Sometimes news hits a bit close to home.
Former Bears Bryan Robinson – “B-Rob” to teammates and friends – came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and earned himself a career and a place in Bears' lore. Late Saturday night, the defensive lineman was found dead at age 41 in a Milwaukee motel room.
The Toledo, Ohio, native was pronounced dead at 10:17 p.m. after being found at the Midpoint Motel. Autopsy and toxicology reports from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office were pending as of Monday morning.
Robinson, who played for the Bears from 1998 to 2003, was one of those individuals who made this job fun for this reporter over the years, even as he went on to play for Miami, Cincinnati and finally the Arizona Cardinals. Grabbing breakfast with B-Rob at the Golden Torch Restaurant in Waukegan was a tradition where the conversations had to do with a lot more than football, and seeing him down the road when the Bears played the Bengals and Cardinals meant something, because you knew what he’d overcome to achieve what he did, playing in a Super Bowl with the Cardinals.
He was an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams who made a mark – literally – for himself when, as a rookie in 1997 broke the jaw of Rams tackle Fred Miller with a punch during a training camp dustup, which Robinson said was the result of a veteran mistreating rookies, something that he vowed he would never do, and didn’t. The Rams cut him at the end of training camp the next year and the Bears picked him up just before the 1998 season. Late that season, he had won a starting job.
His signature Chicago moment came in 1999 in the Nov. 7 “Walter Payton Game,” when Robinson elevated to block a chip-shot field goal try by Ryan Longwell to seal a 14-13 win over the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field on the weekend following the death of Payton. At 305 pounds, Robinson didn’t pretend to have a whole lot of vertical, declaring afterwards that, “I think Walter Payton actually picked me up a little bit and boosted me up in the air because I can't jump that high. Walter had a lot to do with it. I know he did.”
Robinson became an integral part of the Bears’ massive defensive front under coordinator Greg Blache, combining with Philip Daniels, Keith Traylor and Ted Washington to anchor a defense that led the Bears to the 2001 playoffs. When Lovie Smith arrived in 2004, Robinson did not fit the new, one-gap defensive scheme and Robinson was cut in the final roster trims, though not before serving as a mentor to then-rookies Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson.
The undrafted defensive lineman carved out a 14-year career for himself, finishing with 24 sacks, 16.5 of those for the Bears, who thought enough of him to accord him their transition tag in 2001 and eventually sign to a $20-millon contract.
Robinson was a character, one of the true tough guys in a sport replete with them. A hush fell over the Bears practice field one preseason day at Halas Hall when he and center Olin Kreutz came out of a pass-rush rep ready to throw down. They glowered at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing, while the rest of the crowd exhaled. Linebacker Brian Urlacher always said that he loved the Blache defensive scheme because he said Daniels, Traylor, Washington and Rovinson never let anyone get near him.
With the assembled media waiting eagerly to interview him as the new defensive end starter outside the dining hall at UW-Platteville on Day 1 of the 1999 training camp, Robinson came out the door and let loose with a verbal blast, declaring that he wasn’t talking to anybody who only wanted to talk with him now that he was a starter and hadn’t had time for him when he was a roster nobody. (Bears PR soothed the waters. Eventually.)
That was the essential B-Rob.