depth-perception problem, which made it hard for him to judge balls downfield and thus nullified his best attribute. He played six years in the league and amassed just 749 yards, finally calling it a career after the 1990 season at the age of 28.

During our conversation, he was comfortable enough with himself to admit that he harbored some regret about his career, if not bitterness. It was general manager George Young who had lobbied to pick Robinson—Young was always fond of players with “measurables”—and Robinson always felt that Bill Parcells held the fact that he was Young’s pick, and not his own, against him.

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“I respected [Parcells], but I didn’t think I always got my fair shot,” he told me. “In the N.F.L., you can be labeled. To be automatically labeled as a backup, that takes away your opportunity to compete. And that’s what we thrive on as athletes, is that opportunity compete. And when that’s taken away from you”— he paused. “I lost a lot for the game during that time, and I think it’s because I got that label.”

Several times, Robinson was among the last players cut during Giants training camp, which hurt him in two ways: One, he would be out of a job, and two, he would be precluded from signing with another team. Inevitably, the Giants would sign him several weeks later, and would promptly stash him at the bottom of the depth chart.

Robinson’s potential was also curtailed by the Giants’ conservative offense itself, which mostly limited the role of its wide receivers to several deep-strike attempts per game.

“You’re like that guy on the basketball team,” Robinson told me. “You might get a shot every once in a while, but if you don’t make that shot, you don’t know if you’ll get one again. So that shot becomes so tense.”

It didn’t come across as off-putting sour grapes, but rather openness. Most athletes are so uncomfortable with the idea of failure that they shut down completely and resort to platitudes. Here Robinson was being reflective, and not plaintive.

And then he said something that, given the foundation of honesty in our conversation, I found beautiful.

“But shit. You’re frustrated, but you’re winning. And even though you might be frustrated, if you’re team-oriented people, you’re not gonna complain publicly or anything like that. We just weren’t those types of people, and I’m a team guy. I didn’t have a great, Hall of Fame-type career. But ask me whether I’d trade two Super Bowl rings for the Hall of Fame. I wouldn’t do it.

“Winning enhances the friendships I made and the moments I shared with those guys. Not only can I talk about all the things we did together, the things that happened in the locker room, but in the culmination of it all, I can say, ‘Here’s what we did together, ultimately. Here’s what we came together to accomplish.’

“Individual goals are nice. But damn, I gotta tell you man, when you get with a group of guys and you pull together to accomplish a certain goal, there’s nothing greater. Some people say that as a cliché or just to be politically correct. But no, I really mean it.”