25 questions with a former Giants’ Super Bowl defensive menace
The New York Football Giants have had a history of stout defensive teams with superior talent on that side of the ball. In fact, in the 1950s it was the Giants defense who induced fans to begin chanting, “Defense! Defense! Defense!” when before the players known to the public were only the offensive stars.
Robbins grew up in Pensacola, Fla. and was named All-City as a senior. He then went to Wake Forest and started three years at DT with 15 career sacks and a reputation for being a run-stuffer. He was selected in the second round of the 2000 draft by the Minnesota Vikings as a defensive tackle with his 6’4”, 325 pound frame. In his second season, he was entrenched into the starting lineup and remained a starter until his rookie contract ran out and the Giants went after him to help solidify their defensive middle. While with the Vikings he had 3.5 sacks, 90 total tackles and one forced fumble.
In 2004, the Giants signed him to a six-year deal worth $20 million with a $4 million signing bonus. In his first year alone with Big Blue, he netted five sacks and 39 combined tackles. Robbins was plugged into a defensive line that already featured Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Barry Cofield and later Justin Tuck. In 2007, the Giants captured Super Bowl XLII 17-14 over the New England Patriots.
In his career with the Giants, Robbins totaled 213 tackles, 25 sacks, two forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2010 and was reunited with former Giants’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo who had been named head coach of the Rams in 2009.
Now that he is away from the game, he has focused his attention on his charitable foundation called “Mr. Robbins Neighborhood” based just outside of Pensacola in Gulf Breeze, Florida. The world-famous Andrews Institute founded by Dr. James Andrews is also located in Gulf Breeze just over the bridge from Pensacola and is frequented by many NFL players as they get tested, have surgery, perform rehab and begin to heal.
The foundation’s executive director is his wife Tia and the driving force behind the charity. She is related to Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955 for the accusation of whistling at a white woman. Tia is driven to making a difference in her own community. At Christmas, Robbins has dressed as Santa and given away items such as bicycles to underprivileged children. He has taken large groups of kids to see movies that cannot afford to get out.
Fred and Tia have two sons: Troi (age 4) and Tre (age 7). Big Blue View sat down with Robbins to talk about how he became a Giant, that glorious Super Bowl victory, and why he is so enamored with his foundation.
BBV: After being drafted by the Vikings, did they make an attempt to sign you for your fifth season?
ROBBINS: They made an attempt. A few other teams reached out to my agent as well. The Giants were the best fit and No. 1 choice for me.
BBV: What was the Vikings offer to keep you?
ROBBINS: The Giants made me a better offer.
BBV: Why did you decide on the Giants instead of staying with the club who drafted you?
ROBBINS: I would’ve stayed, but New York City was a bigger market and also the way I was going to fit into their defensive scheme.
BBV: In your first season with the Giants you had more tackles than any or your seasons in Minnesota and your best sack total at that point. What do you think was the reason?
ROBBINS: I believe it was because I moved around a lot on D-line. I played more 3 technique and defensive end when we went to 3-4 scheme. I was just a nose tackle with the Vikes.
BBV: You grew up a southern kid. What was the transition like going from Northwest Florida to Minnesota to New York?
ROBBINS: Cold. I had to adjust to the lifestyle of the long bitter winters. Did I mention it was cold?
BBV: In either Minneapolis or New Jersey, did you know anyone who ate cheese grits?
ROBBINS: Only guys from southern states, the rest just miss out on good eating.
BBV: At New York, Tim Lewis was the defensive coordinator. How was he different in his scheme than George O’Leary in Minnesota?
ROBBINS: Tim had spent years in Pittsburgh, so at times we played a 3-4 to give different looks.
BBV: Name the main difference in Vikings’ head coach Mike Tice and Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin.
ROBBINS: Coach Coughlin was old school.
BBV: What made Michael Strahan so special?
ROBBINS: His work ethic was like nobody else’s. And he had a great motor.
BBV: In your second year with the Giants the team went 11-5 and won the NFC East after going 6-10 your first year in New York. What changes made the difference?
