"So here we went," recalls Hubbard. "Opening game against Missouri. I'm sitting with Bob Fluor. The new Trojan tradition is about to be established. And Missouri runs us out of the Coliseum 46-25."
After the debacle, Robinson, Hubbard and Fluor gathered in Robinson's cubicle in the locker room. And hid. "We'd clearly demonstrated that USC had the dumbest president, the dumbest chairman of the board in the country," says Hubbard. "We could have had anybody."
Robinson gathered all the blame to himself, but he didn't have to suffer long. USC won the rest of its games that season and beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Robinson's teams would go 56-13-2 the next six years. "So we were geniuses," says Hubbard.
Despite all his years in the game, Robinson has resisted the football-is-life sort of dementia. "I was always struck by the breadth of his intellectual curiosity," says Hubbard. His wife, Barbara, is a pianist and music teacher, and the Robinsons always subscribe to an L.A. concert series, the kind of "culture" that stirs such dread in Madden.
"If I had three wishes," says Robinson wistfully, "one would be to play violin for the L.A. Philharmonic in the Hollywood Bowl. Music is important to my creativity." He says his best ideas come to him in the car, with his beloved Beethoven's Sixth Symphony surging and wheeling around him.
Says Hubbard: "When we talked about what would happen when the pros came to court him, he said it would have to be a city that provided the kind of cultural life that we have here. I sat with him and worried when the Patriots made their move on him, because Boston is not exactly a desert, but he didn't go. He kept talking about the university as a whole. So when I retired, and my successor [James Zumberge] was having a devil of a time trying to find the right man to fill the vice-presidency for university relations, I said, 'Hell, take a crack at John.' "
He did, and in 1982 Robinson accepted. "I'd been head coach for seven years," he says. "And I talked myself into thinking I wanted to do something else." But in three months, discipline himself as he might, he found out otherwise. "It was the only time in my life I slept in. My enthusiasm had dropped,"
Then, in February 1983, the Rams made an offer, and the old zip came back. "I felt bad at letting Zumberge down," says Robinson. "I'm glad I took the university job in some ways. Change is good for you. You can hang on to one thing too long. Often, your first year in a job is your best. You're not protecting a record, you're just flailing away."
He had to do some flailing with the Rams, who had gone 2-7 in the strike-shortened 1982 season. "These guys were all scared to death of me," he chuckles. "They were sure a college coach was going to lay down all kinds of rules."
Instead he delivered a summary of what he wanted—and what he would give. "Honesty and passion," he said. "Honesty in a relationship is an accurate perception of what is good and bad. If you cannot praise, it is almost dishonest to criticize. There will be no name-calling. What you do may be blasted, but not what you are."