nevertheless ended up exactly where he didn't want to be—on an NFL practice
squad. But in Detroit he has come to appreciate the role. "I'm not
mad," he says. "It's a teaching tool. Ten or 15 years from now I'll be
glad things weren't given to me." He pauses for a moment. "But I'll be
up there this season."
Up there is on
the active roster. Rookies make a minimum of $16,700 a week, with benefits. If
they play three or more games, they get insurance in the off-season and earn a
year toward their pensions. And they get to play football on Sunday.
had no reason to think he would be up there this season. As the last player
taken in the draft, No. 255 overall, he was dubbed Mr. Irrelevant—the perfect
title for a practice squad player. It appeared that the highlight of his year
would be the trip he took in June to Newport Beach, Calif., where he was the
guest of honor at the annual Irrelevant Week and received the traditional
When Robinson did
not make the Lions' active roster out of training camp, he wondered how he
could support his family in Alabama. So he applied for a second job, flipping
hamburgers at a Red Robin. The restaurant manager thought it was a prank—why
would a Lions defensive back want to be a fry cook?—and rejected the
application. He told Robinson to concentrate on football full time.
The advice paid
off last week. Two Lions cornerbacks went down with injuries, and Robinson
prepared for his call-up. But on the Wednesday before the game, the club signed
Dovonte Edwards, a corner who'd last played for the Vikings in 2005. Robinson
fumed. "Doing this job," he says, "you're always playing with
fire." He could have packed up and left. Just as practice squad players can
be released at any time, they can also sign to join another team's active
roster if they get an offer. But Robinson stayed, and during practices last
week it became apparent to the coaches that he was ready to play. He knew the
system. Edwards was still learning it. On Saturday afternoon Lions player
personnel director Sheldon White informed Robinson that he was going to make
his NFL debut.
up late Saturday night studying his playbook. He called family members, but
they didn't have enough time to fly to Detroit. They had to rush just to buy
the DirecTV package.
At 1 p.m. on
Sunday, when the Lions lined up to kick off against the Bucs, Robinson was on
the field. Mark Jones was back deep for Tampa Bay. As the ball was booted,
Robinson sprinted down the sideline. Jones brought it out, and Robinson darted
toward the middle. At the 22-yard line he dived at Jones's legs and spun him to
the turf. First NFL play, first NFL tackle.
out of the scrum, pumping his fists and yelling, like a guy who had just been
set free. In fact, he had been set free—from the practice squad. "The way I
reacted right there," he said afterward, "was an illustration of
everything you go through."
IN THE LUXURY BOX
the guys were rooting for their own. All around, it was a good day for the
practice squad. Not only did Robinson see significant time on special teams,
but Sylvan also made the active roster, started and played extensively;
Marinelli said afterward that both had performed well. The Lions beat the Bucs,
improving their record to 4--2, and the squad played a subtle but significant
role in the victory. Its members clearly had given all the right looks during
there, I root for the Lions like I've been here my whole life," says Dunn,
the offensive tackle. "This is my team. They've got me to the end." But
what if another team—say, one that needs an extra offensive tackle and has an
open spot on the active roster—calls tomorrow? "Oh," says Dunn.
"Then I guess I'd have to root for them."