ROBBINS: Mostly because guys were healthy. And we played more together as a unit with the defense.
BBV: The magical year of 2007 the Giants were 9-4 and looked pretty good, but lost two of the last three games. The final game was a 3-point loss to the 15-0 Patriots. In the locker room after losing a close game to an unbeaten team, did the team feel they were on the same level as the Patriots?
ROBBINS: We did. We knew we were a good team. We just didn’t play our best during that last three game stretch. But going into the playoffs we were confident.
BBV: Which was the harder opponent in the playoffs – the Cowboys or the Packers?
ROBBINS: The Packers. Dallas was a good team but because of the division rivalry, it was always a statement game. Green Bay was a very good team and we had to battle the weather as well as being on the road.
BBV: You were losing 7-3 at the half against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Was the defense satisfied that the high-scoring Pats had only seven points?
ROBBINS: We felt we were playing great ball at halftime. We were always a second half team. Never satisfied with giving up points, but to hold up great versus a top offense, we thought we were in a great position.
BBV: As a sideline bystander while the Giants’ offense was on the final drive in this game, what emotion did you as a defender feel as the offensive unit either won or lost the game and you could do nothing either way?
ROBBINS: Nervous! I was positive because our offense practiced the two-minute drill every single day. When Tyree caught that pass, I just knew we were gonna win.
BBV: Why is it important to call yourself a Super Bowl Champion?
ROBBINS: Ya, to work so hard for that opportunity. All the hours, hard work, dedication, obstacles along the way. And on the biggest stage.
BBV: Being selected to the Sports Illustrated All-Pro team in 2008, what does that signify for you as a player?
ROBBINS: It was another goal of mine attained. You always want to be recognized as one of the best in the NFL.
BBV: Was the Rams deal better than the one offered to you by the Giants?
ROBBINS: They were about the same. I just felt at that time, it was better for me with a new opportunity. Spags got a head gig in St. Louis and I wanted to play for him again.
BBV: When did you begin your foundation “Mr. Robbins Neighborhood”?
ROBBINS: It was June of 2014. We piloted our three-day camp, “The Game Plan” at the world-renowned Andrews Institute for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze just outside Pensacola.
BBV: Where did the “Game Plan” progress?
ROBBINS: Into a year-long program called “The Playbook.” That incorporated academics and athletics, but more importantly shows high school students a plan for their lives that doesn’t necessarily include playing in the NFL.
BBV: What are the foundation’s goals?
ROBBINS: Our goal is to empower a young athlete to realize his or her potential not only on the playing field, but also in the classroom and in the world at large. We want to inspire athletes beyond their physical attributes and provide a plan for success in the game of life.
BBV: Is this foundation just for the area of Northwest Florida, or does it reach into other areas?
ROBBINS: Currently our foundation serves high school student-athletes in NWFL, but our goal with continued support, is to expand our reach nationwide using innovative technology like live streaming and podcast.
BBV: Why do you feel a need to help others in your hometown?
ROBBINS: I feel it’s my calling to share my life lessons, experiences and resources, to offer hope to young aspiring athletes hoping to follow in the footsteps of professional athletes. Underprivileged student-athletes are suffering academically in my hometown and ineligible to receive scholarships or entry for a college education. Their post-high school opportunities are dismal because they have no skill or trade to qualify for a good job, earn a decent salary, and become a contributing member to society and in their community. My foundation has developed innovative programs and tools for student-athletes that will help them reach their full potential both on and off the field. I was once in these kids’ shoes, shared the same dream.
BBV: Have you held employment since retiring from the game?
ROBBINS: I train guys at the Exos facility for combine and pre-draft training. And I also do some real estate investments.
BBV: What is different in the NFL today than when you played?
ROBBINS: You just don’t see that old school smash-mouth football. Everything is spread out.
BBV: Finally, what do you miss most about being an NFL player?
ROBBINS: Mostly the locker room and being around the guys. Those were the best times.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association