Ahead of Super Bowl, former Lion A'Shawn Robinson reflects on 2020 health scare
Most professional athletes will acknowledge the butterflies before games never go away, but Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson claims he's never nervous between the white lines, even if the next game on the schedule is the Super Bowl.
And while it might not compare to sports biggest spectacle, Robinson has played in plenty of big games on the national stage, including the 2016 National Championship game as a member of the University of Alabama.
When it comes to his consistently calm demeanor, Robinson simply credits his preparation.
"I don't get nervous," Robinson said. "That's one thing I don't do. I pride myself on that. ...There's nothing to be nervous about if you prepare the right way."
One of the most common mantras in sports is "control what you can control." Robinson's approach to preparation — led his practice habits and film study — epitomize being in control. But a little more than a year ago, he found his football future out of his hands, giving him a new perspective.
After spending four years with the Detroit Lions, Robinson bolted in free agency, signing a two-year deal with the Rams in 2020. But his new beginning hit an immediate roadblock. He spent months on the non-football injury list with a mystery issue that ended up being a cardiovascular condition.
Robinson would end up being sidelined for eight games before getting medically cleared. And while he was active the final eight contests, he was limited to a touch more than 100 defensive snaps, finishing with just 12 tackles on the year. Both were easily career-lows.
"Playing football all my life, since I was four years old playing with older kids, and to play for that long, and have it taken away from me... it really made me think about life and how fragile things is," Robinson said. "Like, anything can be taken way from us like that, anything that we love."
Robinson has always felt like he's given his all to football, but people around him will tell you he's taken his game up a notch in 2021. And the production bears that out. Appearing in all 17 games, including 14 starts, his workload jumped back over 500 snaps and he finished with a career-high 67 tackles and two forced fumbles.
That's another level than we saw in Detroit. The Lions selected Robinson in the second round of the draft in 2016 and he was a quality performer from the jump. As a rookie, he had 30 tackles, 2.0 sacks and batted seven passes down at the line, earning the nickname "A'Swat."
But his development and production seemed to stagnate after year two. Still, Robinson will tell you that the under the hood, he was being molded by the players around him the entire time. He eagerly soaked up the teachings of the rare talent he shared the field with in Detroit, from potential Hall of Famers Haloti Ngata and Dwight Freeney, to former first-round pick Ziggy Ansah.
"I appreciate it, because they helped me be right here where I am in the football aspect of things, and understanding life as a football player," Robinson said.
The other thing Robinson carries with him from that time is the "Detroit vs. Everybody" mentality that permeated throughout the locker room and the city.
"I always feel disrespected," Robinson said. "I never feel respected. That’s just part of my mindset, you know? Never want anything given, like that everything in my life has been earned."
In Los Angeles, Robinson is once again something of a background piece, overshadowed by Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Yet he can't help but flash a rare smile knowing he has Aaron Donald beside him and Von Miller rushing the quarterback from the outside. It's like a throwback to Robinson's time at Alabama, when the team's defensive line was loaded with five-star recruits and opposing offensive lines had no answer.
"It's like with a pack of dogs," Robinson said. "Animals. It's a bunch of animals. I love it. I love the mentality. They're relentless. It's crazy. It makes everything fun."
Robinson has also loved being reunited with Matthew Stafford, his quarterback from Detroit. Robinson simply calls him, "Nine," Stafford's uniform number.
But the one thing burly defensive lineman doesn't like the perception there's this "Win one for the Gipper" sentiment in the locker room when it comes to getting Stafford an elusive Super Bowl ring.
"I think this whole team deserves this, not just us, me wanting to push it for him," Robinson said. "I think we all deserves this. It's been a long season, there's been ups and downs, ebbs and flows to the game. I feel like we've worked our butts off to get where we're at right now and all we can do is compete and finish. It's just wanting to finish for one another, not just for one. We're a team. It's we, not me."