In 1958, Oregon went to the Rose Bowl for the last time in this century and scared the life out of Ohio State before succumbing 10-7, Oregon end Ron Stover set a Rose Bowl record with 10 receptions, and Robinson, a senior, replaced him on the last play of the game. "Just in time to get shot in the rear end with the final gun," says Casanova.
"An Ohio State defensive end across the line, exhausted and bloody, stood up and embraced me," says Robinson. "He said, 'God, you played a great game!' He wasn't being sarcastic. He thought I was Stover." Nineteen years later, before the 1977 Rose Bowl. Robinson took his USC players out to that hallowed field in Pasadena. "I've been here," he said. "I know what this means."
In 1960, after six months in the Army, Robinson joined the Oregon football staff, where he remained for the next 11 years, assisting Casanova and then Jerry Frei. It was a golden age. "You loved being there," Robinson says. "Casanova was the father figure, always on my butt, and two assistants were like gods to me in their technical competence: Jack Roche and John McKay."
Casanova remembers Robinson as a foaming ball of optimism. "He'd be in my office on Monday, arms waving, and say, 'Cas, we're gonna revolutionize football offense! I got a system!' And he'd rush out. About Thursday I'd ask about this system. We needed one. And he'd say, 'Ah, it doesn't work for poop.' "
The Robinson figure of those years was a decidedly comic one. "You can still chart the season by watching his sweater expand," says Frei, now a scout for the Broncos. "He's a nervous eater."
"Before the season opener against Nebraska one year." says Bruce Snyder, who coached with Robinson at Oregon, USC and the Rams, and who is in his first year as head coach at California, "he wanted the opponent scout team to look like Nebraska, so he got swim caps, painted them red, and stretched them over the helmets. On the first hit they shot all over the sky." Echoes of the Black Beauty. The players and coaches fell sick with laughter.
Robinson remained undaunted. "He tried to beat Oregon State," says Casanova, "by having six coaches paint all the team's yellow helmets green." The Ducks lost to the Beavers anyway.
"Once, playing Indiana back there," says Casanova, "we were getting beat. At the half, Robbie came in yelling. "We've got to change this, we've got to change that.' Well, that set me off...."
"So he fired me on the spot," says Robinson.
"I didn't fire him. He always says I fired him," says Casanova.